The Hills Shire Australia Day Award winners announced
Published on 21 January 2021
A young man raising awareness about youth mental health, a dedicated volunteer ensuring the most vulnerable in the community aren’t left behind and a long-serving community organisation supporting residents through educational programs and services have been honoured at this year’s Hills Shire Australia Day Awards.
The winners were formally announced during a COVID-19 safe ceremony at the Pioneer Theatre on Wednesday, January 20.
Mayor of The Hills Shire, Dr Michelle Byrne, said the special occasion provided the opportunity to honour the commitment and achievements of outstanding individuals in The Hills ahead of Australia Day on Tuesday, January 26.
“Our Australia Day Awards are about acknowledging our local residents who have gone above and beyond the call of duty, and have made a positive contribution to the lives of others without asking for anything in return,” Mayor Byrne said.
“Their meaningful and generous work helps make our region even more vibrant, connected and inclusive.
“I congratulate and thank all our Australia Day Award winners and finalists for everything they do to make The Hills such a great place to live,” Mayor Byrne added.
Chris Cleary, who runs the StreetMed charity, and James Brice, the musical director and conductor of Castle Hill RSL Youth Wind Orchestra and North West Wind Ensemble, were both named the 2021 Citizen of the Year.
Chris ramped up her services with StreetMed - a not-for-profit that provides first aid, medical check-ups and mental health support for those living it rough on the streets - to ensure the most vulnerable and their pets could access food and services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding to this, she also volunteers with the Sister2Sister program, Camp Quality and Feel the Magic.
Meanwhile, James was recognised for his efforts that ensured his musicians remained connected when lockdown measures were first implemented. In fact, he made sure that each of his band members kept playing and carried out 73 weekly online rehearsals. James was also awarded a Life Membership of the Band Association of NSW in recognition of his extraordinary service to music which expands more than 14 years.
Tian Yi Wong See was awarded Young Citizen of the Year. The former Hills Shire Youth Ambassador is passionate about youth health and about breaking the stigma that surrounds poor mental health. In fact, Tian wrote about his own personal struggles in a book called One In Five to None in Five, which has been subsequently printed and is available from the Castle Hill Library. Tian is also the current President of the Coco Youth Group, which focuses on health and wellbeing of young people.
Dedicated volunteer Janice Sanders was awarded the Senior Citizen of the Year Award for her efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic and also for her commitment to helping others. Each month, Ms Sanders packs care packages which are given to people in need. She has recently doubled her efforts to help those who have been affected or displaced by the highly infectious virus.
Sue Martin, the Chair of the Cattai Hills Environment Network, has been awarded Environmental Citizen of the Year. Sue is deeply passionate about the environment, and educating people on ways to help and protect nature. Sue also helped lead the project that discovered platypus DNA in the Hills district.
And Hills Community Aid (HCA) has been awarded Community Group of the Year. HCA has been on the frontline for more than 50 years, delivering beneficial services and support programs for the entire community, especially those who are vulnerable and experiencing disadvantage.
“We are so grateful for the meaningful work of all our award winners," Mayor Byrne said.
"The same can be said for all our finalists who give so many hours of their time to ensure those in need receive a helping hand.
"I am incredibly proud of this community, especially at this challenging time.
"I know that it’s thanks to these amazing individuals that we will get through this difficult period, and become an even more stronger and resilient region in the future," Mayor Byrne added.
The finalists honoured as part of the Australia Day Awards are:
Citizen of the Year Award
Fiona Griffith: During the devastating 2019-2020 bushfires, Fiona spent endless hours supporting emergency services as they continued their lifesaving work. She did all of the shopping and prepped and delivered thousands of meals to those working on the fire front. She is also a dedicated Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteer who has just been appointed Captain of her respective brigade.
Elesa Hills: When the COVID-19 pandemic impacted business trade, Elesa voluntarily set up a Facebook page for the Hills community to support and promote local hospitality businesses. Her page, COVID 19 Hills District Takeaway, has amassed close to 6000 followers and has been acknowledged by many small businesses in the Hills district as having helped save their business during the pandemic.
Tamara Griffith: Tamara has served nine years in the RFS with this last year being the most draining. She spent a lot of her time making sure her community and crews were safe, all whilst in later stages of pregnancy and also enduring personal loss.
Daniel Gerzanics: Daniel is an RFS Captain and during this last fire season he managed his station, crews and their safety - making sure every one of his crew members returned home safely. Daniel has stepped up to be a strike team leader and sector commander at various large fire sites during the recent fires. Some of his responsibilities as part of this role included managing up to 40 trucks at any one time and the safety of those crews on board.
Manjula Viswanath: Manjula is the founder of Rasika Dance Academy, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion and protection of Indian classical arts. She is recognised for her contribution to dance and is also selected as an international artist by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations. Adding to this, Manjula also commits her time to various fundraising activities and events.
Young Citizen of the Year
Melissa Sullivan: Melissa holds a black belt in two different styles of karate and has represented Australia at an international level. She is currently the head instructor at her dojo, where she transformed her classes for an online audience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Melissa says that karate has given her the courage to be herself and the belief that she can achieve whatever she puts her mind to.
Sagarika Venkat: Sagarika is a talented Indian classical dancer who started dancing professionally at the age of five. Guided by her mother, who is also a dancer, Sagarika has performed on many prestigious platforms and has been recognised by many for her exceptional dancing skills.
Senior Citizen of the Year
Noel Reilly: Noel has been a gardening volunteer with Hills Community Care since 2012. During this time, Noel has made a significant impact to the community by maintaining the gardens for clients who are unable to do so themselves. Noel’s dedication has seen him receive many letters of gratitude from clients and their families.
Ron Parnell: Ron is an inspiring and compassionate individual who is working to establish an Older Men’s Network Group in the Hills to ensure local men have a safe space to connect, to socialise and be themselves. Ron is a real asset to the Norwest Sunrise Rotary Club and is always ready and willing to step-up and lend a hand.
Pamela Wilson: Pamela has been a tireless volunteer for the Hills District Historical Society since 1992 and has held the role of Secretary of the Society since 1993. Pamela was awarded Life Membership in 2002. She continues to contribute as the Society’s representative on the Castle Hill Heritage Park Committee and the Convict Trail Committee, as well as co-authoring several Society publications.
Dennis Croker: Dennis has been an active volunteer at Hills District Little Athletics for 32 years. During his time with the association, he has held many positions and at various levels, including local, zone and regional. In addition to his involvement in Little Athletics, Dennis also acts as an official for NSW Athletics at school, state and national carnivals and has also acted as an official for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. When Dennis is not giving his time to athletics, he is an active RFS volunteer.
Community Group of the Year
Care One Care All Group: Care One Care All Group (COCAG) is a Hills based charity that supports those in need. In January 2020, Team COCAG delivered essential items, including bottled water, groceries, hygiene products and tools to families displaced by the 2019-2020 fires.
The Women’s Shed Hills Shire: The Women’s Shed Hills Shire is a local progressive organisation proactively working to address women’s health and wellbeing. Focusing on delivering mental health programs, The Women’s Shed Hills Shire have positively impacted over 500 women and their extended networks across 2020 alone. Through their weekly Women’s Wellness Hub, The Women’s Shed Hills Shire offers workshops that are educational, encourage skill development, build resilience and provide meaningful networking opportunities that reduce social isolation.
RuffTRACK: RuffTRACK runs a transformational youth re-engagement program based around working with animals and aimed at guiding young people to make better life choices. RuffTRACK works with local Police liaisons, schools and other referring agencies who have identified young people who are at risk; subject to domestic violence circumstances; engage in anti-social behaviour with very low or no attendance at school, and have regular contact with Police. On their fourth round of the program, RuffTRACK have reported high success levels in re-engaging youth, reducing criminal activity and illicit drug use and increasing overall mental wellbeing.
Dads of the Hills: Dads of the Hills is a dedicated social media page for fathers in The Hills Shire. The group has more than 6,000 members, and focuses on support, mateship and assisting local businesses. The group has raised thousands of dollars for families in need, as well as for a children’s hospital.