Northern Grampians honours Australia Day Award winners

Published on 27 January 2017


Northern Grampians Shire Council announced the winners of its annual Australia Day awards at celebrations in Stawell and St Arnaud on January 26.

The 2017 winners are as follows:


Citizen of the Year - Wayne Rourke
Wayne Rourke is a valued member of his community and has taken on many roles of responsibility since joining the Slaty Creek Brigade in 1985. Wayne has worked tirelessly to promote the work of the Rural Fire Brigade and is constantly improving facilities and occupational health and safety for the group. He has also been instrumental in successfully applying for grants to purchase a fire service vehicle and equipment to improve the efficiency of fire brigade trucks. As a strike team leader and a qualified CFA Incident Controller, Wayne received the National Medal for his service to the CFA in 2016.

In addition to all this, he is a past vice president of the St Arnaud Agricultural Society, a life member of the St Arnaud Pony Club and a member of the St Arnaud Bowls Club Committee of Management. He also finds time to hold down the role of secretary/treasurer for the Slaty Creek Hall Committee

Young Citizen of the Year -
Kate Douglas
Kate is recognised for putting her community first whenever possible. She has been an active member of the St Arnaud Queen Mary Gardens and the St Arnaud Historical Society and also assists with community functions and fundraising events including the Stuart Mill Picnic. Kate recently danced at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Ballarat, volunteering her time for ‘Dance for a Cure’ to help cancer support groups. In the past two years she has volunteered as a dance trainer for a Down’s Syndrome group in Ballarat and Kew on a weekly basis.

She has also excelled academically, achieving an ATAR score above 90 and receiving a scholarship through Melbourne University where she was accepted into the elite Victorian College of the Arts. In addition, she still finds time to return to Stuart Mill to work on the family farm whenever she can, and is a current new member of the Stuart Mill Fire Brigade.

Community Event of the Year - Let’s Get Together
After many years of drought, this event was designed to recognise the support that partners provide our local farmers. The group of ladies behind the idea put a great deal of time and effort into organising activities to pamper the women of our farming district, including massages, facials and demonstrations. The activities provided on the day catered for women of all ages and those who attended commented on what a terrific initiative it was. Let’s Get Together was a timely distraction from the challenges faced by farming families during this time and many laughs and stories were shared throughout the day.

Senior of the Year- Yvonne Nevill
Yvonne is a great supporter of community events. Her brilliant ‘people skills’, generosity and helpful nature have led to her being described as ‘the glue that holds the community together’. During her early years in St Arnaud, she played in the pipe band, served on the kindergarten committee and ran bingo for the golf club. She was the catering secretary and treasurer of the Country Club and has been the president of the ladies bowls.

Yvonne is currently heavily involved in the Probus Club and gives up her time to organise outings and trips for members. It is said that nothing is ever too much trouble for her and she always has a smile on her face.


Citizens of the Year - Neil and Sheila Thornton
This couple dedicates their own time to working with young people in our community. For more than 40 years they have trained students to dance and worked hard behind the scenes to ensure the success of Stawell Secondary College's annual Debutante Ball.

As well as teaching the younger generation to dance, Neil and Sheila represent a clear and firm portrayal of the traditional values of respect and exemplary personal relationships. Many people in the community have wonderful memories of their Deb Ball and the training sessions completed in the lead up to the big night. These dedicated trainers play a huge role in helping to create these memories and keeping the tradition of the Debutante Ball alive. In addition to displaying kindness and patience to the younger generation, Neil and Sheila are involved with the Stawell RSL and regularly volunteer at the Eventide Homes.

Young Citizen of the Year - Ryan Kell
Ryan has been described as a role model of respectability, integrity and honesty and displays a personal maturity far beyond his 15 years. He volunteers his time to the Northern Grampians Shire Youth Action Council, helping to improve community life for local young people. Last year Ryan was a Year 9 ambassador for Stawell Secondary College and a member of the school’s Great Victorian Bike Ride team. He is always thinking of others and leading by example and this has been recognised by his teachers, peers and local community groups. As well as volunteering for various organisations, Ryan is committed to his academic studies and has an impressive 100 per cent attendance record at both primary and secondary schools to date.

Community Event of the Year-  Zumbo Just Desserts Drought Relief Event
Over 160 people attended this year’s Community Event of the Year. This one of a kind event in Navarre brought together farmers wives and many people from the Northern Grampians Shire to celebrate the talents of Kate Ferguson- the champion chef who took out Zumbo’s Just Dessert’s on Channel 7.

Held at the Navarre Hall, the afternoon with Kate was supported by Northern Grampians Shire Council through the Drought Response Package. Kate wowed the crowd with several cooking demonstrations during the day and talked about her experience on the show and the things she learnt. Local chefs, aspiring cake makers and students were all inspired by Kate’s work.

This event brought community members of all ages together to celebrate food, share stories and welcome a celebrity to town. It also allowed the historical society to fundraise much needed dollars.

Local Hero Award -
Stawell Avenue of Honour
The Stawell Avenue of Honour is a project that has brought many community members and groups together. Over a period of two years, local volunteers from the Stawell RSL, Stawell Rotary and Stawell Lions Club partnered with the Northern Grampians Shire Council on this special initiative. The individuals spent many hours with staff from the Northern Grampians Shire Council to bring this idea to fruition, undertaking a significant amount of research, holding community meetings and applying for grant applications.

On the November 11 last year, Stawell unveiled its dedicated war memorial at the Stawell Library. Members of the public and local students came together for this celebration, honouring the fallen soldiers from Stawell and district during World War I. One hundred and sixty trees planted along Patrick Street as part of the project have each been dedicated to an individual soldier. The Stawell Avenue of Honour will give family members, school children and visitors to our region the opportunity to research and learn more about the significance of their sacrifice. Almost as importantly, the project has served as an example of how a collaborative volunteer effort can create something historic for our future generations to enjoy.