Local legends named citizens of the year

Maddison Devine, Jeff McColl, Nathan Freeman and Paul Perry each with their respective Australia Day awards. Picture: AARON GOODWIN

By Aaron Goodwin

Some of Bundaberg’s unsung heroes and tireless workers have been recognised, with the announcement and presentation of the Bundaberg Region’s 2021 Australia Day Award winners.

On Australia Day at the Bundaberg Multiplex, four community stalwarts received their award in front of a modest crowd.

Citizen of the Year went to Nathan Freeman, Senior Citizen of the Year Jeff McColl, Junior Citizen of the Year Maddison Devine and Community Group of the Year Milbi Magic Mosaics.

Mr Freeman said he was completely lost for words when he was informed of his award.

Mr Freeman has served as an Auxiliary firefighter since 2010 and on a professional level he has excelled as a town planner, enhancing the region through developments.

It’s his work as a volunteer with the Diggers Football Club and Falcons Rugby Union Club where Mr Freeman gives back at grassroots level, with his Board membership’s with Regional Housing Limited, Urban Development Institute of Australia, Bundaberg Chamber of Commerce and the Waves Sports Club contributing on a broader scale.

”You do a lot in the community but you never do it for any recognition,” Mr Freeman said.

”You get out to help the community and sometimes it’s nice for someone to put up their hand say thank you for doing that

”My Board membership on Regional Housing Limited and the Waves Sports Club, they are two fantastic local community organisations.

”One helps with the sporting community and one helps with homelessness right through to transnational accommodation and transit accommodation.

”I have a very good support network, my wife and two children and grandma’s and grandad’s look after the kids when we need to.

”I get my enjoyment out of helping these organisations and being involved in that.

”It really doesn’t feel like chore to me.”

Mayor Jack Dempsey said the region’s typical community spirit remained strong throughout 2020 which had proven to be a challenging year.

“As always our community has banded together through a difficult year and shown how resilient the Bundaberg Region is,” Mayor Dempsey said.

“I commend all award winners on their dedication to our community and their continued support throughout 2020.”

Award winners are selected by an independent committee made up of community members and Mayor Dempsey thanked them for their time in considering the nominations.

“Every year we receive so many worthy nominations and I don’t envy the Australia Day Awards community panel their task of whittling that list down to just one award winner in each category,” Mayor Dempsey said.

“Thank you to everyone who participated in the process, not just our winners but those who took the time to place a nomination to give our community champions the recognition they deserve.”

75 year-old Jeff McColl has shown outstanding leadership with Meals on Wheels, the Lions Club and not to mention his years of heavy involvement with the development of cricket in the region.

He said it was a hell of shock when he was made aware he would receive the honour, and jokingly retold of how his wife was originally not impressed when she found a letter from council in the mailbox.

”I happened to be talking to my sister in Melbourne at the time when my wife got a letter out of the mailbox and said what is the council doing writing to you when everything is in joint names,” Mr McColl said.

”I plan to keep going as long as my body allows me.

”It’s not arduous, if it’s something you enjoy doing it’s not arduous.

”I’m surrounded by a marvellous group of people.

”Sometimes it can only be an hour here and there but it all adds up.”

Under Mr McColl’s guidance, Meals on Wheels Bundaberg delivered 62,067 meals last year, throughout the COVID crisis.

This was an increase of 10,667 over the previous year.

Mr McColl has also been an active member of the Lions Club since 1988 and not to mention his countless titles and roles in the cricket sphere including; Across the Waves Cricket Club President, coaching local rep teams and Secretary of the Wide Bay Junior Cricket Association.

Ms Devine has been heavily invovled in volunteering for the Catholic Parish since she was 15 years of age, as well as the local cycling scene with family roots in that field.

The 20 year-old is an elected member of the Catholic Parish Stewardship Council since 2016, assisting in running many parish events and fundraisers.

She also is a Ready Set Dance teacher at the Bundaberg Dance Academy.

”I love it, for me community involvement and volunteering, that’s my fun stuff,” Ms Devine said.

”I plan to keep it up, I don’t know what I’d do without it to be honest.

”I love talking to people and hearing their stories so it’s important to me I do this because that’s the best way to meet people.

”I have been hired now as a youth coordinator at the Catholic Parish and that is rewarding.

”We developed from the start of last year with no youth ministry within our Parish.

”We have developed over six weekly youth groups and over 100 young people attending and I’m very proud.”

Last but certainly not least, Bargara-based artist Paul Perry accepted the Community Group of the Year award on behalf of Milbi Magic Mosaics.

It took two years, 260 volunteers, 100,000 tiles and 6300 hours to create the Milbi Magic Mosaic.

Now on display at the Archies Beach amenities block this public art exemplifies community spirit with school groups, Indigenous organisations, artists and community members all taking part.

”This has been a community project about connecting, connecting people, connecting to the community and the environment,” Mr Perry said.

”It’s wonderful to see this has been recognised especially in a COVID year.

”I’ve been involved with local government for 30 years in South Australia and I had some amazing opportunities there.

”I won a couple of projects in terms of personal recognition and trips to America and things like that but this here is so much more in terms of the local civic pride that has been developed.

”The legacy that we have left is an amazing piece of public art that will be there for 50 years.”

Mr Perry added that he has just presented Bundaberg Regional Council a 20 year plan covering 15 art projects in the community.

”Hopefully there will be a trail of projects that leave legacies right up the coast of Bargara,” Mr Perry said.