Australia Day Award winners honoured

Mackay's Citizen of the Year is a detective dedicated to child protection who is an inspiring role model through her leadership qualities.

Detective Senior Sergeant Samantha (Sam) Bliss, a Torres Strait Islander mother-of two, was named Citizen of the Year at tonight’s Australia Day Awards at the MECC.

A police officer for 22 years, she thrives on being active in the community, especially helping youth through a variety of roles, including PCYC Mackay chair.

School student Claire Kelly may only be 17, but she is also already an outstanding role model through her volunteer work and is Mackay’s Young Citizen of the Year.

As well as being involved in local charities, she’s volunteered overseas twice, including two weeks in Fiji last year working in an orphanage.

Lori Burgess Community Volunteer Award winner is husband and wife team David and Gillian Lemberg, long-time volunteers with Sarina Show Society.

Mayor Deirdre Comerford said tonight’s awards ceremony was fitting recognition for all nominees.

She said their tireless work was the backbone of our community.

Two Mackay Pride Local Hero Awards were also awarded to former professional aviator Mike Jones and army cadets commanding officer John Zimmerman.

Other extra awards presented this year included Arts and Culture Encouragement and Senior Sports Administrator.

Citizen of the Year – Samantha (Sam) Bliss

Mackay’s Citizen of the Year, Detective Senior Sergeant Samantha (Sam) Bliss, is a natural leader.

School captain at Pioneer State High School more than 20 years ago, she has assumed a variety of leadership roles during her working career.

The Torres Strait Islander mother-of-two is a role model for young people and also dedicates her working life to protecting them.

Born and raised in Mackay, she has been with the Queensland Police Service for about 22 years, and specialises in child protection.

Her community involvement also includes a variety of programs aimed at youth welfare, sporting participation, child protection, family engagement and education.

Det Snr Sgt Bliss has completed a Draft Community Initiative Resource (CAP – Coordinated Action Plan) called “It’s Not Your Fault”.

This resource is a coordinated approach to responding to students exposed to family violence.

She has been chair of Mackay PCYC for three years and in that role implemented a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) – the first for PCYCs in Queensland.

A member of the board of directors with Mackay Regional Aboriginal and Islanders Development Association (MARABISDA) Incorporated, she is deputy chair of this organisation.

Det Snr Sgt Bliss has been awarded a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International and was named the Most Outstanding Female Leader at the Australasian Women and Policing Awards.

She also plays softball, touch football and women’s rugby league and takes on coaching and mentoring roles within these codes.

Young Citizen of the Year – Claire Kelly

A 2013 trip to Vanuatu as part of a team of young volunteers on a six-week training and building project helped ignite Claire Kelly’s passion for helping others.

Last year she volunteered overseas for a second time, working in an orphanage in Fijii with Volunteers International for two weeks.

She made the self-funded trip with the help of an RSL Youth Development Grant.

Miss Kelly, 17, believes volunteering is a great avenue to make a difference in someone else’s life, as well as impact on your own life in a positive way.

Now, her selfless volunteer efforts have been recognised at the Mackay’s Australia Day Awards, named Young Citizen of the Year.

As well as her overseas stints, she has been involved with local charities, including president of the Z club (Zonta) at Mackay North State High School for two years.

In that role she coordinated fundraising and awareness events in the school and community. They included Walk In Her Shoes, fundraising for women and children living in countries where they have to walk long distances for water.

Other projects ranged from creating birthing kits for Third World countries to reduce mother and infant mortality rates to creating Christmas hampers for clients of Mackay Women’s Centre.

Miss Kelly was a successful Heywire winner for 2015. She will attend the Heywire summit in Canberra this year to have her ideas heard by politicians and youth organisations.

Last year she was also awarded the 2015 Young Women in Public Affairs Award for outstanding community and international involvement, which included being guest speaker at International Women’s Day at the MECC.

She also won the club final of Lions Youth of the Year 2015.

Lori Burgess Community Volunteer Award – David and Gilian Lemberg

Husband and wife David and Gillian Lemberg, synonymous with the Sarina Show, have been honoured for their volunteer work.

They have been awarded the Lori Burgess Community Volunteer Award at Mackay’s Australia Day Awards.

Motorists driving on the Bruce Highway just north of Sarina only have to glance across to see how the showgrounds are maintained in excellent order.

The many hours of mowing and maintenance are only part of the effort the Lembergs put in as long-time volunteers for Sarina Show Society.

They help organise markets at the Sarina Showgrounds on the last Sunday of each month, with Mrs Lemberg’s work on these days beginning at 1am preparing food.

The annual Sarina Show is the highlight of the couple’s volunteer work and it has increased in size under their guidance.

It isn’t just the two days of the show, with Mr Lemberg, involved since the mid-1980s and president for about 15 years, helping organise the event for months in the lead-up.

The couple also helps cater for the travelling show workers in the week before the show, which raises money for the Show Society.

Another important function to raise money in 2015 was feeding the army from Townsville when they were travelling to and from Shoalwater Bay.

The Lembergs helped organise food and drink for sometimes more than 450 army personnel for about five days each way. Breakfast would be served at 5am, lunches would be made and then the next crew would come in for dinner at night.

Such a huge logistical exercise ran smoothly thanks to the Lembergs’ volunteer efforts for Sarina Show Society.

Environmental Achievement Award – Mackay Recreational Fishing Alliance

Witnessing the unbridled joy of a person catching their first fish is a satisfying reward for those involved in Mackay Recreational Fishers Alliance (MRFA).

Now the organisation has an Australia Day Environmental Achievement Award to officially recognise its efforts in angler education.

The MRFA comprises recreational fishers dedicated to promoting and improving recreational fishing in the region.

Its angler education division volunteers time to educate children about sustainable and responsible fishing practices.

This is done through the group’s school fish program, annual Take A Kid Fishing Day, MRFA and Tackle World kids fishing competition, and fishing excursions for people with disabilities.

The school fish program has educated more than 9000 students over the last 10 years.  Volunteers spend time in the classroom, educating children in all aspects of angling, ranging from assembling and maintaining equipment to bag limits, size limits and even crocodile awareness.

The MRFA annual Take a Kid Fishing Day, which has been running for 15 years, is aimed at families who would not normally go fishing. All rods, tackle, bait, lunch and fishing advice is supplied free-of-charge.

The angler education team assists with the Tackle World kids fishing competition, which has been running for four years.

It has also conducted fishing excursions for community groups, such as The Smith Family, Mental Health and the Stroke Foundation.

In October last year, the MRFA Angler Education team won the prestigious Peabody Energy Environment and Landcare Award at the Queensland Regional Achievement and Community Awards.

Arts and Culture Award – Brian O’Neill

Calen District Stale College principal Brian O’Neill is an educator and entertainer.

When he isn’t helping shape the futures of school students, he loves to tread the boards in stage productions.

Mr O’Neill was involved in three productions in 2015. They included The One Day Of The Year and Caught In The Net (Kucom Theatre) and Dimboola (Wasted Space Productions).

He has also been involved with community radio station 4CRM since its inception 22 years ago. He presents the program Rhythm and Rhyme with Brian.

Even in his radio role, he remains an educator.

He trains four groups of students from Calen District State College in producing and presenting on air. He drives them from Calen to Mackay each week to do so.

Arts and Culture Encouragement Award (new sub category) – Nekea Blagoev

Mackay artist Nekea Blagoev, whose work is making a splash internationally, has had to overcome her own personal challenges.

Diagnosed with Aspergers at the age of 28 in 2011, she finally had answers to why she felt and experienced life in a way that she thought was so different to everyone else.

Her art has been sold and exhibited internationally and she also donates her work to charities, such as headspace, Zonta Club Mackay, Spinal Injuries Mackay and Autism Queensland.

She recently returned from the Creative Futures Recognition Awards 2015 in Brisbane, where she won an individual achievement award for her ability to overcome challenges and provide inspiration to all her meet her.

She can now add an Australia Day Award to the list of accolades.

Community Group Award – Mackay Youth Support Services

Mackay Youth Support Services (MYSS) is a not-for-profit organisation that works with young people to improve their relationships with families and the community.

Managed by a committee of community volunteers, it has been helping our youth and enhancing opportunities for them to reach their full potential for 17 years.

MYSS provides youth workers to nine schools in the region to work with young people in danger of disengaging from the education system. They work closely with guidance officers, teachers, families and other community-based organisations.

Other initiatives range from camps for secondary school students to organising and facilitating One Punch Can Kill talks in secondary schools.

MYSS also manages the Unite Program, which provides support and counselling to individuals and families experiencing family breakdowns and conflict, anger management, risk of homelessness and sexuality and gender issues.

Senior Sports Award – Hamish Wright

Senior Sports Award winner Hamish Wright is a national champion who can mix it with the best Masters track cyclists in the world.

He works full-time in construction but finds time to pursue his passion for cycling, training at the Walkerston velodrome, where he also mentors junior and senior riders.

In an outstanding 2015, he won three Queensland titles at Brisbane’s Chandler Velodrome. He then competed at the nationals in Sydney, where he was crowned national masters sprint champion and also took home silver in the scratch race.

Despite being ill when he competed in the Masters World Track Cycling Championships in Manchester in the United Kingdom, he still finished fifth in the world sprint competition.

He was crowned Queensland’s Masters Track Cyclist of the Year at the Cycling Queensland awards.

Senior Sports Administrator Award (new sub category) – Joel Khalu

Mackay Meteors coach Joel Khalu was the toast of the city when his team won the 2015 QBL grand final.

Now, he can add an Australia Day Award to those accolades.

The head coach of Mackay Basketball’s QBL Program and the Meteors is also head coach of the Papua New Guinea and the Australian Indigenous men’s teams.

Khalu was named QBL Coach of the Year, leading the Mackay Meteors to an 18-win, three-loss season on the way to the title.

The PNG men’s team also finished fourth at the 2015 Pacific Games Tournament in Port Moresby and the Australian Indigenous men’s team defeated the New Zealand Maori team 2-1 in a three-game Trans-Tasman series in Mackay.

Khalu was also named Basketball Queensland Administrator of the Year last year.

Junior Sports Award  – Triston Vincent

Junior Sports Award winner Triston Vincent is reaching new heights in athletics and has his sights firmly set on the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

The Sarina Athletics Club member is ranked seventh in Australia for pole vault and is also in the top eight for decathalon.

After winning his first Queensland state title in 2014, he won the Men’s U20 Open Pole Vault at the Oceania Area Championships in 2015, securing a spot in the top 10 national rankings.

He won an international title in the same division at last year’s 2015 Down Under Track Classic on the Gold Coast and finished the season with a win at the ANQ Championships, with a PB of 4.60m, breaking the meet record by one metre.

That qualified him for this year’s junior championships in Western Australia and senior championships in Sydney.

Mackay Pride Local Hero Award (new category) – Mike Jones

Former aviator Mike Jones officially hung up his professional wings last year at age 80 after a career spanning 65 years and 23,000 hours of flying time.

Not only is he one of Mackay’s best-known pilots, he has trained many who have gone on to further their careers flying for national and international airlines.

Mr Jones and his young bride June relocated to Mackay from Longreach 57 years ago, flying with Somerset Airways & Bush Pilots.

He soon started his own flying business – Pioneer Airways – the first light aircraft charter and training centre in the district, which later became Air Pioneer.

Mr Jones helped form Mackay Aero Club, was vice-president of Mackay Air Museum and has flown and helped maintain the Tiger Moth for many years.

Back on land, he has always made time for charity work. Nearly 25 years ago he began transporting elderly people from their homes to the Civic Centre and home each week to play bridge and other activities.

He does a twice weekly kidney bus run, taking patients to and from hospital for dialysis. He also gave the selfless gift of donating a kidney to a complete stranger interstate about 10 years ago.

Mackay Pride Local Hero Award (new category) – John Zimmermann

Major John Zimmermann has been involved with Mackay Army Cadets Unit 122 for 30 years.

During this time he has mentored countless young people and selflessly given up many hours of his own time to ensure the cadets have been able to have the opportunity to experience once-in-a-lifetime events and develop life skills.

He has never asked for anything in return from his cadets, other than for them to be the best possible members of their local community they can be. He leads by example, giving his young cadets an inspiring role model to look up to.

Contact: Mackay Regional Council

Phone: 1300 MACKAY (622 529)

Published: 25 Jan 2016