Outstanding community members recognised with Australia Day honours
Published: 25 Jan 2021
Mackay's 2021 Citizen of the Year Mabel Quakawoot has been many things to many people – an active citizen, an educator, a mentor and volunteer.
She is joined by Young Citizen of the Year Emmett Withers and Lori Burgess Community Volunteer Award winner Russell McLennan as Mackay’s major Australia Day Award winners for 2021.
Emmett Withers started his charity Emmett 4 Animals when he was five years old and has gone on to help thousands of stray animals across the region.
Russell McLennan works tirelessly behind the scenes at Volunteer Marine Rescue Mackay, having been involved with the group since 1977.
Mayor Greg Williamson said all three winners dedicated much of their spare time to community work and they did it in an unassuming manner
“They don’t seek recognition or accolades. These awards are a well-deserved thank you from the Mackay region community,” Mayor Williamson said.
More than 140 nominations were received for individuals and groups across eight award categories.
Mayor Williamson said all nominees and winners across all categories deserved the recognition they had been given this evening.
“We all know last year was a tough year, but there’s an old saying about when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and we saw a lot of that in our region in 2020,” he said.
“Rather than giving up on their goals or community projects, some truly inspirational people and community groups stepped up, worked harder than ever and found innovative ways to overcome social distancing restrictions.
“The individuals and groups we are recognising tonight are a true representation of the people who make our region a great place to live and we are extremely proud of them.
“And, without the community members who took the time to put in a nomination, we wouldn’t be able to celebrate the people who make our region great, so a sincere thank you goes out to our nominators.”
The awards were presented at an awards gala dinner, held to honour all winners and nominees, at the MECC tonight (January 25).
Citizen of the Year – Mabel Quakawoot
Since arriving in Mackay in 1962 to marry her late husband Colin, Mabel Quakawoot has been many things to many people – an active citizen, an educator, a mentor and volunteer.
Born in Rockhampton (the eldest of nine) in January 1937, Mabel’s grandparents all came from Vanuatu; her paternal grandfather married an Aboriginal lady, so Mabel is proud to have both bloods in her veins.
She lived on a farm at Joskeleigh outside Rockhampton that had been given to her maternal grandfather – an indentured labourer – as a reward for his loyal service by the owners on their return to England.
After working as a domestic servant, Mabel joined the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) and served in Signals. Her family also has an extensive history of service.
It is understood that in 1957 Mabel was the first female of Pacific Islander heritage to join the RAAF. After basic training in Ballarat, she was posted to the Signals section in the Commonwealth Department of Air in Canberra.
Mabel has been invited to participate in the RAAF Centenary in Canberra in March.
Mabel left the WRAAF after she married and years later, started an ex-WRAAC association in Mackay and successfully pushed for a memorial to acknowledge South Sea Islander military service in Mackay.
Mabel taught at a Mackay School for Special Education for 21 years, and then finished her teaching duties at Mackay TAFE where she spent seven years.
In recent years, Mabel has been active in assisting and working with Indigenous and Australian South Sea Islander (ASSI) youth in many capacities throughout North Queensland. She has been an active member of the Murri Court system.
Mabel was the instigator of the volunteers at the Mackay Court House who offer support to people awaiting court proceedings, particularly for the Children’s Court, where she is still a regular volunteer.
Over the years, Mabel has been an active member of the St Charles Anglican Church of West Mackay and for a number of years taught religious education at various schools in Mackay.
Among other good deeds for the Mackay community, Mabel and her husband raised considerable funds through activities, such as car washes, to take a group of Pioneer State High School students on a two-week tour of Fiji.
Young Citizen of the Year – Emmett Withers
At just five years of age, Mackay teenager Emmett Withers knew he had to do something to help abandoned animals in the Mackay region.
Now, at 17, with over a decade of animal advocacy under his belt, Emmett continues to smash his goals.
What began as a childhood hobby when Emmett was in Prep has now grown into an official charity – Emmett 4 Animals.
The charity supports animal foster carers in Mackay until forever homes can be found.
Emmett does this by collecting food and other pet supply donations for shelters, such as the Mackay Animal Rescue Society, the RSPCA and Animal Rescue Queensland.
For each of the 12 years Emmett has been collecting, he has always reached at least two tonnes of food and goods.
2020 was tough on Emmett 4 Animals, but Emmett is looking to the future and calling on schools, businesses and sporting teams to get involved to help the organisations that have been inundated with animals.
He wants 2021 to be his best year yet – it’s a big effort but Emmett says it’s worth every puppy dog look he gets in return.
This teenager’s passion to help animals is simply inspirational.
Lori Burgess Community Volunteer Award – Russell McLennan
Russell began volunteering with Air Sea Rescue Mackay (now known as Volunteer Marine Rescue Mackay) in 1977.
He is the current and long-standing president of VMR448 Mackay.
After many years of active service with VMR448 as a crew member, skipper and committee member he returned after an absence due to serious illness to take on the president position.
He has held this position ever since and, in the process, progressed VMR448 Mackay to the point where it is now seen as one of the best equipped and financially strong squads in the state.
Russell works tirelessly behind the scenes using his extensive network of contacts to ensure Mackay is at the cutting edge of change.
The value of his knowledge is evident with his inclusion on the State Government’s Blue Water Review into marine rescue and the recent QFES risk assessment project.
Russell also worked tirelessly through the recent bushfire emergency in the Pioneer Valley, giving selflessly of his time and equipment to ensure machinery was available when and where needed in the most hazardous conditions.
Last year, Russell was awarded a National Emergency Medal, along with his son Laughlin and VMR448 Skipper Daryl Jenkins, for their efforts during the Cyclone Debbie extreme weather event.
Russell says that he’s lucky to have a great bunch of people that make his job easy and who are dedicated to VMR Mackay and make it the squadron it is today.
Environmental Achievement Award – Daryl Barnes
Daryl Barnes is known to many as a bird lover, conservationist, writer and poet.
He spends a lot of his time exploring the bush and rainforests in search of native and unique bird species.
Holding the position as president of Birdlife Mackay since 2013, his leadership has seen the group stage events which showcase the variety of local birds in their local habitats to both the Mackay community and abroad.
Daryl said bird watching could be relaxing and could take you to new places where you meet new and interesting people.
“A healthy native bird population indicates a healthy state of the environment,” he said.
With a particular interest in engaging the next generation, engendering a love of birds and a desire to protect their habitats, Daryl has gone on to write four books all about our friendly neighbourhood feathered friends.
Daryl has helped to increase the scientific knowledge of the birds of the Mackay region as well engage and attract the interest of school students in birds and their environment.
His outstanding contribution to the environment, particularly through his conservation and education work promoting awareness and recognition of the region’s birdlife, is second to none.
Community Group Award – Chances Café Mackay
Chances Café is a 100 per cent non-profit café which employs and supports people who have been experiencing homelessness in Mackay.
Since opening in late June 2020, the Chances Café has nourished the hungry and is helping people turn their lives around.
Australian Street Aid Project founder Kayleigh Brewster said in a story to the Daily Mercury that homelessness in Mackay was “hidden”.
“There is such a high demand on our hostels and shelters that often there is not enough room for people,” she said.
“It is not so easy to go out and get a job when you don’t know where you are going to sleep that night.”
Addressing homelessness from a holistic perspective that includes mental health and personal support is part of the café’s goal.
Chances Café focuses on giving their staff the tools that they need and the desire to turn their lives around.
Kayleigh and her team have worked tirelessly to get this amazing initiative off the ground for our local community and give assistance to those who need a helping hand.
Art and Culture Award – Brenden Borellini
Brenden Borellini is the ambassador and artist in residence at Crossroad Arts, Mackay, where he has been performing for over a decade.
He has collaborated on various projects as an actor, workshop facilitator, photographer and researcher.
Brenden has performed in countless major productions during this time and has also been a strong advocate for people with disability and those that use alternate communication.
As Crossroad Arts’ ambassador and artist in residence, he has also travelled to Japan and the United States where he exhibited his 2D and tactile photographic works.
Most recently, his thermal printed photographic works has been exhibited in Brisbane at the Art from the Margins exhibition, this followed on from his successful 2018 exhibition at local Mackay cafe, The Grazing Goat.
Brenden's continued leadership and advocacy for inclusion and access in Mackay and beyond has also influenced other arts organisations, businesses and council to adopt initiatives that will ensure the whole community can benefit.
An example of this is Artspace Mackay's Foodspace café, which has adopted braille menus so that those that read braille, like Brenden, can access their menu items.
Additionally, through his work with Crossroad Arts, Brenden has represented regional inclusive arts practice both nationally and internationally by facilitating workshops in hand signing, the deaf blind alphabet, braille and inclusive arts practices.
Notably, Brenden was recognised for his leadership when he was awarded the Young Australian of the Year in 1989 and most recently, the 2020 National Disability Leadership Award for arts and culture.
Senior Sports Award – Melissa Milton
Melissa Milton has been the director of District 8 Tropical Central Coast, and the founding director of this district under the National Barrel Racing Horse Association Australia, since March 2017.
During the season of competition, District 8 brings together roughly 100 riders for 10 months of the year to compete in Barrel Racing events in the Isaac region at the Nebo showgrounds.
Melissa has successfully delivered events for members and competitors over the past three years. However, the 2020 season was dramatically impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. This did not deter her from investigating and pursuing every avenue to breathe life into the 2020 competition.
She went to extraordinary lengths to create a COVID-19 safe event and venue for all competitors, including contacting the Premier’s office to find out the requirements necessary to continue to offer the 2020 season, when many other horse sports events were cancelled or postponed.
Melissa’s dedication to the sport saw the 2020 season go ahead and riders were able to travel and compete in their chosen horse sport.
Melissa has been nominated for the vice president role as part of the 2021 National Barrel Horse Association Australian Management Committee. This is a great honour and a true reflection of her dedication to the sport and making it accessible to all competitors.
Junior Sports Award – Jordan Bliss
Jordan Bliss is a goalkeeper for Norths Devils Hockey Club and has been playing hockey since the age of nine.
Jordan works hard and trains five days a week, juggling her love for hockey and school commitments.
She has represented Queensland since the age of 11 and has gone on to be selected in 15 Queensland teams and one Australian team.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, Jordan hasn’t been able to compete in some of her events internationally or interstate. However, she was able to travel within Queensland, which saw her compete in the State Championships in Townsville as part of the C13-19 years Capricornia girls hockey team, where she won a bronze medal.
She also competed in the Queensland U18 Indoor Women’s State Championships in Brisbane with the Mackay representative team and was invited to compete in the QAS (Queensland Academy of Sport) Open Women’s High-Performance Games in Brisbane.
Jordan has been selected to play in the Queensland U18 Women’s hockey squad in February, where she will compete in order to play at nationals in Launceston in April 2021.