Region's heroes honoured in Australia Day Awards

Published 12:00pm 21 January 2021

Region's heroes honoured in Australia Day Awards
Words by Kylie Knight

The winners of this year’s Moreton Bay Region Australia Day Awards have been announced. We celebrate their achievements and contribution to our community. Meet the winners.

Citizen of the Year: Ronnie Benbow

After dedicating her life to caring for others, Cedar Creek’s Ronnie Benbow has been named Moreton Bay Regional Council’s 2021 Australia Day Awards Citizen of the Year.

She founded the Carer’s Foundation in 2015, Australia’s only charity providing wellness programs to unpaid carers at no cost.

Mayor Peter Flannery says Ronnie’s work has changed the lives of carers across Australia, improving their health and giving them hope.

“Almost no one is prepared for the demands, expectations and even isolation that comes with suddenly becoming an unpaid carer for someone you love,” Mayor Flannery says.

“In many ways, Ronnie has singlehandedly led the charge to change that.”

Ronnie has cared for others professionally as a nurse, in her personal life, and now supports carers in the Moreton Bay Region and beyond to improve and maintain their physical and mental wellbeing.

“There are almost three million unpaid carers looking after loved ones across Australia who work hard every day behind the scenes and, as a carer herself, Ronnie knows too well the toll it takes mentally, physically and emotionally,” Mayor Flannery explains.

“The Carer’s Foundation delivers a free, three-day program for carers doing it tough where they’ll learn practical wellbeing strategies, make connections and take a much-needed break.

Ronnie received the Moreton Bay Australia Day Volunteer of the Year Award in 2019, and has continued to go above and beyond by helping more than 1000 carers during the past five years.

“Moreton Bay is so lucky to be home to such an incredible foundation led by Ronnie and her team. It’s fantastic we can acknowledge her achievements with this award.”

Ronnie says as a young, naïve 17-year-old nurse, she would see carers in a worse medical condition than the person they were caring for and knew they needed support.

“I used to think that one day I’m going to have a healing haven, where carers can come to restore their own health and have someone to care for them for a change,” she recalls.

“It’s taken a lifetime but after all these years, I’ve finally got there. For carers to arrive so stressed and see them transform in just three days where they can take a break, connect with others and learn how to manage their stress, it’s just amazing.

“It’s a massive honour to be recognised and something that I would never have thought I would receive. I just love what I do. This award is really for the all the carers out there, so please if you know of any carers, especially those not coping, let us know so we can support them.”

Councillor Darren Grimwade (Div 11) says Ronnie’s efforts, over a long period of time, are worth celebrating.

“It’s such an honour to pay tribute to the special people in our community like Ronnie,” Cr Grimwade says.

“The dedication Ronnie shows in caring for carers across Australia is truly incredible, you can’t help but be inspired by her work and her passion for helping others.”

Region's heroes honoured in Australia Day Awards

Young Citizen of the Year: Reegan Pellowe

He’s the 11-year-old Caboolture changemaker who has raised more than $20,000 through recycling, and now Reegan Pellowe hopes to inspire a new generation to go green as Moreton Bay’s 2021 Australia Day Young Citizen of the Year.

For more than 18 months, Reegan’s collected more than 200,000 old bottles for recycling through the State Government’s Containers with Change refund scheme, and donated all of the money he’s earned to helping kids in need.

Mayor Peter Flannery says Reegan is a force for positive change in the community, having demonstrated maturity and responsibility well beyond his years.

“When I look at a kid like Reegan, who’s already so focussed on important causes like our environment and helping people less fortunate than him, I know our future’s in safe hands,” Mayor Flannery says.

“Reegan has raised funds towards Easter hampers for the Morayfield Child Safety Service Centre, purchased back-to-school bags for The Breakfast Club, bought Christmas toys for kids in foster care and donated boredom bags for kids staying at the Redcliffe and Caboolture hospitals.

“He’s also collected over 3000 bottle lids for Lids 4 Kids to be made into prosthetics for children. It’s through his hard work and dedication, that young Reegan has made others his age smile when they have needed it most.

“There’s no doubt that 2020 was one of the toughest years in recent history but it brought about the best in the Australian spirit, a spirt that Reegan embodies to a tee.”

Reegan says he began recycling in a bid to help give all kids a fair go.

“I use 100 per cent of the money from recycling cans and bottles to help buy medical items and other important things for kids in need,” Reegan says.

“Through my Facebook page Changing One Kids Life at a Time, people message us when they have containers to recycle, then Mum, Dad and I drive around to collect them, sometimes all night.

“Through various charities, I’ve helped kids in foster care, kids in the hospital and kids who are homeless. The best part is, without doubt, the smiles I get when I help someone.

“No matter how young or old you are, you can help make a difference.”

Councillor Adam Hain (Div 3) says Reegan is making the Moreton Bay Region a better place to live through his conservation of the environment.

“Young Reegan is sharing the vision that a cleaner environment is possible, and we all have the ability to reduce, reuse and recycle,” Cr Hain says.

“I want to see more people in the community be the change they want to see in the world and follow in Reegan’s footsteps to protect our environment and donate to local charities.”

Region's heroes honoured in Australia Day Awards

Arts and Culture Award: Jim Higgins

Scarborough’s Jim Higgins is encouraging writers across the Moreton Bay Region to put pen to paper and pursue their passion in literacy, but it’s his passion which has earnt him the 2021 Australia Day Arts and Culture Award.

As the President of the Fellowship of Australia Writers Queensland (FAWQ), Jim was instrumental in bringing the inaugural Readers and Writers Festival to the Moreton Bay Region this year.

Mayor Peter Flannery says Jim’s contribution to arts and culture has benefitted many, even those who have never met him.

“When Jim became FAWQ President, he breathed new life into the institution and put Moreton Bay back on the map as a destination for aspiring and professional writers,” Mayor Flannery explains.

“In fact, thanks to Jim, we’ve had many people already register for the upcoming Readers and Writers Festival in June. Jim is also part of the Redcliffe Writers Group and volunteers for Writers Open Mic, which is often a drawcard for writers and visitors across South East Queensland to Moreton Bay.”

Jim says it is an incredible surprise to receive the award.

“To me, this acknowledgement should be for all those writers and all those people who work to make their life story a creative one,” Jim says.

“We are a storytelling species and I’ve always had this belief that writing is an art that builds connection, and connection builds community.

“Very few writers’ organisations have lasted continually for a hundred years as the Fellowship of Australian Writers Queensland has done, so it’s important to celebrate that heritage and look to the future.

“What is most attractive about the whole Moreton Bay Region is the diversity of the environment, from the seascape to the hinterlands and the riverine areas, and the diversity in the community, with creative people across performance artists, visual artists, writers and more.”

Councillor Sandra Ruck (Div 5) says Jim is an outstanding award recipient for his contribution to the next generation of authors, reporters and playwriters.

“Jim has made an impact to so many lives, including thousands of students working as a high school teacher in English, History and drama,” Cr Ruck said.

“As a former teacher myself, I see the benefit of creative expression that Jim has worked so hard to encourage through his teaching.”

Region's heroes honoured in Australia Day Awards

Sports Award Winner: Lily Postlethwaite

She’s the young AFL player who is kicking goals both on and off the field; and now 19-year-old Lily Postlethwaite can add the title of Moreton Bay 2021 Australia Day Sports Award Winner to her list of achievements.

Mayor Peter Flannery says the dynamo midfielder is a fantastic role model for local girls who might aspire to play and pursue sport as a career.

“Growing up on a farm in Caboolture, the rising star hadn’t even considered playing AFL until she was 12 years old,” Mayor Flannery says.

“But that didn’t stop Lily from making her way to the top of the ladder, debuting for the Brisbane Lions in the AFL Women’s League in 2020.

“Showing talent from a young age, Lily was a standout in Oztag, NRL and touch football before she made the switch to AFL with encouragement from her father.

“In 2018, Lily represented Queensland as the captain in the AFL Women's U18 Championships and was selected for the All-Australian team. Her breakthrough season was 2019, when she won the Queensland Women’s AFL Rising Star Award before being drafted by the Brisbane Lions with the third pick in the 2019 AFL Women's draft.

“Lily has made us marvel with joy at what you can do on a sporting field and that’s something special in uncertain times we are experiencing with the coronavirus.”

Lily says it was a surreal feeling to be drafted for Brisbane Lions in the AFLW.

“My first year playing in the AFLW was a cool experience, I was lucky enough to play all seven games in the season,” Lily says.

“With everyone improving, I think the 2021 season will only be bigger and better, and getting the premiership is at the top of our tasks for 2021. I’m very honoured to receive the Australia Day Sports Award as it means a lot to me growing up in the region and with sport has been such a big part of my life.

“I love that there is sport everywhere I go in Moreton Bay, you can have a kick or a run, and there’s always something active you can do.”

Following her career since the beginning, Local Councillor Adam Hain (Div 3) says he’s proud of Lily’s achievements.

“I’ve known Lily since she was a young girl as her dad is a mate of mine that I played footy with in the local Masters League,” Cr Hain says.

“Lily used to come to training when she was about 10 and would run around the paddock with us. That’s where she found her love for Aussie Rules, and the rest is history.

“She’s a fantastic role model that will inspire a new generation of female sporting superstars in Moreton Bay.”

Region's heroes honoured in Australia Day Awards

Environmental Award: Robert Crudgington

After founding the Redcliffe Environmental Forum in 2005 and more than a decade of service protecting the environment, Newport’s Robert Crudgington has been awarded Moreton Bay Regional Council’s 2021 Australia Day Environmental Award.

Robert’s dedication has helped raise awareness of local environmental issues, improve local habitats specifically surrounding Redcliffe and Hays Inlet, and inspire the next generation of eco warriors.

Mayor Peter Flannery says Robert is a true environmental leader who shares his passion for protecting the environment with everyone he meets.

“Robert has been instrumental in creating and facilitating a range of initiatives to protect Moreton Bay’s stunning natural surrounds,” Mayor Flannery says.

“With a passion for marine environments, his work restoring and protecting saltmarsh at Hays Inlet has ensured this pristine area will continue to thrive for wildlife and locals to enjoy.

“We know people are more likely to appreciate and protect nature when they engage with it, which is why Robert’s efforts to make the environment more accessible is so important.

“Whether it’s the on-ground Hays Inlet EcoPath, providing educational resources through his project EnviroEd, or sharing his passion with local schools, Robert has worked tirelessly to ensure the next generation understands and values the importance of our national environments.”

Robert’s a firm believer that if you look after the land, the land will look after you, which is why preserving nature for the future is so important.

“My job as President of the Redcliffe Environmental Forum is mainly to facilitate and support all the wonderful people that work in the environmental community, whether it be koalas, turtles, looking after the bush, and more,” he says.

“It’s an honour to be recognised with this award but I’m just representing a large group of dedicated people who care about the environment and the wildlife around it.

“I hope this award highlights the value of people getting involved and I want everyone to participate and contribute. It doesn’t take very much to make a big difference.

“In our region, you can go to an island and see a humpback whale, you can see a koala or two, the bird life is amazing with over 130 species in Hays Inlet alone, then there’s the mountains and the rainforest, so there’s something for everyone in Moreton Bay.”

Councillor Sandra Ruck (Div 5) says it’s an honour to pay tribute to the special people in our community like Robert.

“Robert’s efforts in protecting and enhancing Moreton Bay’s natural environment and sharing his passion with the community is invaluable,” Cr Ruck says.

“I’m glad we have opportunities like this to recognise and celebrate his achievements.”

Region's heroes honoured in Australia Day Awards
Melissa Redsell

Volunteer of the Year: Melissa Redsell

A Warner mum who smashed the stigma of teen pregnancy back in the '90s and now helps other young mums give their kids the best start in life has been named Moreton Bay Regional Council’s 2021 Australia Day Volunteer of the Year.

At just 17 years old, Melissa Redsell became a single mum but wasn’t prepared to accept the limitations society placed on her.

She put herself through university, while raising a child, to become a Registered Nurse and today her charity ‘A Brave Life’ is a lifeline for young mums, providing them with advice, support, and essential baby supplies to go home from hospital with.

Mayor Peter Flannery says it’s impossible to meet Melissa and not be inspired by her boundless, selfless energy.

“It is my honour to bestow this award upon someone who goes above and beyond to support local young mothers every year, but especially through the uncertainty and anxiety of giving birth in a COVID world,” he says.

“The social stigma and challenges young mums face every day have only been exacerbated during the pandemic, from social isolation to limited stock in grocery shops and stores.

“Thankfully Melissa more than stepped up to the challenge, whether she’s co-ordinating and delivering essentials to mums through her Baby Bundles, or delivering mentoring through her Live Life Brave program.

“Melissa’s service to some of the most vulnerable in our community is nothing less than outstanding. In fact, her work has turned heads across Australia, nominated as a finalist in the ‘Women Will Change the World’ category at the 2020 AusMumpreneur Awards presented by The Women’s Business School.”

Melissa says she just wants to give back and use her story to encourage other teen and young mums.

“I always say to the mums we work with that we’re your biggest cheerleader, here to cheer you along and help you pursue your dreams,” Melissa explains.

“Seeing young mums achieve their goals is amazing, whether it’s finishing school, getting a part-time job or just being the amazing mothers they already are, it’s a privilege to walk alongside them.

“It’s such an honour to receive this award but our whole team is made up of volunteers, so this award is really for all of us.”

Councillor Cath Tonks (Div 9) says Melissa is an inspirational role model for young mums across the Moreton Bay Region.

“It’s an honour to pay tribute to the amazing volunteers in our community like Melissa,” Cr Tonks says.

“Melissa’s dedication to supporting young parents in any way she can is terrific, her kindness and service to our community is invaluable.”

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