Congratulations to our 2018 Australia Day Awardees

Published on 26 January 2018

Australia Day Award winners. jpg

Mildura Rural City Council has announced the recipients of its 2018 Australia Day Awards at today’s celebrations at the Nowingi Place.

Mayor Mark Eckel presented awards to the winners in the four categories during the official ceremony this morning.

“I am honoured to announce Denis Ryan is our Citizen of the Year, Cheryl Barnes is our Senior Citizen of the Year, Nicholas Fasso-Opie and Aleesha Davis as our joint Young Citizens of the Year and the Paws Along the Murray is the Community Event of the Year,” Cr Eckel said.

"While each of this year's Australia Day Awards recipients have been acknowledged for different reasons, there is a common thread of selflessness within all of them, and a strong desire to help or improve the lives of their fellow residents.

"It is through the efforts of these and previous award recipients that our city and our region is a better place to live."

Citizen of the Year - Denis Ryan

Mildura's Australia Day Citizen of the Year, Denis Ryan, stands as a pillar for justice, courage and self-sacrifice, not just in our region, but nationally.

In what is now a well-documented story, the former Mildura Police officer made immense professional and personal sacrifices over four decades in his pursuit to uncover and seek justice for victims of institutional abuse during the 1970s.

Mr Ryan's heroic efforts, which destroyed his policing career due to his refusal to 'turn the other way' despite high-level pressure to do so, have helped change the culture of our community. He has taught people that it is not only okay to speak out against injustice - it's the right thing to do.

The former Mildura Police officer's selfless, decades-long fight for justice was finally acknowledged and vindicated in 2016, with a formal apology from Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton.

Cr Eckel said Mr Ryan, and others like him with the courage and conviction to speak out about institutional abuse, have hopefully helped put a stop to further abuse within institutions, not just locally, but nationally.

“Through his advocacy and courage, Mr Ryan has taught our community to find its voice and not kowtow to power and authority in the face of criminal behaviour and injustice.”


Senior Citizen of the Year - Cheryl Barnes

For more than a decade, Cheryl Barnes has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of people with Parkinson's Disease in our region.

Cheryl was instrumental in forming the Mildura Parkinson's Support Group 11 years ago and has remained the go-to person for newly and previously diagnosed Parkinson's sufferers in the Sunraysia region.

Cr Eckel said Cheryl's selfless efforts were even more impressive given she herself is a Parkinson's sufferer.

"There are about 400 people with Parkinson's Disease in our region, and despite being one of those sufferers herself, Cheryl has, and continues to be, a conscientious leader of the local support group and is in regular contact with many sufferers," he said.

"To this day, Cheryl continues to organise monthly meetings, fundraisers, information days, guest speakers, media reports and a weekly exercise group. Her efforts are simply outstanding."

Cheryl was also instrumental in the Mildura Parkinson's Support Group's 10th anniversary in 2016, organising all celebratory and fundraising events, helping to raise thousands of dollars for Parkinson's Victoria along the way.


Young Citizen of the Year (joint winners) - Nicholas Fasso-Opie

Nicholas Fasso-Opie has achieved an amazing amount in a relatively short period of time, dedicating countless hours to a range of community groups since he was just 10-years-old.

Nicholas's first foray into community work began when he joined the Mildura and District Brass Band (MDBB) at 10. He's since been participating in a variety of community events every year.

They include Australia Day services, ANZAC Day services in Merbein and Mildura as well as the ANZAC Day march in Mildura.

Cr Eckel this week described Nicholas as not only a mentor to younger members of the MDBB, but more broadly as a role model for other young people across the municipality.

Nicholas's community spirit was recognised at the highest levels in 2015 when he was one of just 90 students from across Victoria selected to participate in the Centenary Dawn Service in Gallipoli.

He has also been a member of the Mildura Rural City Council FReeZA Youth Action Committee, where he chaired a number of meetings and was master of ceremonies for Battle of the Bands.

More recently, Nicholas has been the Mercy Action Social Justice Leader at St Joseph's College and last year attended a Youth Leadership Conference in Dublin, Ireland.


Young Citizen of the Year (joint winners) - Aleesha Davis

Described as an extremely driven and independent young woman, Aleesha Davis has already done an astounding amount to further social justice, gender equality and education for youth in our region, despite her relatively young age.

Aleesha selflessly donates countless hours of her time to activities that ultimately benefit others in our community, in the process ticking off each goal she sets for herself, showcasing her commitment.

These activities include participating as a mentor in the 2017 MASP Kokoda Youth Mentoring program and running Souls of Sunraysia, which is a community-based project aimed at increasing social awareness and understanding in our region though sharing stories of individuals who live here.

A regular blood donor, which Aleesha says gives her an "extreme sense of satisfaction," she has also coached an Under 17 netball team to a grand final.

Outside of Sunraysia, Aleesha has been shortlisted for a place on the Victorian Government Multicultural Youth Network, illustrating a desire to improve the lives of young people across the state, not just in the Mildura region.

Her other achievements include 2017 netball B-grade Best and Fairest, attained C-grade umpiring badge, member of Northern Mallee Leaders Committee of Management, studying a Bachelor of Education at Swinburne University, is a qualified Punchfit instructor, graduated from the 2016 Northern Mallee Leaders and was master of ceremonies at the Northern Mallee Leaders Vision of the Region dinner.


Community Event of the Year - Paws Along the Murray (Sunraysia Animal Rehousing Group)

Sunraysia Animal Rehousing Group  is a not-for-profit, 100 per cent volunteer-run initiative making a major difference to the welfare of thousands of animals in our region.

The group's mission statement is to raise awareness and money to work within our community to assist with the rehousing of animals in Sunraysia, providing an animal rehousing and adoption program and help the Mildura Pound facilitate rescues to other groups.

SARG has ran its annual Paws Along the Murray community event for seven years, which benefits animals in need within the community, promotes health and well-being and brings the community together based around a five-kilometre walk with their pet.

As a result, SARG, through Paws Along the Murray and its other efforts has been able to rehouse more than 1000 animals into permanent homes.

SARG volunteers also visit local schools, kindergartens, Scouts, Guides and Brownies to educate the community.

The group was recently recognised at state level, nominated for the 2017 Victorian Premier's Volunteer Awards in December.