Our local heroes are recognised for their good community work

Wellington Shire young citizen of the year awardee Archie Towers, COVID hero awardee Ben Davies, community group of the year winner The Junior Hive representative Linda Miramf, citizen of year year awardee Ray Akers, hold their award certificates, presented to them by mayor Ian Bye. Photo: Josh Farrell

Josh Farrell

Wellington Shire Council held its Australia Day awards ceremony last Wednesday at the Criterion Hotel in Sale.

The awards celebrate the achievements of people living in Wellington Shire, and include the COVID hero award, community group of the year, young citizen of the year and citizen of the year.

Mayor Ian Bye said 2021 was a challenging year for Wellington Shire, but the region had survived and come through it.

“One thing hasn’t changed — and that is the resilience and positivity of the Wellington community,” Cr Bye said.

Ray Akers won the citizen of the year award for his work supporting farmers through droughts and floods.

Mr Akers has spent time listening to farmers talk about their struggles, becoming a friend through challenging times.

“Farmers are proud and they won’t ask for help,” he said.

“They’re still facing a number of challenges and getting over a lot, so I still want to help.”

Mr Akers formerly worked in livestock transport, which allowed him to use relationships he already built with farmers to lend a helping hand.

During the height of the drought, he often dropped in unannounced to visit families, have a coffee and just listen.

He organised hay drives to support farmers across Gippsland throughout the drought, and even though the drought has broken, he understands many farmers are still struggling.

“I’m mainly a friend,” he explained.

“We had droughts, then we had fires — and now we are just getting over the floods — and it gets them down after all of these challenges.

“They just need a bit of a hand and someone to talk to.”

Farmers have now begun phoning him simply to talk, illustrating the effect he has had on the community.

Archie Towers won the young citizen of the year award for his work volunteering at Sale City Football Club, Sale Touch Football and in his community.

No job is too big or small for Archie, and he is often spotted marking lines on the oval, stocking the fridge, serving in the canteen and working on the gate at Stephenson Park for Sale City.

When he finds a spare moment away from the football club, Archie tends to his elderly neighbour’s garden, ensuring it is well cared for.

Archie was unaware he was attending the event — his parents told him they would take him out for lunch during his lunch break from work.

“I just try and help out where I can,” he said.

Archie might just be one of the busiest 15-year-olds around, which can sometimes present challenges.

“Sometimes I do [run out of time] — I am running late a lot of the time,” he said.

Ben Davies from Stratford won the COVID hero award for the work he did supporting the town and the wider community during lockdown.

Mr Davies ensured he was across all COVID restrictions, even though there were often new challenges thrown up, and he became the go-to person for Stratford Lions Club for all events.

People often see Mr Davies towing the Stratford caravan to events and places in need.

He took the caravan to Seaspray during power outages in October to support the community.

“You have just got to do what you’ve got to do,” Mr Davies said.

“It is not that hard to spray a bottle and wipe a cloth.

“I would rather die in my boots then die in my slippers.”

The community group of the year award went to The Junior Hive, which is based out of Yarram.

The not-for-profit group began 18 months ago to support children with services like after school care and homework help.

Linda Miramf started the group and said was born of a desire to help children.

“I just wanted to help the kids,” she said.

“It has just created a sense of community and a lot of businesses get behind it and are making donations.”

The group is about to move into new premises in Yarram, and has a range of events planned in the coming year.

“We have a ‘build-a-bear’ coming up, and we have opened our youth drop-in centre where kids can come and go and mingle in a safe environment,” she said.

All award winners received a certificate and a Middle of Everywhere hamper.

In previous years, the community event of the year has been awarded, but because of COVID lockdowns it was replaced with the COVID hero.