Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester did not share the same attire as most Heyfield Wetlands visitors, hiking along the gravel path in a neatly pressed, white button-up shirt, suit pants and shined black shoes headed for the Wetlands newest instalment; the viewing platform.

Mr Chester joined a congregation of about 50 guests, including Heyfield Wetlands Committee members Barry Donahoe and Wendy Rhodes, Wellington Shire Council Northern Ward Councillor Carmel Ripper, Australian Lions Foundation Chairman Tony Benbow and ten-year-old St Michael’s Primary School student Poppy Mahony for the official opening of the two-year project.

Darren Chester at the Heyfield Wetlands viewing platform opening
Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester speaking at the Heyfield Wetlands viewing platform opening. Photos: Zoe Askew

Mr Chester congratulated the volunteer committee of management for successfully advocating and completing the project, for which the Federal Government’s Stronger Communities Program provided $20,000.

“The new platform at Heyfield Wetlands will be enjoyed by locals and visitors to the region and help boost the visitor economy,” Mr Chester said.

“In Gippsland, our communities can make a little bit of money go a long way, and practical people just get things done to help their town prosper, and this is an excellent example.”

The erection of the Heyfield Wetlands viewing platform, on top of what was the old Heyfield racing track and, before that, a cricket ground, was fraught with challenges, ranging from a sharp increase in the price of steel to complications in the structure’s assembly, all of which were met and overcome by the community’s dedicated band of volunteers.

The Heyfield Wetlands viewing platform.
The Heyfield Wetlands viewing platform in its completed glory.

Barry Donahoe, a member of the Heyfield Wetlands Committee and the Heyfield Lions Club, played a vital role in the viewing platform’s construction, dedicating thousands of hours to the project and helping overcome the adversities challenging the Heyfield Wetlands viewing platform’s completion.

The modest Mr Donahoe thanked the extensive list of volunteers and organisations for their contributions to the project as the sun blistered down, heating the sandy-coloured gravel under guests’ feet at the Heyfield Wetlands on Thursday, February 23.

“The committee of management applied to the Stronger Communities Grant, and we were successful in getting $20,000,” Mr Donahoe said.

“Me also being in the Lions Club, I went cap in hand to the Lions Club, and they gave us $15,000, and then Bill Lack (Heyfield Lions Club secretary) was a big help and said we should contact the Australian Lions Foundation because they will match this dollar for dollar, which they did, so we had $50,000.

“As the project progressed, steel prices went up, and we were getting into a bit of a bind, so again, I went back in hand to Heyfield Lions Club, and they gave us another $75,000, so Heyfield Lions Club has contributed $22,500 and the Australia Lions Foundation another $15,000.”

Australian Lions Foundation Chairman Tony Benbow at the official opening of the Heyfield Wetlands viewing platform.
Australian Lions Foundation Chairman Tony Benbow at the official opening of the Heyfield Wetlands viewing platform.

Between setting up the gravelled area, building the retaining wall to the viewing platform, and obtaining council approval and engineer drawings, $20,000 of the project funding was quickly absorbed.

“Steve Savage is the fabricator, he did all the steelwork, and between the Heyfield Lions Club and the Australia Lions Foundation, they paid for all the steelwork, which is an incredible achievement,” Mr Donahoe said.

“By then, we started on the woodwork. We had two truckloads of timber delivered, but we didn’t have any money to pay for it, so fortunately, Wellington Shire Council came to our rescue, which was a great relief to us and David Graham [who supplied the timber].

“By this time, we had all this steelwork up at Sav’s [Steeve Savage] place, which needed to be erected. So I, only in Heyfield,” Mr Donahoe paused.

“I called up Rodney Miler, he works with big trucks and specialises in wide loads; he bought the steel here and gave us a loader to begin the assembly, then once it started to get higher, that didn’t work, so I contacted Fred Nicholson, and he bought a big excavator here, and we were able to move all the steel, assemble it and finish the erection for zero cost, done promptly and effectively.

“Another problem emerged, that’s fairly bloody high when you get out there, and you’ve got people working out there, so Jim Graham came to our rescue and provided us with scaffolding and helped direct, which solved that problem.”

Mr Donahoe expressed the Heyfield Wetlands viewing platform managing committee’s gratitude for the outpouring of community support.

“We are very grateful, very grateful,” he said.

Barry Donahoe was awarded the Melvin Jones Fellowship, the Lions Club’s highest honour to individuals representing humanitarian qualities. Photos: Zoe Askew

Australian Lions Foundation chairman Tony Benbow presented Mr Donahoe with the Melvin Jones Fellowship, the Lions Club’s highest honour given to individuals representing humanitarian qualities such as generosity, compassion, and concern for the less fortunate, for his vital role in the Heyfield Wetlands viewing platform project and work within the Heyfield community.

Despite some of the biggest names in Gippsland in attendance, Darren Chester, Carmel Ripper, and Heyfield local legend Barry Donahoe, it was ten-year-old Poppy Mahony from St Michael’s Primary School who stole the show.

“On the 28th of January, I set up a lemonade stand raising money for the Heyfield Wetlands fundraiser,” young Poppy said.

“We had a good run and raised $300 for the Heyfield Wetlands fundraiser; I would like to thank everyone who generously donated and thank the people who chipped in and helped me set up the stall; I very much appreciate it, and I had a very fun experience.

Heyfield Wetlands Committee member Wendy Rhodes (right) presents St Michael's Primary School student Poppy Mahony with a certificate of appreciation for her fundraising efforts.
Heyfield Wetlands Committee member Wendy Rhodes (right) presents St Michael’s Primary School student Poppy Mahony with a certificate of appreciation for her fundraising efforts.

Heyfield Wetlands Committee member Wendy Rhodes handed Poppy a certificate of appreciation for her fundraising efforts.

“It’s people like Poppy we want to keep working for the Wetlands,” Ms Rhodes said.

Poppy joined Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester, Australian Lions Foundation Chairman Tony Benbow and Heyfield Wetlands Committee and Heyfield Lions member Barry Donahoe to cut the ribbon and officially open the Heyfield Wetlands’ newest installation.

Darren Chester and 10-year-old Poppy Mahony at the Heyfield Wetlands viewing platform opening.
Darren Chester and 10-year-old Poppy Mahony at the Heyfield Wetlands viewing platform opening.