The 2021 and 2022 Victorian Senior of the Year Awards were celebrated at Government House on Wednesday 26 October 2022. Watch a video of some of the 2022 Awardees.
Premier’s Award for Victorian Senior of the Year
Moira Waye, aged 82, from Pyalong
Nominated by: Pyalong Neighbourhood House
Moira has dedicated her time and energy to the Pyalong Neighbourhood House for 15 years, tirelessly supporting a range of programs, events and fundraising activities. As President of the Pyalong Neighbourhood House Committee, alongside her husband David who is Secretary, Moira has supported the organisation to grow and evolve to provide vital assistance for the local community and beyond. Moira and the committee led the creation of a local op shop in Pyalong, providing clothing and goods at affordable prices for local residents and employing three local women part-time.
Moira and the committee have organised an incredible amount of food packages and fodder for farmers affected by drought in northern Victoria and southern NSW, thanks to generous local donations. The packs include heartfelt letters of encouragement written by volunteers, and letters of reply have poured back in from grateful farming families. Pyalong Neighbourhood House now have their sights set on establishing a local foodbank. Now in her 80s, Moira continues to volunteer up to five days a week, sharing her kindness and enthusiasm to make a difference in the lives of others.
Ageing Well Award
Fr Bob Maguire, aged 87, from Albert Park
Nominated by: Toy Run for Father Bob
Father Bob is well known across Victoria for his commitment to supporting people experiencing disadvantage and homelessness. Through his foundation, Father Bob, his ‘Bob squad’ of volunteers and generous donors provide practical, grassroots support for people facing hardship - and they aren’t afraid to think outside the square.
Initiatives like the Robobus, Australia’s first Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM) mobile classroom, aim to address ‘digital poverty’ by improving understanding, use and access to technology among children and young people through hands-on programs and distance education. The foundation’s fleet of Hope Mobiles deliver healthy meals, food hampers and social connection, and the community pantry in South Melbourne provides essentials for many children and families. The annual Toy Run for Father Bob is supported by motorcyclists across the state each Christmas, collecting gifts for children and families and promoting road safety.
Beyond initiating a range of growing and innovative programs, Father Bob is known for his kindness and generosity, always making himself available to share a meal, start a conversation and be a friend to all.
Healthy and Active Living Award
Diana Collier, aged 98, from North Bendigo
Nominated by: Anne Conway OAM
Diana is known and highly respected for her support of the Bendigo community, in particular Bendigo’s Aboriginal community. Throughout her life, Diana’s strong sense of social justice has motivated her involvement as a volunteer with a range of community projects.
Diana has been a champion for reconciliation and an advocate for the addressing of injustices faced by First Nations people for many years. As a passionate, dedicated and committed ally of First Nations people, Diana is actively involved in several committees including the Bendigo Reconciliation and Bendigo NAIDOC General Committees. Diana welcomed the first Karen refugees to the Bendigo area in 2007 and over the following five years volunteered in English classes, as a home tutor and provided other types of daily support. Diana’s energy is the envy of people many years her junior; she continues to advocate for change, learn new skills to stay connected, and inspires all around her.
Promotion of Multiculturalism Award
Marie Pietersz, aged 72, from Camberwell
Nominated by: Australia South Asia Society
Since migrating from Sri Lanka in 1972, Marie has focused on making the most of every opportunity and helping people to build their skills, have fun and stay connected through music and dance.
For the past 16 years, Marie has run line dancing classes at Nunawading U3A. Her popular classes were held via Zoom during the pandemic, helping members to socialise and stay active from home. The group have regularly performed at the Victorian Seniors Festival, including recent online performances, and are looking forward to dancing at Celebration Day this year.
Marie recently started a 10-week line dancing course for the Southern Migrant Refugee Centre, where she supported participants to join in the fun in-person and from home. Marie also runs many line dancing classes for aged care residents, both in-person and online. People participating in Marie’s classes enjoy the music, company and dance while improving their balance and confidence.
Marie is also an active volunteer with Editors Victoria, serving as the Events Officer and coordinating a range of professional development opportunities for members. During the pandemic, Marie quickly and effectively helped the organisation to move events online, providing valuable learning opportunities and social interaction, particularly for self-employed freelance editors.
COTA Senior Achiever Awards
Walter (Ross) Synot, aged 79, from Newtown
Nominated by: Michelle Cain
Ross is a positive and well-respected leader in the Geelong community who makes a difference to many lives through a range of community and sporting endeavours.
Ross is an active inaugural member of the City of Greater Geelong Ageing Well Committee, where he has contributed to the council’s 30-year plan and been the face of a campaign to stop elder abuse. Ross established the Bravehearts branch in Geelong to educate, empower and protect children from sexual abuse and continues his service as a Patron for the organisation. Ross was the driving force behind the creation of the Geelong Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Support Group more than 20 years ago, now known as the Geelong ME/CFS Support Group. Despite his own health challenges, Ross has generously shared his time, support and strength with people experiencing illness and with many other support groups across the state.
Ross is passionate about badminton, a sport he has enjoyed and supported administratively for over 50 years. Ross was integral in bringing the first Australian Masters Games to Geelong. He has also volunteered with the Geelong Football Club over many years and continues to volunteer with his local church.
Mick Simpson, aged 60s, from Kyabram
Nominated by: Kyabram Community and Learning Centre Inc.
Mick is a well-known and respected member of the Kyabram community and a passionate advocate for raising awareness about dementia. Since being diagnosed with dementia in late 2018, Mick has made it his mission to increase understanding and support for people living with dementia, their families and carers.
Mick has completed three “Mick’s Memory Walks for Dementia”, with the latest 210km walk in June this year taking him from Kyabram to the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne. Mick’s walks have gained much media attention and raised funds for vital research. Mick has also been involved in the creation of a local Dementia Café, a space where people can be with their peers, listen to others, share a laugh and talk about their feelings in a safe and supportive environment. Recently, Mick has been working with the Kyabram District Health Service to establish a local peer support group for people living with dementia, their families and carers.
Beth Benbow, aged 74, from North Bendigo
Nominated by: Bendigo Health
Beth is a powerhouse volunteer and fundraiser who has supported the work of Bendigo Health for more than 40 years. Alongside her mother Iris, Beth has been part of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Auxiliary since the very beginning. Under Beth’s leadership, the ICU Auxiliary has raised more than $2 million and provided almost 40 scholarships for nursing and clinical staff to grow their skills and knowledge and deliver the best care. Beyond raising vital funds, Beth is known for her kindness in caring for Bendigo Health staff and volunteers. During the pandemic, Beth kept in contact with over 100 Auxilliary members, and with her team baked individually wrapped treats and sewed laundry bags for staff to safely store and take home their uniforms. Beth proudly and humbly continues her mother’s legacy at Bendigo Health, which continues to make a lasting impact in the Bendigo and broader Loddon Mallee community.
Melba Waugh, aged 64, from Hoppers Crossing
Nominated by: Jason Banico
Melba is an active citizen in the Wyndham area who is passionate about bringing together and empowering multicultural communities. Melba is the founder and President of Bridge Builders for Australia (BBFA), a community group committed to bringing people of all ages and walks of life together through activities, programs and events. BBFA have organised singing competitions, an Australian BBQ festival and a photography competition, as well as regular social outings and activities. Through BBFA, Melba has also raised funds for Christmas food and gift giving programs and overseas initiatives. Melba is also President of the Australian Council for Multicultural Entrepreneurs, an advocacy and networking organisation for small businesses owned or operated by members of Australia’s multicultural communities.
Jagdish Chander, aged 77, from Tarneit
Nominated by: Kapil Thakkar
Jagdish is an eager volunteer with Indian seniors groups in the Wyndham area, generously sharing his time and knowledge to help others in the local community. As the Chairman of Club 60 Tarneit, a seniors group, Jagdish coordinates and participates in a range of activities from Indian festivals to sports and social events. Jagdish is passionate about sharing information with seniors to support their health and wellbeing. Jagdish has initiated many bi-lingual information sessions for seniors groups on important topics including citizenship, pensions and concessions, Medicare and public transport. During the pandemic, Jagdish has regularly shared vital updates with Indian seniors groups and arranged short courses for people to grow their digital and English skills.
Heather Fleming, aged 64, from Willaura
Nominated by: East Grampians Health Service
Heather is a dedicated and respected member of the Willaura community, volunteering her time, skills and care across a range of initiatives and programs including the East Grampians Health Service (EGHS). Heather has held many volunteer roles at EGHS, including on boards and committees and as Secretary of the toy and activity library. In recognition of her service, Heather was awarded a Life Governorship in 2019, the highest honour EGHS can bestow on an individual.
Since 2004, Heather has been the President of the Willaura Community Development Group. In this role, Heather supports a range of important events to bring the community together, coordinates grant applications to improve local facilities and promotes community connectedness. Heather is a long-time member of the member of the Willaura and District Quilters group, who make a yearly group quilt and raise funds for local causes, and volunteers with a Uniting Church café fortnightly to provide a cuppa and a chat for people experiencing isolation.
Les Chitts, aged 72, from Melton
Nominated by: Melton City Council
Les is passionate about giving back, helping others and supporting people to stay connected in the Melton community. Since moving to the area 42 years ago, Les has made an incredible contribution as a volunteer and leader across a range of initiatives. Soon after moving to Melton, Les and his wife Dianne welcomed their son Brett to the world. Brett has autism and is non-verbal. As Brett grew, Les and his wife realised there simply weren’t the supports they needed in their community – so they set about making a difference for their son and other local families. Les was the driving force behind the establishment of the Dads to Dads support group for fathers of children with disability, an initiative that has since grown across the state. Les volunteered on the board of local service provider Merrimu Disability Services, was a member of the City of Melton Disability Advisory Committee, and since 2017 has been on the board of Mambourin Disability Services. Les is also an active volunteer with the Melton Lions Club, the GAP on Graham Youth Centre every Friday night, the Djerriwarrh Community & Education Services L2P driving program and the Harkness Cemetery Advisory Group. Recently, Les established the Melton’s Men Group, which provides a weekly space for mostly older men to hear from guest speakers, exercise or catch up over a cuppa.
Helen Gordon, aged 87, from Mornington
Nominated by: U3A Mornington
(Not present at the Ceremony)
Helen has spent a lifetime teaching and showing people how to lead a healthy life. She established the physiotherapy department at Frankston Community Hospital and was the oldest practising physiotherapist in Australia upon her retirement. Helen has been running exercise classes for over 20 years in Red Hill and her ability to interact with people, with her genuine interest in exchanging ideas, helped people feel more useful and confident as they age and go about their daily lives. She worked tirelessly, in a voluntary capacity, and donated money raised to World Vision and sponsored the School of St. Judes in Tanzania. When COVID-19 struck, Helen performed hour-long routines from home with up to 90 attendees on Zoom. Helen has volunteered for numerous talks and initiatives, including running health promotion and exercise classes called Shake, Rattle & Roll at the U3A Mornington. Over the years at U3A Mornington alone, Helen has volunteered over 1,000 hours and there have been nearly 900 enrolments in her classes. In 2007, at the age of 72, Helen received the Older Australian Recognition Award and in 2019, she received the Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in the General Division, for her service to community health as a physiotherapist.
Marlene (Dawn) Austin, aged 75, from Kaniva
Nominated by: West Wimmera Shire Council
Dawn is an active and highly respected member of the Kaniva community, sharing her time and experience with a range of local organisations. For more than 30 years, Dawn has provided care and support for the West Wimmera community as a first responder with Ambulance Victoria. As a volunteer and later an Ambulance Community Officer, Dawn has treated many friends, families and locals in Kaniva in their time of need, and also contributed to local fundraising efforts. Dawn is an active and longstanding volunteer with the Kaniva Golf Club and the Sandsmere CFA for over 30 years. Dawn continues to provide home help for the older community members as a Personal Care Worker for the West Wimmera Shire Council in the Kaniva district as well as working at the residential aged care cottages in Kaniva for the West Wimmera Health Service.
Santhana Ledchumy Selvendra, aged 83, from Taylors Lakes
Nominated by: Ramnath Iyer
Since migrating to Australia with her family in the 1970s, Santhana has supported new migrants from South Asian communities to feel at home in Australia through a range of education and cultural endeavours. Santhana has been instrumental in the establishment of three major religious temples in Carrum Downs, The Basin and Sunshine, each providing a space for worship, cultural connection and community engagement for Victoria’s growing Sri Lankan and Indian community. Santhana supports people to connect with their culture through music and cultural events and assists elderly community members to join in meetings and activities. In addition to these large-scale initiatives, Santhana is known for her kindness and compassion in taking people and families under her wing when arriving in Australia.
Santhana had a long teaching career in Victoria and was instrumental in introducing Tamil as a VCE subject. Santhana supported advanced students to undertake research and present their work at competitions in Canberra and wrote many books for language schools.
Nazzarino (Rino) Minniti, aged 75, from Epping
Nominated by: Northern Health
Rino is a kind, generous and well-respected member of the Whittlesea community, committed to making a difference through volunteering and fundraising. Rino migrated to Australia from southern Italy in 1966 and was keen to establish community bonds to support his young family in a new country. Rino opened his first hairdressing business in Lalor in 1969 and worked six days a week for 51 years, providing haircuts and familiar, friendly space for many in the Italian community. Over the past 20 years, Rino has been involved in a range of cancer fundraising activities in memory of his brothers who battled the disease and motivated by his firsthand experiences of cancer. From propagating plants to sell at markets and hosting large-scale events, to an 11km Walk for Cancer from Epping to Preston in 2020, Rino and wife Josie have been active and creative fundraisers driven by their passion for improving people’s lives. Rino’s fundraising efforts have enabled Northern Health to purchase a range of medical equipment essential to enhance the experiences of patients and their families. Rino’s positivity and care has made an incredible impact across many generations of the Lalor community.
Anne Schmidli, aged 88, from Boole Poole
Nominated by: Crashendo!EastGippsland
Anne’s passion for music and arts has made a significant positive impact for many children and young people across the East Gippsland community. As a firm believer in the power of music to change lives for the better, Anne led the establishment of Crashendo! East Gippsland, an innovative music and social development initiative delivering music and choral programs for children and young people. Over the past 10 years, Anne’s persistence and enthusiasm for engaging the community, seeking volunteers and donations, applying for grants and connecting with schools has supported Crashendo! East Gippsland to flourish. Living on Boole Poole, an area of the Gippsland Lakes accessible only by boat, makes Anne’s commitment to attending meetings, lessons and concerts even more remarkable. Anne is also recognised by her community for the establishment of the Friends of Gippsland Lakes group and her advocacy for the development of a dedicated performing arts space in Bairnsdale.
Aunty Daphne Milward, aged 83, from Ringwood East
Nominated by: Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place
For more than 55 years, Aunty Daphne has shared her wisdom, kindness and breadth of experiences with people of all ages to build cultural understanding and awareness. Aunty Daphne’s leadership and advocacy for First Nations people in Victoria started with her involvement in establishing the Aboriginal Advancement League in 1967. Aunty Daphne continues to share her expertise in community development and cross-cultural awareness as an active and energetic Elder with Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place (MMIGP), engaging community and school groups, exhibiting artwork and running a range of arts projects and workshops. Aunty Daphne has supported a range of programs with the Boonrdawan Willam Aboriginal Healing Service, from education courses about elder abuse and craft workshops through to healing and respite camps for women and children. Aunty Daphne has been an integral member of Eastern Metropolitan Region NAIDOC Ball and Awards Committee for the past 10 years, and she recently started learning Auslan to be able to sign an Acknowledgement of Country.
Reviewed 17 March 2023