In 2016 fourteen awards were presented honouring the extraordinary contribution of inspirational older Victorians during an award ceremony at Government House.  Two awards were also presented to organisations working with an age-friendly approach.

Read on for details of each award recipient.

Premier’s Award for Victorian Senior of the Year

Gwen Smith of Rochester

Gwen Smith Premier's Award for Victorian Senior of the Year winnerGwen Smith has dedicated her life to making a difference to others, working in the community and with adult education for over 30 years to help people get back into training, work or community life.

As President of the Echuca Neighbourhood House, she is continually networking, searching for funding opportunities, holding planning meetings and seeking new ideas to get programs happening.

She is heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the Neighbourhood House, and is a familiar face to all who attend programs there.

‘I believe that everyone has the right to education,’ she says. ‘And there are many people who have not had the opportunity to learn to read and write, or use computers.’

Gwen is a passionate advocate for Neighbourhood Houses, and the volunteers who support them. ‘Neighbourhood Houses are doing more and more work to support the community. It’s not just about running courses.  We couldn’t do it without a small army of volunteers.’

She is also a strong supporter of the Mirrimbeena Aboriginal Education Group, which she helped to found, and its work in supporting Aboriginal young people into training, education and employment.  In addition, she is a member of the Echuca RSL, and is a judge for Town Crier competitions around Victoria.

Talking about her approach to life, she says, ‘One day at a time, do the best you can during that day. That’s how I’ve lived. And each day is its own reward.’

Veteran Community Award

Verna Phillips of Carrum Downs

Verna Phillips Veteran Community Award winnerVerna Phillips is a member and was a long-serving State Secretary of the War Widows and Widowed Mothers Association.  Her contribution has had an enduring impact on the lives of war widows, widowed mothers and the broader veteran community.

Verna is herself an Army veteran. ‘I was in uniform for six years,’ she says. As well as her work as State Secretary, she devoted many hours to providing help and advice to the bereaved, and visiting and contacting members in hospitals and nursing homes.

She often travelled long distances to provide support and encouragement, delivering groceries or often just sitting down for a cup of tea.

Through her work with the War Widows and Widowed Mothers Association, Verna was instrumental in establishing Federation University Australia’s nursing scholarship for students with family links to veterans.

Since 2005, over $80,000 of scholarships have been awarded in the name of the War Widows and Widowed Mothers Association, and Verna proudly attends the scholarship ceremonies when she can.

In addition, Verna has actively supported other ex-service organisations including the RSL and the Austin Repatriation Hospital.

Verna’s sense of duty and service to the welfare of widows have made her a role model for the veteran community, both young and old. Her only wish is that she was a bit younger so she could continue this work. ‘I think everybody should have a good life, and if they can’t, we should have the social supports there to help them.'

Promotion of Multiculturalism Award

Vishnu Prasad of Skye

Vishnu Prasad Promotion of Multiculturalism Award winnerVishnu Prasad is an elder in the Fijian Hindu community in south-east Melbourne who volunteers in different capacities to help people from all walks of life.

At Wesley Mission, he supports people of all backgrounds and faiths, visiting the elderly, providing meals for homeless people, and serving much-needed school breakfasts for disadvantaged children in Dandenong.

He is a Hindu chaplain working to bring the community together, and he has a Hindi radio program where he takes a multifaith approach, telling children’s moral stories inspired by the teachings of Sai Baba, the Ramayana and the Bible.

Through his retirement hobby – quilt making – he provides quilts for Quilts of Valour, a not-for-profit organisation supporting Australian Defence Force personnel, veterans and their families.

He is also a justice of the peace volunteering at police stations, and visiting elderly people in nursing homes to have their important documents witnessed.

Sharing and bringing happiness to other people is what keeps Vishnu going. ‘You see the people’s happiness. Their faces light up, and their happiness is our happiness,’ he says.

Healthy and Active Living Award

Patsy Blair of Bentleigh

Patsy Blair Healthy and Active Living Award winnerPatsy Blair has provided her outstanding leadership and dedication to dragon boating for breast cancer survivors. Dragon boating is a team sport with a crew of 20 paddlers who sit side-by-side.

Building on the work of Canadian researcher Don McKenzie, who first highlighted the benefits of upper-body exercise on the incidence of lymphedema, it has now become a well-established form of therapy and social support for breast cancer survivors.

‘It’s a sport for people after surgery to get their fitness back, to get their life back, to talk and mix with others who have had the same thing,’ Patsy says.

Patsy first joined the Melbourne Dragons Abreast team on the Yarra River in 2004. Seeing an unmet need on the Mornington Peninsula, in 2006 she started work to establish Dragons Abreast Peninsula Dragonflys in Carrum on the Patterson River.

Through her passionate campaigning and fundraising, the group secured the use of a clubroom and acquired uniforms, paddles, lifejackets and boats. Within a year, Patsy led a full team to their first regatta in 2007, the International Breast Cancer Paddling Commission Regatta, in Caloundra, Queensland, where they proudly received a Participation Award.

A re-diagnosis of breast cancer in 2009 did not stop Patsy, and she went on to attend the Masters Games in Adelaide in 2015, where the team won gold in the Breast Cancer Survivors 20s race. “‘Paddling for life” is our motto, and that is my aim with all the members,’ Patsy says. ‘Enjoy life. You can always get over your hurdles.’

Council on the Ageing Senior Achiever Award winners

Tim Carlton of Warrnambool

Tim Carlton COTA Senior Achiever Award winnerAt 96 years old, Tim Carlton is still volunteering for the community in Warrnambool, where he first settled in 1957.

He has been a member of the Lions Club for 44 years, and takes part in every project that comes up – especially when it comes to looking after the till at fundraising events!

He is also heavily involved in the Triton Woodworkers Club, and he is a life member in recognition of his contribution.

As part of the club’s activities, Tim volunteers for the Fun4Kids Festival each year, where the Triton Woodworkers help kids to build toys using wooden kits.

He’s also a member of Probus, and is contributing to a project to capture the stories of the Fletcher Jones factory in Warrnambool, where he worked as a Methods Engineer before retirement.

‘I just enjoy life, and I enjoy helping people,’ Tim says. ‘If there’s something I can do, I hop into it.’

Jennifer Evans of Blackburn

Jennifer Evans COTA Senior Achiever Award winnerSince retiring as a social worker, Jennifer Evans has continued working for community wellbeing through volunteering. She volunteers with Court Network, providing support, information and referral to people attending court in Ringwood, predominantly on family violence matters.

‘There’s such high need,’ Jennifer says. ‘The interest for me is the combination of law, justice, compassion and support.’

She became a member of the board of Court Network five years ago and is currently the Secretary. She is a strong advocate for seniors’ rights and the elimination of elder abuse, and she gives community education talks on behalf of Seniors Rights Victoria.

Her other great passion is climate change, and she is a driving force behind the Eastern Climate Action Group. ‘Life is an absolute gift,’ Jennifer says. ‘I feel very privileged, so doing what I do is natural. You just do it.’

Anne Fairhall of Melbourne

Anne Fairhall COTA Senior Achiever Award winnerAnne Fairhall is a determined advocate for people with dementia, promoting cultural and systemic change to better support people living with dementia, their families and carers. When Anne’s husband Geoff developed younger-onset dementia 25 years ago, she became his full-time carer. Following his move into residential care five years ago, she has devoted herself to advocating for positive change.

She has taken on roles on Alzheimer’s Australia’s Victorian Consumer Advisory Committee and National Dementia Advisory Group, and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services’ Reference Group on Quality in Public Sector Residential Aged Care. She regularly speaks to the media and at events about dementia and the work of Alzheimer’s Australia.

‘I am an absolute, unashamed optimist, even against the odds. And as part of that positive philosophy, I very much believe in proactive – and strategic – advocacy for change,’ Anne says.

Robert (Bob) Greaves OAM of Mount Eliza

Robert Greaves OAM COTA Senior Achiever Award winnerBob Greaves is an artist and retired Monash University lecturer who volunteers his time, energy and creativity to support children and young people in the Frankston community.  Through the Ardoch Youth Foundation, he works at Mahogany Rise Primary School in Frankston North, contributing to the lives of disadvantaged children with art lessons, storytelling, woodwork and numeracy activities.

Each week, he spends hours collecting wood and making 40 sets of pre-fabricated timber pieces that tie in with a story, to give the children the opportunity to solve creative problems with their hands.

He has also volunteered at Frankston Hospital for the last 35 years as a play specialist, interacting with children, parents and medical staff.

Talking about what motivates him to volunteer, he says, ‘I’m very concerned about environmental problems, and I think we need to teach children creative thinking so they are prepared to solve these issues.’

Marjorie Jarvis of Leongatha

Marjorie Jarvis COTA Senior Achiever Award winnerMarjorie Jarvis has been actively involved with supporting the South Gippsland community her entire adult life.

In 1972, she was foundation president of the Woorayl Lodge Nursing Home Auxiliary, and she still volunteers with this organisation 44 years later, working hard to raise funds to support residents and their families. She was a member of the Leongatha Auxiliary for the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital until it ceased in 1999, raising over $61,000 to support people with eye and ear problems. 

She has volunteered for Red Cross and Meals on Wheels until she was in her late 70s. She is also an active member of the Country Women’s Association and the local Senior Citizens Club.

‘I’ve been community-minded all my life,’ she says. ‘I enjoy doing it, staying busy and helping out where I can.’

Zharoan (Joan) Li of Toorak

Zhaoran Joan Li COTA Senior Achiever Award winnerJoan Li has been an active memberof Melbourne’s Chinese community since she arrived in Australia in 1996.

‘I saw an ad for the Stonnington Chinese Seniors Association, and my daughter took me along. That was 20 years ago!’

Joan is passionate about passing on her knowledge and helping others to lead active lives. As Vice President of the Association she helps lead a thriving club and is instrumental in connecting members of the Chinese community with programs and services assisting with active ageing. She has served as Vice President of the Australian Chinese Writers Association, and in 2014 she was the director of the Chinese Short Story Association.

She enjoys teaching others and encouraging them to participate, volunteering with the Broadband for Seniors program to help older Chinese people use computers.

Anne Macarthur OAM of Bairnsdale

Anne Macarthur OAM COTA Senior Achiever Award winnerAnne Macarthur joined the junior Red Cross when she was 10, and she has volunteered with them ever since – a period spanning more than 60 years.

She became a driving force within the Victorian Division, and turning 60 did not slow her down. She was elected Chair in 2014 – the first woman to hold that position in the organisation’s history. She has contributed to many activities at both regional and state levels, including fundraising, publicity, committees, and as a member of the Overseas Support Group. As an emergency services volunteer on Black Saturday, Anne was sent to Traralgon to register people arriving at emergency shelters.

‘People lost their homes, lost family members,’ Anne says. ‘It was really hard, but Red Cross had trained us very well.’

Reflecting on her lifelong commitment to volunteering, she says, ‘I’ve been lucky in my life. I want to put something back into the world.’

Sorin Ronea of Caulfield

Sorin Ronea COTA Senior Achiever Award winnerSorin Ronea fled communist Romania at the age of 21, arriving in Australia with nothing. He then taught himself English, married and built a successful career.

When he retired in 1988, he started volunteering with Montefiore Homes (one of Jewish Care’s predecessor organisations), and for the last 28 years he has provided social support for residents as part of Jewish Care’s Community Visitors Scheme, which aims to reduce social isolation.

His duties over the years have included providing transport for appointments and outings, coordinating volunteers, and volunteering in administration and fundraising.

He has helped to recruit many volunteers, and he believes in the power of volunteering to improve people’s mental and physical wellbeing, and to foster social connectedness. His contribution to the community binds together two key themes: his passion for supporting socially isolated people, and his dedication to empowering other volunteers.

Leo Sargent of Canterbury

Leo Sargent COTA Senior Achiever Award winnerLeo Sargent’s passion for lifelong learning and his dedication to leadership and community service came together one day in 2001 when he decided to go along to the University of the Third Age (U3A) to brush up on his computer skills.

Fifteen years later, he has served as Secretary, President and then Vice President, and continues to be strongly involved in the office administration at U3A Nunawading.

In that time, Nunawading U3A has grown from 500 members to over 2000 – the largest U3A in Victoria. Over that journey he has mentored many fellow members and encouraged them to take on various roles, ensuring that U3A Nunawading will continue to thrive.

Of his volunteering with U3A, he says, ‘We are a progressive organisation, continually building on the foundations, looking at the wider world to see what’s happening out there. We’re not standing still.’ 

Tom Thorpe OAM of Burwood

Tom Thorpe OAM COTA Senior Achiever Award winnerTom Thorpe is involved with so many community organisations in Melbourne’s east that it’s difficult to know where  to begin. He has twice served as President of the Rotary Club of Box Hill, and he is a passionate member of the Wattle Park Heritage Group, dedicated to preserving and developing this unique park. He’s a Meals on Wheels volunteer, and an active member of Burwood Uniting Church. 

He chairs Inner Eastern Group Training, a not-for-profit training organisation, and the Australian Overseas Foundation, providing scholarships for skilled young people to travel overseas for further study. He was a City of Box Hill councillor for 19 years, including three stints as Mayor – two of which were when he was in his 60s.

He says, ‘I’m interested in helping people. I’m lucky to be able to do these things, so I’m pleased I can.’

In 2016 two awards were presented to organisations working with an age-friendly approach during an award ceremony at Government House. 

Age-Friendly Victoria Awards

Maroondah City Council

Maroondah City Council Age-Friendly Victoria Award winnerBy 2020, 40 per cent of Maroondah’s population will be aged over 45 years, with the greatest increase occurring in the retirement-age bracket.  With this in mind, Maroondah City Council set out to engage their community to help Maroondah become more  accessible, inclusive and age friendly.

The Active and Healthy Ageing Initiative is a blueprint for an age friendly Maroondah – where people feel safe, healthy and secure as they age.  The initiative engaged more than 120 groups and organisations, and actively involved more than 1,000 older people in the community. The consultation gathered views and ideas on creating an age-friendly Maroondah.

This work provided a benchmark which the council used to rank Maroondah’s current performance, and it also identified more than 40 actions to achieve the goal of becoming an age-friendly city.  One of the actions is the introduction of the Room 105 program, which provides free intergenerational IT training in partnership with  Ringwood Secondary College.

Students from the college help older people with their computer and technology needs – and the information exchange and conversations between the generations allow both to learn about each other. The initiative and actions contributed to Maroondah’s acceptance as a member of the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities in December 2014.

Peninsula Transport Assist

Peninsula transport assist Age Friendly Victoria Award winnerMornington Peninsula has the second lowest level of public transport infrastructure of all local councils in metropolitan Melbourne, and a low proportion of taxis to population. This makes it hard for older people to get to appointments, do their shopping and participate in the life of their community.

Three local residents – Neil Toyne, Andrew Morse and Don Reeves – decided to do something about this. Forming a working group with the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Mornington Peninsula Primary Care Partnership, they discovered there were a number of community organisations with 12-seater buses that often sat idle due to a lack of volunteer drivers. There were also challenges relating to training and managing a volunteer workforce.

Peninsula Transport Assist grew from these discussions. The program shares volunteers and vehicle resources, and offers three services:

  • volunteer drivers who use their own vehicles to transport older people
  • a service that matches volunteer bus drivers with community groups
  • a central booking system to manage the volunteer drivers and bus hire.

In addition to its volunteer committee, the program employs three part-time administration staff, and manages over 50 volunteer drivers and four buses, as well as another 11 vehicles through the bus registry. Peninsula Transport Assist shows how we can make our communities more age friendly – enabling older people’s autonomy, social engagement, civic participation and wellbeing.