LONG-TIME Corner Inlet district resident Kathy Whelan is the recipient of a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. She will receive her award in a special ceremony at Government House in Melbourne later this year.
Kathleen Carol Whelan, to give Kathy her full name, received the OAM for service to the community of South Gippsland. This service has been enormous over the years, and included everything from the Corner Inlet Pony Club to the Toora and District Community Progress Association (TPA). Most recently Kathy has become known, alongside partner Peter Lee, as the force behind the establishment of the Friends of Agnes Falls.
Kathy has received a number of accolades already for her community contribution. These have included 2004 Corner Inlet Citizen of the Year and 2004 South Gippsland Shire Citizen of the Year, Life Membership of Corner Inlet Pony Club and a Certificate of Appreciation for 20 years’ continuous membership of the TPA. However, this latest honour, she says, is like no other.
“Every achievement means a lot, but this one is the icing on the cake. The letter arrived out of the blue!” says Kathy, clearly thrilled with her OAM. “You never look for accolades but to get this pat on the back is…” For once, Kathy was lost for words.
Not so much a quiet achiever as a community dynamo, Kathy attributes her drive to make things happen and her impressive powers of persuasion to her formative years on the Student Representative Council (SRC) at teachers training college in Melbourne.
“I was a shrinking violet at school,” she insists.
Following her time on the SRC, armed with a new confidence and a growing talent for public speaking, Kathy put herself forward for membership – and often leadership – of committees in her local community, initially in Melbourne, and then when she moved to Agnes with her then-husband, in South Gippsland. She fitted it all in while raising a family and working as a teacher at local schools and kindergartens.
Kathy’s community volunteering has included being a member of the committees of the Toora Playgroup and Toora Kindergarten, a founding and longstanding active member of the Toora Community Centre, South Gippsland contact for the Parents for Music Association, treasurer and newsletter writer for Toora Brownies, steady involvement for many years in Corner Inlet Pony Club and the Toora Progress Association, organiser of the annual pruning day at Toora Heritage Pear Orchard from 1999 to 2005, and reporting on Toora for ABC Radio’s ‘Talking Towns.’
Kathy has never been one to do anything by halves, so when her partner Peter was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 2004, they both joined the Cardiomyopathy Association of Australia and became increasingly involved in the executive committee. Kathy was National Secretary from 2005 to 2007 and then Director of Special Projects. She was still very much involved in the Toora Progress Association, but far from letting one committee take time away from the other, she used her involvement in the Cardiomyopathy Association to promote Toora nationwide as a tourist destination!
As if all that was not enough, Kathy has also been an active member of The Nationals for many years. She was Secretary of the Foster & District Branch of the Victorian National Party in 2010 and since 2012 Secretary of the Fish Creek-Foster Branch.
Since 2012 Kathy’s life (and Peter’s) has been dominated by Agnes Falls. “I still have the occasional job as a relief kinder teacher, but I’m living and breathing Agnes Falls,” she smiles.
She has appreciated the beauty of the waterfalls since the mid-1970s and the start of her regular visits to the Corner Inlet district, which in 1989 was to become her home. Convinced of the untapped potential of the falls as a drawcard for visitors to the area, as South Gippsland Shire, with input from the community, drew up plans for Toora in 2012, Kathy encouraged the falls to be included as part of those plans. This enabled grant funding to be sought.
A $180,000 grant to Parks Victoria, via the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, from the state government’s Regional Growth Fund, enabled the construction last year of a new toilet block, picnic settings and a picnic shelter, as well as updated signage.
The falls are attracting more visitors than ever – Kathy and Peter record the figures – with many expressing their appreciation with a ‘like’ on the Facebook page established and administered by Kathy, who also runs regular working bees in association with Parks Victoria and promotes the falls at any opportunity she gets.
Agnes Falls Scenic Reserve was looking a picture last week when The Mirror visited last week. Kathy acknowledged this, but then she was off – talking with great enthusiasm about plans for an even better haven in the hills above Toora, with new paths, a cantilevered bridge…Anyone who thought she would be content to rest on her laurels does not know Kathy Whelan OAM!