TOORA identity Irene Spooner’s tireless efforts over 40 years on behalf of her local community were acknowledged on Australia Day when she was awarded Corner Inlet Citizen of the Year.
Irene’s award was announced at the Corner Inlet community Australia Day celebrations in Foster. Other award winners included Meryl Agars and Jim Wilson, who were presented with Community Service Awards, and the Corner Inlet Pony Club 50 Years Celebrations, which took out Community Event of the Year.
The announcement of the award winners was among the highlights of the Corner Inlet Australia Day celebrations, which were – as always – a lively and informal affair. How could they be anything but with the irrepressible Marg Haycroft running the show as chair of the local Australia Day committee?!
Celebrations kicked off at midday with a barbecue on the lawns in front of the library and museum. People could enjoy a snag while wandering past stalls showcasing Corner Inlet community groups and events, from the Foster Show, the Foster CWA and the Friends of Agnes Falls, to Foster Wool Group and Prom Coast Seachange Festival. Fish Creek RSL had a magnificent display of flags to tie in with the competition to design a Corner Inlet flag, and local band ‘Soul Purpose’ provided toe-tapping music from the veranda of the museum.
Before the formalities began, an area of ground was cleared for that iconic Australian pastime, the backyard cricket match. All eyes were then on Corner Inlet’s Australia Day Ambassador, this year none other than cricketing great (and distinguished educationalist) Paul Sheahan. He was invited to take up the bat first. He and a line-up of locals, of a very mixed range of cricketing abilities, then entertained the crowd with bat and ball.
The official ceremony began with the raising of the flag by a representative of the Toora/Welshpool RSL to the singing of the national anthem.
Margaret Haycroft welcomed the crowd, numbering over 120, and thanked the Toora Lions for the BBQ and Foster Rotary for setting up the chairs and tables for the celebrations. She then introduced the Australia Day Ambassador. Paul Sheahan won over the partisan crowd by expressing gratitude for his invitation to “this beautiful part of the world” and saying the view over Corner Inlet as you drive down into Foster was “equal to anywhere in the world”. He explained that having grown up in Geelong he had been better acquainted with the west of the state until ten years ago when his partner, Cathy Roberts, who as the daughter of long-time locals David and Coral Roberts grew up in Corner Inlet, introduced him to South Gippsland.
He said that Australia Day was a day to affirm everything that was good about Australia and a day to contemplate what it means to be Australian. It had been, he said, a great privilege to represent his country in cricket and he was delighted to have the opportunity as an Australia Day Ambassador to give something back.
“You have an enormous amount to be proud of in this district,” he said, encouraging people to nominate their fellow citizens for Australia Day Awards. He concluded with four recommendations for living a good life: “Seize opportunities. Embrace change. Welcome strangers. Remain positive.”
There was a brief word then from a representative from Woolworths, which sponsors the Australia Day Ambassador program. Lyn Schrapel, who works at Woolworths at Yarram, said she was especially pleased to be at her first Australia Day as an Australian citizen, having taken up citizenship during 2012.
Marg Haycroft thanked the various dignitaries who attended the celebrations along with members of the Corner Inlet community. These included the federal member for McMillan, Russell Broadbent, South Gippsland Shire Mayor Kieran Kennedy, Cr Mohya Davies and (briefly) Cr Jeanette Harding.
Certificates were presented to the young entrants in the competition to design a flag for Corner Inlet. Their colourful entries adorned the museum fence.
Cr Davies then announced the Corner Inlet Pony Club’s 50th birthday celebrations as the winner of the award for Corner Inlet Community Event of the Year. The celebrations took place on the weekend of December 9-10 last year and involved lots of organisation on the part of the club’s 40 or so members, adults and children alike. There was general agreement the weekend was a huge success. The club had a stall at Saturday’s celebrations, selling food and drink, and representatives of the club were thrilled to collect their award.
Presentations were next made to the winners of Community Service Awards.
Cr Davies described Meryl Agars as a driving force behind the Mt Best community, paying especial tribute to her efforts on behalf of the Five Halls Project, which has garnered significant funding for Mt Best’s and other halls in the district. She also praised her efforts on behalf of the Toora Heritage Pear Orchard.
“I do what I do because I love working with people,” said Meryl humbly. She said the inaugural Pear/Pair Day last year had attracted an unexpectedly large crowd of 600, and she was looking forward to this year’s event on March 17.
Mayor Kieran Kennedy then announced the other recipient of a Community Service Award, retired Foster solicitor and long-time community volunteer Jim Wilson. Cr Kennedy said that Council had been astounded to discover that Jim had served on the Foster Recreation Reserve Committee for more than 53 years.
Jim said that he came from a family which had long prided itself on its involvement in the community, an involvement which continues to this day – he recently signed on for another term on the reserve committee (“There’s life in the old dog yet!” he remarked) and his daughters Gen Davies and Liz Kindellan and their husbands Malcolm and Owen are also very active in the community. “My father emphasised to me that if you live in a town you had an obligation to contribute to the local community and I have endeavoured to follow his example,” said Jim, remarking that he had served on nearly every committee in town over the years, except the CWA and the various ladies’ and mothers’ clubs! “This is the first recognition of this nature that I have ever received apart from life membership from the Foster Golf Club which I value very much.”
Corner Inlet Citizen of the Year 2013 was then announced as Irene Spooner. She was nominated by Pat Fraser because of the important role she plays in her local community as “dispenser of indispensable cheer and information to locals and visitors alike from her seven days a week newsagency”. She has served in countless Toora organisations over 40 years, including the Progress Association, Hall Committee, kindergarten, Parents and Friends, Sagasser Park Committee, Prom Coast Community Arts Group, ‘Back To’ celebrations and ‘Save the Toora Police Station’ rally, and she was instrumental in the establishment of – and continues to be involved in – the Toora and District Community Bank.
“I’m stoked and absolutely stunned,” said a clearly deeply moved Irene. She thanked everyone involved for her nomination and win of the award and gave particular thanks to her husband Alan for his patience and to all the other people who volunteer in the community. “Without volunteers we are nothing,” she said.
Corner Inlet’s new Citizen of the Year was then invited, along with the other official guests, to cut the cake, a magnificent arrangement of lamingtons and the perfect cake, of course, for Australia Day.