Victorian Regional Achievement & Community Awards
Regional Development Victoria Business Achievement Award:
Bendigo FoodShare of Long Gully rescues, grows, cooks and shares food in Central Victoria. It is a community-owned, volunteer-based association that services 50 agencies and 40 schools and over 12,800 people weekly. They rescue food from supermarkets and businesses and distribute food through schools and community organisations for breakfast, lunch, emergency relief and community meals. They reduce food poverty by providing relief and helping vulnerable people to learn food skills. In 2019-2020, they crowd-funded 10 businesses for their “Cafés for COVID” project, helped 20 schools and business for “Grow a Row, Pick a Branch” project, and supported the development of six Community Cooking Clubs.
Coolabah Turf of Echuca West is passionate about enhancing the lifestyle benefits of customers and community. Founded in 1999, Coolabah Turf’s primary purpose is to provide sustainable and affordable instant lawn landscape solutions. It currently offers state-wide service to supply products through the direct retail market and distribution network. Coolabah Turf specialises in the exclusive supply of drought-tolerant turfgrass varieties. All their home-grown turfgrass are harvested from Echuca farms and delivered onboard their refrigerated semitrailers. Owners Brad and Suzie Shearer have handpicked 37 passionate local staff. In 2019, they were a Finalist in the Regional Development Victoria Leadership and Innovation Award.
Jackal Fencing of Long Gully is a steel and aluminium fencing manufacturer that promotes quality Australian-made products and contributes to the future of the Australian manufacturing industry. Founded in 2004, they sell 70% of their products into the Greater Metropolitan Areas of Australia through resellers and distributors. Jackal Fencing employs skilled tradesmen and creates practical and innovative fencing solutions. Their 23 local staff enjoy free on-site flu shots and team building activities and staff are encouraged to volunteer in the community. In 2018 and 2019, Jackal Fencing won the Bendigo Business Excellence Awards, Excellence in Manufacturing and Excellence in Manufacturing and Innovation categories.
Scott Wilkinson of Cobden is the founder, designer and director of Alderwood Speakers, a company that produces a range of speakers and subwoofers suitable for home theatres, live music venues and the marine industry. Innovative thinking led Scott to pioneer an audio design to solve industry issues whilst producing products that mindfully consider environmental impacts and promote Australian manufacturing. A remarkable craftsman, he strictly manages the production of each product over a 30-day process to ensure they reproduce instruments and human voice in a more authentic way. Alderwood has two direct staff and eight distributors in Victoria and two distributors in NSW and New Zealand.
Regional Development Victoria Leadership & Innovation Award:
Mat Bowtell of Cowes is an engineer and philanthropist. Using his redundancy pay-out in 2017, he established 3D Hands, a charity that provides open-source 3D printed hands and assistive devices for people around the world for free. Mike works full time in designing and making assistive devices and even makes his design publicly available at no cost so assistive devices can be manufactured by anyone with a 3D printer. During the pandemic, Mat worked closely with the infectious control team at Bass Coast Health. He was able to make one shield every 8 minutes and donated thousands of face shields to local healthcare and essential services.
Scott Wilkinson of Cobden is an innovative developer. He is the founder and director of Alderwood Speakers, a company that is solving industry issues such as OH&S problems with weight and size of modern commercial speaker design. His latest innovation, the Eros PRO, is the most powerful speaker for its size, in the world. Being mindful of waste, he designs and manufactures products to last a minimum of 15 years. Scott has positioned Alderwood in a 113-year-old Picture Theatre and is slowly restoring the old community building, inviting community members to drop by the space and retell stories of attending dances, balls and pictures.
Stephanie Thoo of Drouin is at the forefront of Gippsland’s innovation and entrepreneurship agenda. Since moving to Gippsland in 2019, Stephanie has worked collaboratively with local, state and federal government, local community and business groups and the private sector to drive long-needed change. She helped establish $2.2million worth of entrepreneurship programs through Startup Gippsland, targeting scalable businesses, and Work My Own Way, targeting self-the employed and small businesses. The funding supports aspiring entrepreneurs through workshops, meetups and business coaching at no cost. Stephanie created the programs from scratch. Her programs have since supported 700 entrepreneurs, creating jobs and diversifying Gippsland’s traditional industries.
Stuart Benjamin of Lake Wendouree is affectionately known as the “Mayor of the Grampians” for his commitment to the community of 11 local governments. He established and Chairs the Grampians New Energy Taskforce (GNeT), which reduces roadblocks to the development and implementation of renewable energy projects. As Chairman also of the Grampians Regional Development Australian Committee, he led the advocacy for hundreds of millions in investments into the Grampians. He established the Ballarat Regional Tourism Board and is Founding Chair of the Regional Incubator for Social and Economic Research of the Federation University. He is also the Victorian Chair of the RDA Reference Group.
GOTAFE Community Education Award:
Food & Fibre Careers Day Planning Group of Dookie has been planning and delivering the Food & Fibre Careers Day since 2014. It is Victoria’s largest careers event that showcases careers and pathways into 21st Century agriculture. From 100 attendees in 2014, Careers Day has expanded to over 300 students from 21 schools in 2019. Students from nine local government areas attend the no cost event, with the bus travel, catering and presentation costs all provided by the organising committee. In 2019, there were 22 interactive workshops, and an Agribusiness Careers Panel was included in the program. During the pandemic, they held a Virtual Work Experience event that was attended by 578 students.
Food Is Free Inc. of Ballarat Central is a grass-roots, community-led, not-for-profit that focuses on those experiencing disadvantage. Run by fifty volunteers, Food is Free has a core purpose of assisting food security, community cohesion and inclusion, and self-sufficiency education through their two sites, Food is Free Laneway, and Food is Free Green Space. They deliver vital education through workshops on how to grow your own food, plus initiatives such as free seeds and seedlings for people to start their own garden for empowerment and self-sufficiency. They have a purpose-built outdoor classroom with 30 garden beds aimed at risk and marginalised persons, putting community to the fore.
Rebecca Absalom of Ballarat North is the Program Director Regional Victoria, for High Resolves, an educational not-for-profit that aims to develop a generation of young people with the skills and intent to think, feel and act in the collective interest of humanity. In 2016, they launched Videos for Change, a national competition that challenges young people to create a one-minute video that raises awareness and calls the public to act on an issue they are passionate about. In 2019, the videos created reached 1.69 million views in 56 countries. Rebecca supports teachers and students through professional development, classroom resources and student-led project-based online learning program.
Ganbina of Shepparton is an Aboriginal-led, not-for-profit organisation established in 1997. They supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth aged 6 to 25 years to develop their full individual potential through meaningful engagement in education, training and employment. In 2005, Ganbina created the JOBS4U2 program portfolio, which centres on case management, mentoring and skills-building to enable a successful transition from school to long-term employment. Other programs include Primary School Scholarships, General Education, Accelerated Learning, Driver Training, Youth Leadership, Vocational Training, Tertiary Education and Employment. Ganbina, meaning ‘to rise up’, supports participants to develop a true sense of self and connection to their cultural heritage.
Prime Super Agricultural Innovation Award:
Soilkee of Hallora developed Soilkee Renovator, a revolutionary Australian technology that reverses soil depletion, sequesters soil carbon, enhances soil fertility and increases productivity. It was tested under a one-year trial across three farms under a Commercialisation Australia ‘Proof of Concept Grant’. The Soilkee Renovator increases dry matter yields by 25% to 100% and crude protein from 13% to 45%, effectively reducing bought-in feed costs. They developed the Soilkee System, which enables water infiltration and retention and nutrient availability through rapid topsoil building, offering a regenerative approach for resilient, profitable and productive Australian agriculture. Soilkee has earned Australian Carbon Credits Units from the Clean Energy Regulator.
Jason Shields of Ardmona is a key contributor in the development of new Orchard Software “Tie up Farming”, which gives growers the information they need to make informed business decisions from spray diary to cost-capturing. Jason has also introduced a state-of-the-art elevated working platform that has revolutionised orchard jobs such as thinning, pruning and harvesting. He introduced Integrated Pest Management into Plunkett orchards, a critical element for the survival of the apple and pear industry. In the 2019 Autumn Future Orchards® walks, Jason shared the benefits and opportunities of using no bags, trailers, tractors or ladders in improving efficiency, worker safety and fruit quality.
Jock Lawrence of Avenel is co-founder and CEO of Mobble, a livestock farm management software. The software is helping Australian farms become more profitable, productive and environmentally sustainable by enabling them to make better decisions. Mobble improves the way farmers record, utilise and communicate data. It has helped improve farming practices for hundreds of farming businesses, with a potential of improving thousands more around the world. Innovation is founded on farmer feedback. Jock personally spent time asking farmers questions on their biggest pain points in farm management. Mobble is now part of the Melbourne Accelerator Program of the University of Melbourne.
Lamb Bacon of Nulla Vale provides a real alternative to pork bacon for consumers who don’t eat pork for health, ethical or religious reasons. Toni Barton utilised a low-cost value waste cut from the lamb carcass and added high value, leading to the development of additional smallgoods products. Toni participated in an entrepreneur’s accelerator program to understand its potential for a global market. Toni requested funding from Meat and Livestock Australia and the Victorian Government to set up a facility and attend trade shows in the Middle East. Lamb Bacon won at the 2018 Australian Food Awards and 2019 Weekly Times and Harvey Norman Shine Awards.
Ricoh Australia Customer Service Award:
Gemma Ferguson of Barjarg values open and honest communication. Gemma is the Director of Ferguson’s Travel, a boutique travel agency, born from love of travel and immense passion for turning people’s travel dream into reality. She worked as travel agent in Melbourne for eleven years before moving to Mansfield and opening her travel agency. Gemma builds a relationship with the customer throughout the consultation process. She gets an understanding of their background and travel desires to meet their brief. She contacts her clients before they depart to wish them well, and when they return from holiday to receive feedback. She won three Customer Service Awards in 2019.
Alex Lemmon of Delacombe is genuinely enthusiastic about the service he provides. He is the manager and head of customer relations at Ballarat Car Sales, an independent car dealership. Alex has an integral role in the setup and running of the dealership, which uniquely operates and delivers a customer experience that exceeds expectations. As first point of contact, he approaches every customer interaction with care and integrity. He follows a Customer Service Policy that focuses on a human-centred approach to excellence with the goal of keeping customers engaged and gaining repeat business and referrals. Alex has received numerous “Dealer Of The Year” awards during his career.
Gordana Radicevski of Norlane is passionate about helping others. She is a Client Liaison Worker at Diversitat Aged Support, recognised as the best Aged Support organisation in Australia in 2018. Gordana has 20 years of experience in the Aged Care Sector and holds a Certificate IV in Leadership and Management. Her main duties include supervision of all activities staff, and client support. She knows every single one of their 150 clients, their family members and personal circumstances. Gordana has started local social groups and provides access to multicultural and aged communities for services that will have a positive impact on their wellbeing.
Josh's Rainbow Eggs of Monegeetta produces free-range eggs in the Macedon Ranges, supplying direct to over 70 Coles and Woolworth stores. Josh Murray started the business at age nine, driven by a passion for his hens and his parents’ desire to help him learn valuable life lessons and entrepreneurial skills. Josh’s Rainbow Eggs engages deeply with their customers and visit each store weekly, stock the shelves, replenish displays and monitor their point of sale. On special occasions, they bring their hens to the stores for kids to cuddle and feed while they speak with customers. All staff have undertaken an AIM customer service Certificate IV course.
GOTAFE Community Group Award:
Bendigo Foodshare partners with 90 businesses, services, volunteers and community groups to reduce food poverty. Bendigo Foodshare rescues up to 46,000 kgs per month of food from supermarkets and shares them in Central Victoria. 40 schools use their food for breakfast and lunch programs and cooking classes. The food is also used by 50 organisations who are trying to engage disadvantaged youth, providing emergency food relief and assisting people to budget and get out of debt. During the pandemic, Bendigo Foodshare volunteers rescued, sorted, warehoused and distributed food through 89 schools and community agencies to assist 12,800 people every week.
Find Your Voice Choir of Warrnambool is a “celebration of the human spirit.” The choir comprises 230 individuals from South West Victoria and encompasses all abilities, ages, genders, ethnicities, sexual preferences and backgrounds. Established in 2017, the choir has grown from grassroots into showcase performances at the 2018, 2019 and 2020 Port Fairy Folk Festival, Queenscliff Music Festival, annual appearances at the Warrnambool’s Rotary Concert for Peace and a sold-out concert at Lighthouse Theatre. They also performed in the 2019 season of Australia’s Got Talent, getting 25 million views on YouTube. They received three awards in the 2019 Victorian Disability Awards, including Excellence in Creating Inclusive Communities.
A Better Life For Foster Kids of Dutson works to improve physical, educational and psycho-social outcomes for children in foster care and kinship care. Heather Baird, who also grew up in foster care, made her dream of helping other children come true when she founded A Better Life For Foster Kids in 2014. ABLFFK provides Crisis Cases for children entering out-of-home-care in Victoria, containing all the clothing and essential items needed in a child’s first week in care, along with handmade blankets and toys. ABLFFK has two paid employees and four volunteer Crisis Case packers. They source 75% of items needed through in-kind donations from professional agencies, local businesses and community organisations.
Norlane Healing Hands is committed to improving the quality of life of the disadvantaged. It is a not-for-profit organisation fully operated by volunteers, offering high-quality, low-cost healthcare to socially and financially disadvantaged people. Available to current healthcare cardholders, payment is made by donation. Health services are provided by volunteer professional, accredited or registered healthcare practitioners. Over the last 11 years, the Clinic has provided 10,000 treatments to more than 1,000 people. Treatments include helping address musculoskeletal pain, rehabilitation from surgery and complications from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other common health conditions. Twenty volunteers are involved in the operation of the Clinic.
Prime Super Employer Excellence in Aged Care Award:
Prestige Inhome Care Geelong specialises in providing dedicated and skilled nurses and carers. Founded in 2005, they assist 641 members of the Greater Geelong community, serve 1,700 clients each month, and employ 130 carers and nurses. Prestige provides comprehensive staff training and development opportunities, including face to face and online learning and encourage internal growth opportunities. They have a comprehensive induction program and set clear expectations from the beginning. They offer work from home opportunities, flexible working conditions, and a 24/7 Employment Assistance Program. Prestige organises an Annual Movie Night, many virtual staff engagement events, and a “Reward and Recognition” program.
Princes Court Homes Inc of Mildura is a not-for-profit that serves 100 residents at the aged care facility and 73 residents in their 55 lifestyle retirement village independent living units. The 130 staff are considered as the backbone of Princes Court. They offer access to external and internal training opportunities and professional development for increased confidence and promotion opportunities. Senior staff attend relevant annual conferences in major capital cities. They provide a supportive work environment, including an open-door policy for immediate debriefing, advice and support from other staff and senior management. Staff enjoy flexible hours and opportunities to work from home and are recognised during Annual General Meetings.
St Catherine's Hostel of Wangaratta is a 69-bed not-for-profit residential care facility. Staff are employed in a variety of roles, including domestic services, cleaners, food services, maintenance, nursing and personal care, allied health professionals and management. Staff work their preferred shifts and are encouraged to take leave when they need it. There is a private lounge for staff who bring their children to work. A Personal Care course operates on-site for those interested. Staff have ongoing education programs specialising in aged care and their Gerontology Nurse Practitioner runs staff education addressing geriatric syndromes. Those who attend education sessions get a chance to win a $500 voucher.
Strzelecki House a Japara Home of Mirboo North is 60-bed aging in place facility that is in the process of extensive renovations, increasing to a 74-bed facility. They employ 64 staff and believe that “Our Staff are Gold.” The facility offers very flexible working hours and has a childcare centre within walking distance. All staff are local and close by towns. They undergo mandatory training on-site and try to offer two sessions a day to ensure they can cover all staff. They offer an Employee Assist Program where staff can call a number and have a discussion about things that worry them in their personal lives or business.
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning Community Resilience Award:
BlazeAid of Kilmore East is a grassroots organisation that works with communities, families and individuals in rural Australia after natural disasters such as fires and floods. Kevin and Rhonda Butler founded BlazeAid to ‘pay it forward’, after the community helped rebuild their three-kilometre fence that was destroyed in the Black Saturday Bushfires of 2009. Working alongside rural families, volunteers spend between a couple of days to many months helping farmers get back on their feet. Through donations, BlazeAid gives farmers support to purchase fencing materials and hampers with food and goods. They can also access funds to reseed their lands and kickstart the journey to recovery.
Leo op den Brouw of Mallacoota advocates for local solutions to local problems. On New Year’s Eve 2019, a bushfire devastated Mallacoota, and over 100 homes were lost. Leo has been central in ensuring collaborative local solutions are at the heart of the community’s recovery. As State Emergency Services Controller, Leo motivates his team of first responders to go above and beyond. Before, during and after the bushfire, he worked tirelessly to coordinate the community effort and responses. As part of the Emergency Management Team after the bushfire, he coordinated meetings with police, fire, national parks, ambulance and the defence force, and made sure local needs were prioritised.
City of Ballarat SONIKA - FReeZA Committee is dedicated to providing opportunities for young emerging artists and musicians. In response to the pandemic, SONIKA organised the Fully Sick Festival as an online live streaming event on Facebook. This ensured live gigs were still possible for people to enjoy, and a platform for music, and artist to showcase their skills with peers, and opportunities for young people to earn income. It was also a way for SONIKA crews to continue learning event management skills and think outside of the box. The video content featured bedroom gigs of musicians in isolation and workshops around art and mindfulness made by young people for young people.
Open Food Network of Violet Town is an open source software platform that seeks to build a more resilient, localised food system. Open Food Network connects those who grow food with those who eat it, by providing an open source online marketplace where small to medium sized producers can list and sell their food to customers seeking local, quality produce. During the pandemic, they have supported more than 100 shops, 150 producers, three produce markets and 10 food hubs in regional and metro Victoria to connect with customers. Open Food Network has supported local food enterprises to build and scale rapidly through facilitating shared learning and resources.
Awards Australia Community Hero Award:
Jules Haddock of Torquay has worked in the community sector for 30 years and is a Principle Master Mental Health Instructor. In 2015, she established The Anxious Bird, after supporting her son with Autism through his school years. She provides specific education to teachers and parents in supporting children. In 2019, she supported a young illustrator with intellectual disability and Schizophrenia to create her first children’s book, Chirpee The Anxious Bird. With a concept of running a festival for National Mental Health Week, she formed Art of the Minds, a non-profit voluntary charity that umbrella 29 events in the Surf Coast Shire.
Keeley Johnson of Ballan created Keeley’s Cause in June 2017 after her own personal journey with the inability to learn from the current curriculum model and requiring the use of technology to learn, which was unavailable to many with disabilities. Keeley’s Cause provides iPads to children of low income families, those with Autism or intellectual disabilities. This assists those in full-time learning at school to more effectively communicate and interact with others. They also create events to ensure socialisation amongst children and families who have none. Keeley has raised over $70,000 and this year Keeley was one of only two Australian recipients of The Diana Award in the UK.
John Anderson of Shepparton works with heart and soul. He is a member of the Rotary Club and the President of the Shepparton Chamber of Commerce and Industry. John worked on the parking reference sub-committee to bring about $8.5m funding to the Shepparton Central Business District, slated to commence in 2021. He also works with Council on various initiatives. His ability to consult and negotiate without offending or upsetting the business community and Council executives helps John and the general community achieve the desired outcome. He is a kind, respectful and humble leader who is well-loved in the community.
Kelly Vandenberg of Budgeree founded Gippsland Horse and Stock Safe Bushfire Assistance, a grassroots organisation of local people helping local people. With a network of local horse people, farmers, hay runners, truck owners, drivers and local businesses, the organisation gives the community a helping hand at times of need during bushfire emergencies. Kelly built the movement with zero funding and started an online marketing campaign and built capacity through media exposure. During the recent bushfires, they raised $70,000 in cash donations; $45,000 of horse, calf, alpaca, sheep and dog food; $8,000 of animal health supplies, and much more. They also received backing from Racing Victoria and RSPCA.