By Colin MacGillivray
MITCHELL Shire Council marked Australia Day with the presentation of community awards at a ceremony in Wallan this morning.
Wandong man John Simpson was named Mitchell Shire Citizen of the Year for his tireless work as member of both the Victoria State Emergency Service and Country Fire Authority.
Mr Simpson said he was surprised and humbled to win the award.
“It was something that never entered my mind,” he said.
“It well and truly caught me off guard. It was something that I never had considered, and I certainly never expected anyone to nominate me for an award like this.”
In addition to his work with the SES and CFA, Mr Simpson has been a teacher and Cub Scout leader in the Mitchell Shire.
Seymour’s Hayley Edmonds was named Young Citizen of the Year for a display of resilience during the past year.
Hayley was cited for being ‘a natural leader’ and offered informal mentoring to her peers, who looked up to her during a disrupted year.
Wallan man Adam Georgelin was the shire’s Access and Inclusion Champion after a year in which he raised money and awareness for people with disabilities.
Mr Georgelin, who was born with spina bifita, pushed his wheelchair along the entire length of the Great Victorian Rail Trail to raise money for Disability Sports and Recreation and the Robert Rose Foundation.
He is now in the process of setting up a website aiming to link people with disabilities and their carers with support services in the area.
Broadford Historical Society picked up the Community Event of the Year award for its display on the history of Broadford State School in January last year.
The event saw the oldest living Broadford State School student Jill Schneider, 102, send her school photos to be displayed, while many former teachers and students attended.
A booklet chronicled a timeline of major events at from 1873 to end of school year in 2019.
Community Group of the Year went to Wallan Circle of Friendship, a social group that has been operating in the town for nearly 40 years.
The group organises fundraisers and events for members, many of whom are elderly and meet at the Uniting Church for a chat and social connection. During the COVID-19 pandemic, group members stayed in touch via a newsletter.
Citizen of the Year a true volunteer
WANDONG’S John Simpson has played many roles during a lifetime of service to the community.
He is a member of both the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and Victoria State Emergency Service (SES), has been a teacher, a Cub Scout leader and even a driving instructor.
Now Mr Simpson has a new title to add to the list: Mitchell Shire’s Citizen of the Year.
Mr Simpson was today presented with the award at a ceremony in Wallan, recognising his selfless dedication to the people of the region.
He has been a CFA member for nearly 40 years, joining the organisation shortly after moving to the region. He became an SES volunteer a year later.
Mr Simpson is now Kilmore SES unit controller and a member of Wandong Fire Brigade.
He said he enjoyed being able to help people through his roles at both organisations.
“I think [what I enjoy most is] the satisfaction of being able to give to people in the area and in the community, whether it be through the fire brigade or the SES,” he said.
“I suppose there is a personal satisfaction that I can help people in different ways.”
Mr Simpson also has a passion for mentoring younger people, serving as a leader of the 1st Wallan Wallan Cub Scouts for six years and a driving instructor for a year.
As a teacher at Seymour College, he combined his dedication to the SES with his love of teaching.
“Through the SES I got involved with a program called the Victorian Youth Development Program, which started back in the 1990s,” he said.
“The kids got a huge amount out of it and it brought a lot of them out of their shell.”
Mr Simpson said a few memories from the program stood out.
“We were doing some abseiling near Tallarook. Thirteen times one boy harnessed up and went to the edge and leaned over and said, ‘no, I can’t do it’. There were 25 kids in the group, and none of them hung it on him or laughed at him – they all encouraged him.
“Thirteen times he wouldn’t go down, and on the 14th time he went down and then ran like crazy to get up so he could go back down again.”
Other memorable moments included demonstrating a rooftop rescue during a visit by Prince Edward to Melbourne and having his group represent Victoria at a combined CFA and SES competition in Western Australia.
Mr Simpson has also seen his share of hard times across the region.
As a member of Wandong Fire Brigade, he was one of the first CFA members in the region to respond to the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.
“On Black Saturday I think we were about the fourth or fifth tanker to get on scene,” he said.
“Just the sheer ferocity and speed of it was probably the thing I remember the most. The speed it was travelling at, the heat and the wind.”
Responding to storms, flooding and car crashes are also a regular part of Mr Simpson’s SES duties, but he said he never dwelt on the negative aspects of the job.
“With things like car crashes, you don’t talk about them so much,” he said.
“But if you’re able to help someone or save them, that’s a really good feeling.”
Despite his outstanding track record of community service, Mr Simpson said he was shocked to find out he was nominated for Mitchell Shire’s Citizen of the Year award, and even more shocked to win it.
Mr Simpson said he was grateful for the award and thanked his family, friends and the community for the honour.
“I’d like to thank my wife for putting up with everything,” he said.
“Just the other day my pager went off at about midday and I got back at about 10pm at night after responding to a fire at Graytown,” he said.
“That’s the way it has been and she has accepted that for all these years. I couldn’t have done it without her.”