Pyalong’s Moira Waye, centre, is flanked by Governor of Victoria Linda Dessau, right, and Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers Colin Brooks, left, as she accepts her award for Victorian Senior of the Year. ​

By Colin MacGillivray

FOR someone who by her own admission shuns the spotlight, Pyalong’s Moira Waye found herself in a tricky situation last week when given only two minutes to prepare an acceptance speech after being named the Victorian Senior of the Year.

Ms Waye, who was awarded in a ceremony at Melbourne’s Government House for her tireless volunteer work at Pyalong Neighbourhood House, said she had not considered the possibility of speaking if she won.

“I found out a few weeks ago that I’d been nominated, but I didn’t know I’d won the award until about two minutes before. Then they told me I had to make a speech,” she said.

“I was shaking. When I got up to the lectern, I told everybody they’d have to bear with me.

“Imagine – you’ve got the Governor of Victoria, MPs and about 500 other people there. I thought, ‘I’m going to be a bumbling idiot’.”

But the people of Pyalong and beyond know Ms Waye, who celebrates her 83rd birthday this week, as anything but ‘bumbling’.

For 16 years she has deftly helmed the local neighbourhood house, helping organise a series of social outreach programs including a huge effort to support Lions Australia’s Need for Feed charity for the past four years.

Need for Feed was established in 2006 to supply farmers in drought-stricken areas of Australia with livestock feed, food for themselves and their families, and other essential supplies.

Ms Waye said she was unaware of the life-changing work she would undertake when Need for Feed approached Pyalong Neighbourhood House with a request for help.

“They were telling me how many farmers had taken their lives and that many of them were too proud to ask for help,” she said.

“Many thought that nobody knew the situation they were in and there were a lot of mental health problems.”

Mateship inspires

When Ms Waye put a call out for supplies to help farmers in need, she said the community’s response was ‘truly inspiring’.

“We’d get a call asking if we needed dog food. We said yes and they’d send a truck with 1000 kilograms of dog food to the neighbourhood house,” she said.

“Pensioners were coming in with cans of peas and packets of biscuits. You hear about mateship – well, the spirit of mateship is alive and well, I can tell you.”

Ms Waye saw that mateship in action when shopping in Wallan for supplies to send to farmers.

“I was walking up and down the aisles with a trolley full of groceries and a couple stopped me and said I must have a huge family,” she said.

“I explained the money had been donated for farmers and I was buying the groceries. They walked away, then came back and said ‘fill your trolley and we’re paying for it’.”

But there was even more generosity in store when the couple tried to pay for Ms Waye’s $380 of groceries at the check-out.

“The man told the check-out lady that they were paying for it because it was for the farmers, but when he pulled out his wallet to pay for it, the check-out lady said she would only take $300 from him because she would pay the rest,” Ms Waye said.

Special connections

Ms Waye said Pyalong Neighbourhood House was soon packing between 60 and 80 hampers each week for famers in need.

With each hamper she included a handwritten note.

“I put in a letter to say ‘we’re thinking of you, we’ve got your back – we’re just friends you haven’t met yet’,” she said.

Ms Waye included her telephone number and return address with each note in case the farmers wanted to call or write to her, which they frequently did.

She said it helped them to give voice to their hardships.

“Imagine seeing your kids and you can’t feed them, and the pantry is empty,” she said.

“A lot of them had inherited their farm from their parents and they thought they were failures because they were close to losing everything.”

One farmer wrote back to Ms Waye with a letter that she said she would remember forever.

“This man was watching his animals die and his kids go hungry. Up his drive came the truck from Need for Feed with hay and other supplies, and he just burst into tears,” she said.

“He said, ‘when I thought there was no hope, I realised there was hope. A light of hope was shining from Pyalong’.

“It was absolutely beautiful. It makes you very proud of what your fellow Australian will do to help the next person.”

Group effort

Ms Waye said she felt conflicted about receiving the award, recognising the numerous volunteers at Pyalong Neighbourhood House and Need for Feed who selflessly gave their time, money and effort to support people in need.

“I was allowed to take 10 guests, so I invited the couple who used to drive down from Cobram and take back the groceries for Need for Feed. I told them this was as much their award as mine,” she said.

“They were putting their hands in their pockets and using their own money to keep going. I think that’s just wonderful.

“It was an honour to get [the award], but at the same time I feel guilty that I and I alone was given it, because it belongs to so many other people.”

Moira, centre, celebrates her award with friends and Need for Feed volunteers Kelly and Darren Laffan of Cobram. ​