20 September 2023

I recently attended the 2023 NSW Volunteer of the Year regional award ceremony at the Fairmont Resort in Leura. The event is an initiative of The Centre for Volunteering, the peak body for volunteering in New South Wales, and provides an important opportunity to acknowledge the selfless dedication of those who give so generously of their time in communities across the State. I thank Gemma Rygate and her team for their efforts in organising a great event. I quote Kelly May from the Department of Communities and Justice, who spoke at the event:

All volunteers are united by a common motivation to make a difference.

That drive to make a difference, and the contributions made as a result of it is a testament to the human spirit, your human spirit. It is a valuable commodity, 'a gem' to be cherished.

Because of that drive, you are all 'gems' that help to make your communities great.

But the act of volunteering also gives back, it is not a one-way transaction. It creates friendships, develops skills, builds networks, reduces isolation, strengthens our resilience… generating an energy that sustains us all.

And, along every journey, including a volunteer's journey there are laughs, moments of great joy, moments of frustration, and sometimes tears, and of course challenges.

And it is those challenges experienced along that journey, such as those in recent years that drive innovation, enable creativity, strengthen resolve, and of course make us all stronger and more determined than ever to make a difference.

I thank Kelly for those words. I now recognise those from the Blue Mountains who won awards this year. They each make an incredible contribution to our community. Heather Gwilliam from Mount Riverview was awarded both the 2023 Blue Mountains Adult Volunteer of the Year for her work with Anglicare, as well as the overall Blue Mountains Volunteer of the Year. Those accolades are testament to Heather's devotion to helping others. She led the Nepean-Blue Mountains Anglicare disaster recovery volunteer team, a group of dedicated individuals that supported the Hawkesbury and Nepean communities through four flood events between March and October 2022. They provided food, material support, service referrals and no doubt shoulders to cry on as flood-affected families faced heartbreak and loss.

Heather was at the forefront of sourcing and distributing thousands and thousands of dollars of donated goods, ensuring that supplies made it to those so desperately in need. The work that Heather does, along with the range of services offered by Anglicare more broadly, are a beacon of hope for the vulnerable members of our community—from home care to food and financial assistance, family parenting and youth support to counselling and mediation, and also mental health services and support for carers.

The 2023 Blue Mountains Senior Volunteer of the Year went to Peter Gibson of Winmalee for his work with the Justice Advocacy Service. The work of this organisation is crucial, offering safe and confidential court and police support for those amongst us who face cognitive challenges. Peter has been volunteering with the Justice Advocacy Service since 2019, offering unwavering support to those in need, some of whom otherwise have very little help or guidance and at times may have given up hope altogether. Peter assists without judgement, an admiral quality that illustrates the character of this remarkable man. He is deserving of the award he has received.

The 2023 Blue Mountains Volunteer Team Award went to Valley Heights Steam Tramway team with the Steam Tram and Railway Preservation Co Op Society. The society operates the Valley Heights Steam Tramway, which is the only existing example of a Sydney steam tram operating in Australia. On two Sundays every month, one can take a ride on the steam tram as well as at other times for schools and tour groups. I commend all members of the society who give of their time, providing a fascinating glimpse into history and an opportunity for us all to connect to times past.

To Heather, Peter and the Steam Tramway team and society, I extend the heartful gratitude of my community. It takes a very special kind of soul to devote themselves to the betterment of our society. The generosity of spirit displayed by our volunteers is extraordinary and something that I really do believe makes the world a better place. All the volunteers, and many were at the event, who were nominated at the 2023 NSW Volunteer of the Year Regional Awards but did not receive an award on this occasion are still most worthy of acknowledgement and our deepest gratitude. Each and every one of them is a winner in my eyes.