New citizens, achievers young and old, and the people who make our community a better place to live were celebrated at Cessnock's Australia Day ceremony on Sunday.
Thirty-nine new Australian citizens were inducted at the ceremony at Cessnock Performing Arts Centre, and 20 individuals and community groups were recognised with Australia Day awards.
Hunter Hands of Hope president Melissa Gontier was named citizen of the year for her dedication to helping Cessnock's homeless and vulnerable people.
Ms Gontier and her mother Julie Hall founded Hunter Hands of Hope in December 2018. What started out as a food drive in the TAFE grounds has grown to an outreach service that serves up to 49 people a night, four nights a week, and connects people in need to appropriate services.
Ms Gontier wasn't able to attend the ceremony as she was unwell.
Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent said Ms Gontier has made a huge contribution to the community through her work with Hunter Hands of Hope, which recently moved to new premises at Cessnock Tennis Courts.
"This organisation helps those who need it most in our community, homeless and vulnerable people," he said.
"It's her compassion, caring and selflessness that we recognise.
"Our community is truly better off because of Melissa."
Ted Jackson was named Senior Citizen of the Year for his work to advocate for better support for the aged in our community.
In his role as Northern Coalfields Community Care Association CEO, Mr Jackson worked tirelessly to convert the former Cessnock PCYC into a centre of excellence to provide better support facilities for aged people. The centre opened in 2019.
A lifelong Cessnock resident, Mr Jackson was also involved in the establishment of Cessnock District Health Benefits Fund.
The award for young citizen of the year went to Mount View High School student Chelsea Webb for her leadership in various youth initiatives.
Ms Webb is president of Mount View High School's Leos Club (a youth division of Lions Clubs International), a member of the school's Beyond Bullying project, and also took part in a two-day consultation with the Secretary of the Department of Education to discuss how schooling could be improved for all students.
Another inspirational young woman, Trinity Woodhouse, received the Maree Callaghan Award for a young female achiever.
Ms Woodhouse, 16, was recognised for her achievements as a singer-songwriter and her contributions as a leader and role model for local young people.
Fresh from performing nine days straight at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, Ms Woodhouse performed an original song called Don't You Know, and joined MC Tara Naysmith and Australia Day ambassador Damien Leith for a stirring rendition of I Am Australian to close the awards ceremony (see the video in the post below).
Young people also accounted for the majority of the community award winners, including a number of recipients from Cessnock and Mount View High School.
Adam Robinson, Olivia Chapman, Kyle Gosper, Shane Rodger-Wilson, Bethany Dwyer, Vincent Plater, Rose Lucas and Chloe Steel were recognised for their efforts in various youth-related pursuits, with mental health and anti-bullying initiatives among them.
Mums and Bubs Pokolbin ambassadors Amy Butler and Amy Roberts, and outgoing ambassador Rachel Threadgate, also received community awards for their dedication to providing a support network for local parents and carers of babies and young children. The group holds monthly picnics and donates items to a different local charity each month.
Community awards also went to Freemasons Cessnock for its fundraising via the Return and Earn system; the Central Hunter Business Chamber and Hunter Multicultural Communities for the Celebrating Greta Army and Migrant Camp 1939-1960 celebrations; and Cancer Council NSW for its Stars of the Hunter Valley event (which is set to return in May this year).
The Branxton Community Hall Committee won the environment award for efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, which have included installing solar panels and LED lighting at the hall.
The community event of the year award was presented to Coalfields Local History Association and Towns With Heart for the Lost Diggers of Weston exhibition and Field of Honour, which was held over the Anzac Day long weekend.
The Lost Diggers exhibition was held at the Kurri Kurri Anglican Church hall and included portraits of more than 60 World War I soldiers on display for the first time, after the glass plate negatives were retrieved from under a house in Weston some years before.
The Field of Honour was held at Kurri Kurri cemetery in conjunction, with Australian flags placed on hundreds of soldiers' graves. Both events will return on the Anzac Day weekend this year, and the Lost Diggers will also be shown at Kurri Kurri Library on February 18 during the Cessnock City Seniors Festival.
The ceremony also included the presentation of the Marthaville Arts and Cultural Award, which was received by Geoff Travis for sharing his musical talent at local retirement homes.
Cr Pynsent said it was a privilege to be part of the awards and congratulate all recipients.
"Our city is full of amazing contributors, who are community-minded and make a significant contribution to our local government area," he said.
"Each winner is extremely deserving of a recognition and I extend another special thanks to each of them for all that they do."
Cr Pynsent gave a special mention to the firefighters who have protected our city during this summer's horror bushfire season.
"Their bravery and spirit in this trying time was incredible to witness," he said.