Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Park the perfect place for Donald’s celebrations

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Alyssa Walker, The Buloke Times

Even the threat of rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the crowd drawn to Donald’s Memorial Park on Australia Day, and the wind only served as a challenge to people to cheer louder in their celebrations. 

Though the morning started quiet and cloudy, the celebratory backyard cricket match soon got everyone in the mood. With the crowd growing steadily larger, those who weren’t on the edges of their seats and watching the game were a part of it instead – and that includes me! This was my first ever cricket match and it was a whole lot of fun, though to save you all from my complete lack of cricket knowledge, Danny Forrest was kind enough to write the cricket section of the Australia Day report for me, which can be found elsewhere in today’s “Times”. 

The cricket was a ripper idea in more ways than one, perhaps, as it let the children burn off enough energy to (mostly) sit still for the awards ceremony part of the day. (And the adults who played got the chance to sit down with a coffee and recover!)

Official opening

It was Lisa Woods who opened the official part of the day with a cheer of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!”, to which the crowd enthusiastically responded in kind “Oi, Oi, Oi!” Though Lisa said John McConville, who was an apology for the day, had left her big shoes to fill as the emcee, she did splendidly, delighting the attendees with fun facts and inviting audience participation in the answers.

It should come as a surprise to no-one, for example, that the number one food consumed in Australia – “according to the internet, at least,” said Lisa, “and we all know the internet is never wrong” – is meat pies. Vegemite, which was invented by accident, took the number two spot, whilst the Aussie barbecue – set to be enjoyed later that very same day, too – placed third.

Lisa then inspired reflection, encouraging the audience to ponder and express gratitude on this special Australia Day, before then welcoming the “effervescent, ever-smiling, joyful Jodie Nash” to the stage as guest speaker.

Guest speaker

Dressed in sunny yellow and summer flowers, Lisa’s description couldn’t have been more appropriate. Jodie radiated joy as she spoke about her family and life, alongside a message of acceptance and embracing our journey in all that it entails – and, honestly, there was no better way for Jodie to capture that than with her photography.

“Photography is something that has given me amazing experiences,” she said, and even the wind died down to listen in rapt attention. “I’ve gotten to live so much of Australia because of it. From Cairns to Uluru, braving the Nullarbor, driving over 4000km in a week in a company photography camper van; I’ve photographed the Milky Way at the Bungle Bungles, where I couldn’t see a thing but I could hear the rustling of wallabies in the bushes; I’ve flown into Alice Springs where the view is like a moving painting with the red earth and tree-lined rivers below; I’ve seen the most incredible wildflowers and wild animals – and, in the past 14 years I’ve lived on the Gold Coast, I had rainforests, waterfalls beaches and sugar cane fields all only a short drive away.

“These are all the beautiful photos I’ve been able to capture in, what I believe, is the most beautiful country in the world.”

And that beauty shines through in its people, too. Jodie spoke about her family and her grandparents’ acceptance of her dad, who had come to Australia from Germany after World War II, and how, though life has its own hardships, it also holds incredible wonders. Jodie spoke about her strong faith in God, and her eyes lit up as she looked over the crowd. “And what’s brilliant about this country is that I can profess my own faith, just as others can say that they don’t have that faith, because in Australia we can still love one another, connect, and have conversations without believing the same things. Not all countries are so blessed. We can have different beliefs and gather people together like we’re gathering today – this is another thing to celebrate.

“And that’s what I see Australia Day being about,” Jodie finished, to well-deserved applause.

“Celebrating relationships, celebrating community, and celebrating connecting with other people.

“Life is precious. So make the most of it, and happy Australia Day!”

Then it was time for Donald 2000 president, Sam Goldsmith, to step forth and battle the wind, launching the official awards ceremony part of the day.

Donald junior citizen of the year

And Donald’s Junior Citizen of the Year certainly embodied the themes of connection and community that Jodie spoke about. 

Jacob Donnellon, though only 17, has been heavily involved with the local P & A Society, to the point where the annual Donald Show truly wouldn’t have been what it was without his unwavering dedication.

As a soul who always embodies a positive attitude, his willingness to volunteer has truly made him a role model for his fellows, and as he always strives for an atmosphere of collaboration, he inspires and motivates others by simply being himself.

In accepting his award, Jacob humbly thanked everyone for coming to celebrate. “Thank you to whoever nominated me, as well. I couldn’t have done any of this on my own, and I will continue to do my best in everything.”

Donald event of the year

Donald’s Event of the Year was really more the “place of the year”, because, with multiple events honoured, Donald’s Platform 3480 has never looked so good. Having hosted numerous events throughout the year, such as two High Tea parties, the mini Christmas market, two Pimeson Paint days, and the Bilsons Tasting evening, “the railway station has been quite literally brought back to life,” Sam said.

Yvonne Brown was invited on stage to accept the award on behalf of those who organised the Donald 2000 railway station events, and she emotionally thanked her fellow members who were a part of the process too. 

“We brought this on because we initially wanted a place for all Donald women to come together and have an absolute ball,” Yvonne said, “and it’s grown into something so much more. We can keep the history of the station alive as well as bringing the community together, and these events have ended up fostering so many vibrant connections. So thank you so much for this, and come along to the next event – everyone is welcome!”

Donald citizen(s) of the year

In another theme for the day, Donald was fortunate enough to have multiple Citizens of the Year for 2024 as well. Both incredible and dedicated community members, Graham Shilton has not only been a Lion since 1984, but has also raised significant funds for the hospital through his riding throughout the years, whilst his partner Jenni has been involved in countless artistic endeavours of all kinds, whether that be in the op-shop in charge of the window display, as a cook in the kitchen for special community events, or as a gardener who offers her flower arrangements to so many town celebrations.

When Graham took to the stage, he said it was actually Heather, his late wife, who had been the one to suggest his joining the local Lions Club, and it has been one of the best parts of his life. It offered the same feeling that teaching did; of being able to give something back, and seeing the proof of growth from your own involvement. 

Perhaps that was why the bike riding also became such a big part of Graham’s life. Riding 40km “most mornings, not all mornings”, not only is it a brilliant way to keep fit, but in participating in the Murray to Moyne, Graham found a way to combine his passion for the exercise with his drive to help his community.

“It’s interesting I even ended up in Donald,” Graham said with a chuckle. “I was supposed to stay in Birchip initially, as that was where I taught. Isn’t it funny, how life turns out? I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Echoing that sentiment, Jenni stepped forth. “I was involved in many previous commitments before moving to Donald,” she said, “and I always wanted to be involved in my community, but I was terrible at holding any office position. So I found other ways to get involved instead.”

Jenni’s desire to connect and pass on knowledge was shared by her own love of riding – so, really, she and Graham are two peas in a pod.

“You see things on a bike that you possibly don’t see in a car,” she explained. “I would notice more, when riding, the new faces in town, and I would always want to do what I could to help them feel at home, so I would offer them a new plant as a welcome invitation to their new community.

“Because when I first moved, people were asking me, ‘So why Donald?’

“And I would say, ‘When I walked down the street, people smiled and made me feel welcome.’ So I want to do the same for any other new community members too.”

And, rounding off the ceremony, Lisa Woods added that “the bike lady”, as she had known Jenni then, was one of the first friendly faces she saw when she moved, too.

So, in closing and professing gratitude for all gathered at the park, Lisa thanked the Donald 2000 committee, S & A Coffee van, and Lions Club for hosting the day, invited everyone to enjoy the barbecue (and the delicious guava, pineapple and passionfruit Filipino fruit juice provided by Corazon Stopps), and have fun at the brand-new Memorial Park playground facilities.

The Buloke Times 30 January 2024

See all the photos in the issue.
This article appeared in The Buloke Times, 30 January 2024.

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