Helen Hamilton is Byron Shire’s 2020 Citizen of the Year

Published on 26 January 2020

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Helen Hamilton, past President of Liberation Larder, is Byron Shire’s Citizen of the Year in recognition for her service to the community.

Helen was one of seven people honoured at the Byron Shire Australia Day Awards held on 25 January.

Helen was President of Liberation Larder for nine years, working with a team of volunteers providing hot meals and food for people in need.

She organised and raised money for the not-for-profit organisation that operates from the Byron Community Centre including enlisting tradespeople and businesses to provide in-kind labour and fittings to upgrade the kitchen.

Byron Shire Mayor, Simon Richardson, said under Helen’s guidance, Liberation Larder has grown to now have more than 80 volunteers on its books.

“In 2018/19 Liberation Larder served 23,405 meals and delivered 1,200 food boxes to homes – what an extraordinary service for the people in our community who are finding the going tough,” Mayor Richardson said.

“Liberation Larder is supported by local businesses who donate unused produce including the large supermarkets, restaurants and the weekly Farmers Market, adding up to 21,571 food donations last financial year.

“Helen Hamilton has been instrumental in the growth and success of this important community service.

“Helen has taken her vision and passion for our community and made an incredible difference to the lives of so many people and on behalf of the Councillors and residents of the Byron Shire I humbly say thank you.

“To the winners of our other community awards who have also achieved outstanding success and worked tirelessly for our Shire – Margaret Robinson, Mono Stewart, Linda Sparrow, Niah McLeod, James Wright and the Nudge Nudge Wink Wink event – you are inspirational and please know how much we value your contribution," Mayor Richardson said.

Winners of the 2020 Byron Shire Australia Day Awards

Citizen of the Year – Helen Hamilton

Helen Hamilton’s involvement with Liberation Larder began when she volunteered to help provide a Christmas lunch for those in need.

She became the President of Liberation Larder in 2009, holding the position for nine years.  During that period she raised funds and enlisted the help of tradespeople and businesses to provide fittings and labour free of charge to upgrade the kitchen at the Byron Community Centre in Fletcher Street. She canvassed the community to grow the list of donators of foods and funds and initiated the collection of unsold food from the Byron Farmers Markets.

She also expanded the footprint of Liberation Larder to an outreach service in Brunswick Heads.

Helen stepped down in 2019, leaving Liberation Larder in a strong position structurally and financially.

In addition to her work with Liberation Larder, Helen is the President of the Byron Bay Community Association; was instrumental in establishing the Byron Herb Nursery which provides meaningful employment options for people with disability; has been involved in the SHIFT program which helps vulnerable women and has recently been an active committee member of the community group involved in the redevelopment of the old Byron Bay Hospital.

Young Citizen of the Year – James Wright

Over the last six years James has volunteered with BUDDI for the Byron Schoolies Safety Response. He has dedicated himself to the initiative, providing his assistance to ‘at risk’ young people every day/night during the Schoolies period and in the last two years has stepped up into a Hub Supervisor role helping to coordinate and induct new volunteers and oversee operations at the Byron Schoolies HUB.

In the last two years James has extended his volunteering with the BUDDI-managed program, Community Drug Action Team (CDAT), into year-round volunteer work which has included many other initiatives, events and activities. 

This year James has been involved in Byron’s Young First Offenders program, ‘Restorative Pathways’, assisting to coordinate and supervise Youth Chill Zones at festivals, to have trained youth and alcohol and drug workers at places where young people are likely to be at risk from alcohol and other drugs and trouble with the law.

James was accepted onto the Board of Directors at the Byron Youth Service and the Byron Youth Activities Centre in December 2017. His two years in the role of Vice-President has seen him dive into many areas of the community, advocating for young people, being involved in Council’s community engagement processes and holding discussions with local and state politicians about the struggle youth face in the community, as well as all the business of managing a youth service and youth activities centre.

Creative Artist of the Year – Niah McLeod

Niah McLeod grew up in Byron Bay, went to school at Byron Bay High, is the mother to two young children and currently lives in Bangalow.

Her work has been commissioned by local councils, companies and individuals and she has won awards for her work in Australia. From designing Tourism Australia’s logo to winning the 2017 Paddington Art Prize Young Artist of the Year, Niah has shown that you can still follow your dreams whilst living in regional Australia.

Niah sets an example and is a symbol of influence for all young indigenous people not only in the Byron Shire but around Australia. She is a fantastic role model especially to young indigenous girls.

In 2019 she was a finalist in the prestigious Paddington Art Prize and she was to host a solo exhibition in The Kate Owen Gallery, Australia’s largest Aboriginal art gallery.

Volunteer of the Year – Margaret Robertson

Margaret volunteers as an usher at Byron Community Centre and she is a director/board member of both the Northern Rivers Community Fund and the Northern Rivers Community College.

In 1997 she volunteered to become the booking officer at Marvell Hall in Byron which has been transformed into a thriving space appealing to diverse cultural activities and all ages.

Sportsperson of the Year – Mark ‘Mono’ Stewart

Mono lost his right leg below the knee to an aggressive bone cancer when he was just 16 but this has never impeded his determination.

Mark used surfing to help him through his recovery, both physically and mentally, and by the mid 1980s he became a state champion knee boarder.

In 2015, Mark won the International Surfing Association’s World Adaptive Championships in the US against surfers from around the world with similar physical challenges.

Council even declared 2 October 2015, Mark "Mono" Stewart Day in Byron Shire in recognition of the significance of his win.

In 2016, he was nominated for the prestigious Surfing Australia Awards as Male Surfer of the Year.  His accomplishments in 2019 alone are extraordinary:

  • 1st Australian Adaptive Surfing Championships
  • 1st US Open Adaptive Surfing Championships
  • 1st English International Adaptive Surfing Championships
  • 1st Spanish International Adaptive Surfing Championships
  • 1st Wales International Adaptive Surfing Championships
  • 2nd Hawaiian Adaptive Surfing Championships
  • 2nd ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships

Mark is an inspiration to all surfers and is a highly respected athlete. He is also a devoted husband and father of three. He volunteers for public speaking and is a great ambassador for the sport, his country and the Byron Shire.

Environmental Project of the Year – Linda Sparrow, Bangalow Koalas

In 2016 the Bangalow koala population was not mapped and the koalas were at severe risk. Linda established Bangalow Koalas, to enhance a small koala corridor in Bangalow and this has grown to the goal of creating a protected corridor from Byron to Lismore.  In 2019 Bangalow Koalas gained national and international recognition.

Linda Sparrow has worked tirelessly, inspiring diverse members of the community to make a difference and, thanks to her, Bangalow Koalas is an organisation of substance and credibility which has achieved registered environmental status.

Her passion and drive to protect a fragile Australian icon is infectious and she is the reason the Bangalow koala population is prospering and the community is committed to making a difference.

Linda works with many organisations including Council, State Government, RMS, Landcare, Friends of the Koala, national koala groups, Lions, local business, schools and landowners.

By 2019, Linda had raised $240,000 in funds to support the protection and sustainability of our local koalas, co-ordinated the planting of 28,000 trees in the Byron Shire, grown a social media presence with 5,200 followers, set up the first landowner’s workshop, and run several training and education workshops for the community

Community Event of the Year – Nudge Nudge Wink Wink – Party with a Conscience

Nudge Nudge Wink Wink (NNWW) is a community-led series of fundraising parties ‘with a conscience’ established three years ago.

The organisers use their professional and creative skills to manage high quality events that are not-for-profit. These events promote local musical talent, raise money for a wide range of excellent charities, are supported by local businesses and provide a much needed outlet for locals to express themselves.

To date the events have raised more than $300,000 for a wide range of local charities such as Byron Youth Service, Headspace, Future Dreamers, The UNCLE project, Wet Weather Shelter Project for the homeless and Kids Caring for Country.

Parties are family-friendly, open to all ages and include activities for children. NNWW provides provides an inclusive social event for the LGBTQIA community which is hard to find outside of the major cities.

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