Sunday, 7 June 2020

ON behalf of our community, I offer my congratulations to seven Northern Tablelands residents named in today’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list, acknowledging their outstanding record of community service across the communities of Armidale, Guyra and Inverell.

Armidale’s Caroline Downer, Diane Trestrail and Douglas Hewitt, Guyra’s Aileen MacDonald and Inverell residents Bob Bensley and Bob Kneipp have all been honoured as recipients of the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), in the General Division, while Armidale’s Melinda Commens has received the Public Service Medal (PSM).

Caroline Downer has long been a driving force behind Armidale’s cultural scene, serving as Gallery Director of the New England Regional Art Museum, Chair of the Armidale Youth Orchestra and involved with multiple other community based arts organisations. She is currently the Executive Officer of Arts North West.

Diane Trestrail has been an advocate for many years for people living with Parkinson’s disease in the Armidale region. As the founder of the Armidale Parkinson’s Encouragement Group, she has been instrumental in supporting those whose lives have been impacted by the illness.

Douglas Hewitt, who is now a resident of Nambucca Heads, spent more than 20 years as a Councillor on Armidale City Council and in that time served multiple terms as Mayor and Deputy Mayor. Mr Hewitt was also heavily involved in developing local education, health and financial services.

Aileen MacDonald is a champion for businesses in the Guyra community. Her leadership as President of the Guyra District Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club of Guyra has resulted in the growth and promotion of the town’s retail and hospitality sectors.

Bob Bensley is a true Inverell icon whose relentless campaigning, through the Re-development Committee of the Inverell District Hospital, has led to the delivery of the $60 million Inverell Hospital project. Alongside his work in health, Bob has also been an advocate of local sport, as a founding member of the Inverell Sports Council.

Bob Kneipp, is recognised for his volunteer service in a variety of community organisations in Ashford and Inverell. Mr Kneipp is a founding member of the Ashford Show Society, life member of Ashford Pony Club and has been heavily involved with St Vincent De Paul Society and Rotary Club of Inverell.

Melinda Commens’ distinguished career in and outstanding service to public education, particularly helping families of children with disabilities, has been recognised with a Public Service Medal.

These awards are an official recognition of the outstanding contributions these citizens have made to their respective communities and these honours are a testament of what a priceless value they have given so selflessly to so many others.

We are very fortunate to have them and our communities, and the various groups, organisations and causes they have supported are richer for their work, most of it voluntary.

For many of them there’s been recognition through other awards and civic honours over the years, but this is a national honour they can take tremendous pride in and we can celebrate as well.

To be recognised in the Honours List is one of the highest individual acknowledgements of service to our community. They have been such positive influences and I’m delighted they have been honoured in this way. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

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