AUSTRALIA Day celebrations have officially started in the South Gippsland Shire after the Citizen of the Year for 2017 was named last night.

The shire’s new top citizen is Bev Hanley of Dumbalk.

Mrs Hanley took out the award ahead of nine other worthy nominees for her lifetime commitment to the people of Dumbalk and district.

In accepting the high honour, Mrs Hanley admitted to being overwhelmed.

But she had notes.

“The only reason I have anything written down was because I was at a Dumbalk Hall meeting during the week and while they wished me well, they said I should have some notes ready in the event that I won. I thank them for that,” said a clearly emotional and surprised Mrs Hanley.

It’s reasonable that she would be surprised.

All of the other nominees have made great contributions to their local communities.

Like Andrew and Tony Moon of Korumburra who took four years to uncover the life stories of every returned soldier named on the town’s cenotaph while discovering other local service personnel left off the war memorial.

Or Darlene Jones of the MDU Football Netball Club and local basketball association, who for more than 20 years has played a key role in the development of generations of local kids.

Or Darren Hardacre, the former Captain of the Ruby Fire Brigade whose commitment to emergency response and also to fire awareness education is legendary.

Eric Wang, the Mirboo North Post Master who has made such an impact in the local community after only 11 months in business in the town.

Glenice Griggs of Leongatha, for many years the stalwart organiser of the Leongatha Rose Show as a major fundraiser for the Vision Australia.

Lorraine Knox, a mainstay of the Loch community, Margaret Thomas facilitator of the Coal and CSG Free Mirboo North group, and Debra Collins of Fish Creek for her support of horse riding, the Foster Show and her community in general.

It was one of the strongest fields of nominees in years.

But there’s little doubt that Mrs Hanley is a worthy winner.

Together with her husband Ed Hanley, the couple has improved the lives of everyone who has ever lived in their small hamlet, with their community efforts also extending beyond its borders to the wider community.

Other awards went to:

  • Event of the Year: Mirboo North Italian Festa
  • Youth of the Year: Jasmin Mackie of Meeniyan
  • Access and Inclusion Award: Darren Bone of Leongatha