‘I’m floored’, high Australia Day honours stun recipients
TWO familiar Gympie region faces are the recipients of high Australia Day honours this year - Marlene Owen and Chris Lhotka.
The prestigious Medal of the Order of Australia recognises Australians who have demonstrated outstanding service or exceptional achievement.
Gympie volunteer and campaigner Marlene Owen received an OAM for her extensive volunteer work across the community.
As the founding member of Supporting Chemotherapy in Cooloola since 2006 and her volunteer work with Bush to Beach, Cooloola Gold Lions Club, the Gympie Music Muster, the Gympie Show, the Rainbow Beach Droughtrunners and her extensive work with the homeless, Mrs Owen has done more than her fair share of carrying the load in the community, according to the awards committee.
In addition to this she was awarded the status of Citizen of the Year in 2017 and the Quota International Woman of the Year award for 2018.
Governor-General David Hurley said:
“Behind every medal and citation is a story.
“Whether through their service, sacrifice or significant achievement, these people help others and make our towns, communities and nation better.
“They’re extraordinary but also, in the best possible way, ordinary. The fantastic thing, the inspirational thing, is that we all know people like those who have been recognised today – people who look out for each other and, day-in-day-out, serve their communities in ways big and small. We have seen countless examples of this sort of service during the bushfire crisis.
“These outstanding Australians represent the best of who we are as a nation,” Mr Hurley said.
Mrs Owen was astounded when she received word of the honour.
“I was just floored,” she said.
“I do what I do because I want to. There are a pile of volunteers who deserve this just as much. All volunteers do a wonderful job, but if this raises the profile of the work we do, I’m very keen to accept it.” she said.
When asked what first prompted her into volunteering Mrs Owen said she wanted to reciprocate kindnesses she had received.
“A while back we had a house fire and the community helped me like you wouldn’t believe. I just want to give back,” she said.
Christian Lhotka came from being a non-English speaking immigrant, who arrived in Australia from war ravaged Germany in 1949, with his parents, two ports and 10 shillings in the family coffers, to the long-time Widgee resident, gaining high acclaim.
At a gathering at Widgee on Australia Day, it was announced that Mr Lhotka had been honoured with an Order of Australia Medal.
Within two months of starting school at the age of four, Mr Lhotka had learned the English language. He began a teaching career in 1968, and retired in 2005, although he still carried out relief teaching until December last year he de-registered as a teacher.
Mr Lhotka served as principal at a number of different schools scatteredfor 17 of those years. In 1990, he built his own home at Widgee as an owner-builder. A man of many talents, he won a Queen’s Scout Award in 1963; he excelled in archery in the mid-1970s, and received the Premier’s Medal as Volunteer of the Year for the Kilkivan Shire in 2000.
Mr Lhotka formed the Widgee Action Group for action on roads and bridges, in 1976, he carried a community petition to the Premier, resulting in the road between the shire boundary and Glastonbury being levelled and bitumened, and he is chairman of the Widgee War Memorial committee. Mr Lhotka’s citation for the OAM states:
“For service to the community of Widgee.”
The major part of this service has been through his active involvement in the local fire brigade for more than 35 years, 10 of those years as its chairman. Mr Lhotka retired as chairman last year, to take up the position of volunteer community education officer for the brigade.
In a statement read out on Sunday, Mr Lhotka said he liked to think he shared the acclamations with his local fire brigade, and considered it a great privilege to have served.
“Our volunteers here are amazing in their dedication to protecting our community,” he said.
Other people in neighbouring communities to receive OAMs include former Noosa Mayor Bob Abbot, former Fraser Coast Chronicle editor Nancy Bates and author Brian Taylor from Kin Kin.