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Bass Coast local heroes celebrated

Bass Coast local heroes celebrated

Thursday 14 January 2021

Bass Coast Shire Council announced the winners of its 2021 Bass Coast Citizen and Young Citizen of the Year at a presentation on Wednesday, 13 January.

Mat Bowtell from Cowes was announced as the 2021 Bass Coast Citizen of the Year and Wonthaggi’s Margaret Sand as the 2021 Bass Coast Young Citizen of the Year.

Mr Bowtell, founder of Free 3D Hands, was recognised for his work in re-purposing 14 of his 30 3D printers to manufacture face shields to ensure Bass Coast Health’s local health care workers, aged care services, GP clinics and other frontline workers were safe when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Mat used his own savings and through community fundraising and government funding, was able to employ locals who had lost their jobs to produce 6,000 faceshields. Mat and his team at Free 3D Hands have also been changing lives of children all over the world since 2014, providing them with the free prosthetics they manufacture.

Ms Sand, who has just completed Year 12 at Wonthaggi Secondary College, was recognised for her volunteer work, which included initiating a program to create homeless packs with Wonthaggi Christian Life Centre and Wonthaggi Anglican Church in 2019. Margaret believes community is very important, both to herself and to the fabric of how we can learn to support and help others.

In recognition of their achievements, this year’s Citizen and Young Citizen of the Year each received a painting by local artist, Katherine Muir.

Bass Coast Mayor, Cr Brett Tessari, congratulated Mr Bowtell and Ms Sand on their Awards, and thanked them for their commitment to the Bass Coast community.

“The Australia Day Awards are all about recognising ordinary Australians who contribute to our Shire above and beyond expectations. Their achievements often go unrecognised,” Cr Tessari said.

The Mayor acknowledged and congratulated all the nominees for the Awards: Lija Matthews from Wimbledon Heights, Everett O'Keeffe from North Wonthaggi, Dave Sutton from Inverloch, Karen Treppo from Cowes, Mark Underwood from Cape Woolamai and Karen Walters from Inverloch.

“There are many individuals, and you all know them, who give us countless hours of work across the community in a wide range of spectrums, activities and services. These people have one thing in common. They are genuinely humble and do not expect recognition. We all owe them a debt of gratitude,” Cr Tessari said.

“There are so many wonderful people that commit their time and effort to better our community.

“I would like to thank all of those that took the time to submit or contribute to the nominations for the 2021 Awards.

“I would also like to thank the judging panel for the assistance in assessing the nominations - never an easy task.,” Cr Tessari concluded.

For more information on the winners and nominees, please see below.

Winner - Mat Bowtell from Cowes, nominated by Neville Goodwin

When the COVID-19 Pandemic hit full swing in March 2020, Mat heard about the extreme shortage of crucial Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). When Bass Coast Health reached out to the community after facing significant shortages, Mat contacted them and, within hours, had re-purposed 14 of his 30 3D printers to manufacture face shields to ensure local health care workers were safe.

The face shields were provided for free, in line with Free 3D Hands charity constitution, to aged care services, hospitals, GP clinics and frontline workers. This was a zero-profit exercise for Free 3D Hands and all donations received went directly towards making sure frontline healthcare workers were equipped with quality PPE, to keep everyone healthy and safe.

Mat worked day and night, for weeks on end, to meet the quotas he had set himself and the team to produce face shields. He used $14,000 of his own savings to immediately secure the raw materials and worked with Bass Coast Health to make the best product possible.

A community fundraising appeal generated $33,482 and further government funding allowed him to employ local people who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic. In total, he produced 6,000 face shields which were distributed across Australia and 2,800 of those went to Bass Coash Health.

This excellent work is in addition to the truly inspirational work already done by Mat and his team at Free 3D Hands, which has been changing the life of children all over the world since 2014. Since testing a one-million-dollar bionic arm whilst studying mechatronics at Chiba University in Japan in 2004, Mat has had the dream to make similar technology available - especially for those who cannot access or afford it.

One in 10,000 children are born with a hand difference such as being born without bones in the fingers, and often, these kids have no choice but to go without, especially in less developed countries.

Free 3D Hands use 3D printing technology to reduce the cost of manufacture to a point where they can provide assistive devices for free, to anyone in the world. On top of this, all designs are released under open-source licenses, to encourage further development and innovation in this field.

Nominee - Lija Matthews from Wimbledon Heights, nominated by Emily van der Walt.

Since the tragic death of her best friend Samantha Fraser in July 2018, Lija has dedicated herself to ensuring no more women become victims of domestic violence.

Often, when people experience tragedy, they withdraw from the world. However, Lija made the decision to make sure that even though Sam was no longer here, her voice would still be heard.

The ‘Change for Sam’ initiative was created by a group of community members and family violence service providers following Sam’s death. The Change for Sam initiative includes representatives from a broad range of local community service organisations, local businesses and most importantly, it partners with community members and Sam’s family and friends. It is driven by the community, with the aim of preventing family violence, particularly against women and children in the Bass Coast area and to coordinate current services and resources to better respond to incidents of family violence – something Sam cared about deeply.

Despite mourning the loss of her best friend, Lija put her own emotions aside to represent the community and be Sam’s voice on the ‘Change for Sam’ committee and has put hundreds of hours into developing the resources in support of the initiative.

As part of ‘Change for Sam’, Lija has initiated kindness cards to be distributed among the community and has also just finished working on a project to personally write to children over Christmas. Her kindness for others is endless and even though the pain of her losing best friend has been horrendous, she manages to put this aside to make sure a tragedy like this does not happen again.

Lija is also a huge support for Sam’s parents. She contacts them weekly and regularly gives her time to help them with their grieving.

Lija has worked closely with Jan Child from Bass Coast Health, Bass Coast Shire Council and local police and is part of the Orange Door community.

Sam’s death continues to impact on Lija’s health and wellbeing, yet she continues to get out of bed each day to make a difference for someone else.

Sam was lucky to have such beautiful friend like Lija, who dedicates all her time to make sure Sam is never forgotten. Domestic violence is huge problem in Australia. Any person who gives up their own time to try and help women feeling trapped in their relationships, is a hero.

Nominee - Everett O'Keeffe from North Wonthaggi, nominated by Theresita Plumb.

As a pharmacist, Everett has worked extremely hard to keep the community safe and COVID-19 free. When hand sanitizers became unavailable throughout the country, Everett worked day and night to manufacture them from scratch with the aim to protect the community and to keep businesses running.

Through the Wonthaggi Amcal Pharmacy Facebook page, Everett provided the community with valuable information and advice.

He put together COVID business packages and distributed them to local businesses and provided them with advice on how to protect their staff and run their business with the necessary hygiene requirements.

Everett worked tirelessly to make sure the pharmacy would remain open in order to provide the community with the service and care it needs. He introduced a vaccination facility within the pharmacy to increase herd immunity against the influenza virus.

Everett worked outside of business hours to deliver medication to the elderly and high-risk patients and he donated masks as well as eggs from his farm to a local church for distribution to the most vulnerable in our community.

This year has been an extremely stressful year for everyone across the globe, Everett did his best to provide his staff members with a safe and happy environment to work in.

Everett is an invaluable member of our local Country Fire Authority. He is always on call when needed. He has been with the CFA for 10 years and is ranked 4th Lieutenant. Everett is also a life member of the local soccer club.

Everett is a devoted husband and father. On top of working seven days a week to run the pharmacy, he and his wife/business partner, Louise, also had to home school their two daughters during lockdown.

Everett loves a good laugh, he loves music, he loves his friends but above all he adores his family. Everett is a genuinely nice person, who would never hesitate to help someone in need. Wonthaggi is very fortunate to have someone so clever, devoted, genuine and helpful. Every town needs an Everett.

Nominee - Dave Sutton from Inverloch, Nominated by Linda Pettit

Dave has, for years, been the dependable figurehead of the South Gippsland Conservation Society, during which time he has developed relationships with communities and agencies, advocating for studies to be undertaken on the erosion along our shoreline and environmental protection action.

In response to coastal erosion along Inverloch beach, Dave was instrumental in the Society receiving a grant for the Inverloch Coastal Resilience Project. This project provided science-based evidence that assisted in attracting funding of $750,000 from the State Government, to undertake a Local Coastal Hazard Assessment and Regional Strategic Partnership studies, that will inform future planning as sea levels rise and climate change impacts our communities.

Dave has volunteered well beyond his role with the Society to 'save' the Inverloch Surf Life Saving Club, our coastline and community assets. Dave is an inspirational role model, always leading with his ‘boots-on-the-ground’, including undertaking shoreline reconnaissance, laser level survey and drone monitoring following storm events.

Dave is a life member of the Society, a member of the Community Advisory Group for the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority and a past Board Member of the Gippsland wide Energy Innovation Co-operative.

He does not seek out personal accolades, he just gets on with the job. Dave actively seeks out funding for the community, and in the past was instrumental in securing $99,000 from Pick My Project for the construction of a wetland/boardwalks - Wonthaggi's Hidden Gem.

Dave's capacity to maintain momentum and 'juggle' tasks throughout COVID-19 restrictions, creating successful and enduring relationships with community, businesses and agencies is a testament to his project management skills, passion for the environment and our community.

Nominee - Karen Treppo from Cowes nominated by Kathryn Anderson

Karen is dedicated to the welfare of children, families and her community.

As director of the Phillip Island Early Learning Centre, Karen works with families assisting in any way possible to meet their needs with dignity and respect. Inclusion and safety for all children and families is her priority and she aims to help achieve this for all those she connects with.

Karen not only oversees an amazing early childhood service, but continuously seeks ways to improve services and supports for her clients and community.

Karen has set up programs to assist children and families, including a sustainable clothing rack, where parents can donate children’s clothes and can take clothes as needed. She created the Early Learning Centre community pantry, where all families can pick up items they need or desire. There is no judgement and it is accessible to all. She also provides food vouchers and gives them out to those in crisis and need.

Karen keeps 'share the dignity bags' in her cupboard for women in need and when she feels a mother may need a safety plan, or is at risk, she seeks consent to engage other services to work together for positive outcomes.

Karen seeks grants to improve services at the Centre, and does a lot of this in her own time, without expecting recognition.

She volunteers her time to the Phillip Island Community and Learning Centre Pantry program and Monday night Uniting Church community dinners.

Karen is a mother of three beautiful young ladies, she raised twins so understands the challenges of parenting, she lives locally in Cowes and is an active member of the Phillip island community.

Karen has worked as an early childhood worker both at Kids House and as a Teachers Aid at Cowes Primary School, but her care and concern has never stopped at work. She always has time to stop and talk to her past students and families, constantly empowering them to be the best they can be.

Nominee - Mark Underwood from Cape Woolamai, nominated by Pharrah Underwood

As a Graphic Designer by day, Mark wanted to find a way to give back to his community.

So, around 12 months ago, he started a side passion project called 'Local Clothing'. With three young kids, he found it a bit difficult to get involved with the community so came up with this idea to contribute.

He runs ‘Local Clothing’ – a clothing company, offering plenty of comfy threads for men, women and children. He works after hours, when the kids are in bed.

Mark donates 10 percent of the turnover (not just 10 percent of the profit) to a different community group every month. The public is invited to nominate Bass Coast based groups or organisations for Mark to consider donating to.

In the past 12 months, Mark has donated $4,837 to local organisations, including the Woolamai Beach Surf Life Saving Club, Phillip Island CFA, The National Surfing Reserve, Change For Sam, the Phillip Island Football and Netball Club, Phillip Island Landcare, Phillip Island Community and Learning Centre (PICAL), Cowes Primary School, the Phillip Island SES, Bass Coast Health and the Penguin Foundation.

Mark does all the design, photography, marketing, packing and deliveries – bit of a one man show. This ensures the viability of the business and maximises turnover, which means more for the community.

Local Clothing is based on Mark’s passion to give back to the community and his efforts to get that cheque as big as possible at the end of every month for local community groups.

Nominee - Karen Walters from Inverloch, nominated by Jan Martin.

For the last seven years, Karen has volunteered as Convenor of the Red Cross Patient Transport Inverloch Service.

In that role, she has made a significant, positive difference to hundreds of vulnerable residents in Bass Coast, many of who have been undergoing life-saving treatment and have not had any other means to get to their medical appointments.

She organises transport to local, regional and metropolitan hospitals for people needing cancer treatment, surgery and various specialist appointments. In every situation, without exception, Karen shows genuine compassion and care to those people, who are often at their most fragile and vulnerable, providing them with the reassurance of a reliable and caring transport service.

Her volunteer role is multi-faceted. As well as organising transport for clients, Karen co-ordinates a team of up to 15 volunteer drivers at any given time. This part of her role includes training, rostering and supporting the team. She has done that every weekday, 48 weeks of the year over the last seven years, even managing the service remotely when interstate.

On top of her convenor role, during the bushfire emergency in Gippsland in January 2020, Karen organised transport for airlifted bushfire victims from Mallacoota, to emergency accommodation. In addition, becoming aware of the trauma for families at that time, she facilitated a local trauma toy donation for children affected by the bushfires with an overwhelming local response.

Karen has a unique ability to build rapport with clients and also to make every driver feel they are making a significant contribution to the service. It is not easy to build and maintain a cohesive team of volunteer drivers who work on their own. She is available for drivers to debrief, providing emotional support in what can be stressful situations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Karen has adapted the transport service to ensure that critical services continue safely, albeit at a reduced level. She continues to provide frontline response to requests for assistance and retains the confidence of the drivers that the service will return to its former capacity when the COVID threat is over.


Winner - Margaret Sand from Wonthaggi, nominated by John Williams.

Margaret is 19 years old and has just completed Year 12 at Wonthaggi Secondary College. She comes from a family with five siblings and a single parent – her mum.

Margaret was a member of the Wonthaggi Secondary College leadership group and currently works at McDonald’s part-time. Whilst doing all of this, she also finds the time to volunteer at the Vinnie’s op-shop in Wonthaggi.

She believes community is very important, both to herself and to the fabric of how we can learn to support and help others. Volunteering is one such way in which Margaret contributes and shows leadership within the Wonthaggi community.

In 2019, Margaret initiated a program for homeless packs with Wonthaggi Christian Life Centre and Wonthaggi Anglican Church. She spent a sizeable portion of her own income to put together packs for people within Bass Coast who were less fortunate than herself. She has also shared her intention to write to Indigenous girls from a remote Western Australian community, to encourage and support them, as part of her commitment to strengthening community.

Margaret is passionate about helping and supporting people and it is her goal to do Law and Community Development at University, to enable her to work for an aid or advocacy agency in the future.