2023 Merri-bek Awards
Each year we call on the local community to help celebrate those who have enriched our community and inspired their peers through outstanding service and commitment over the past 12 months.
The annual Merri-bek Awards are open to any group or individual whose activity has improved the quality of life of others in Merri-bek. A nominee could be anyone who lives, works, studies, plays, or volunteers in Merri-bek.
Nominations closed 5pm, Monday 18 September 2023.
Winners will be announced at our Merri-bek Awards Ceremony on Tuesday 31 October.
Award categories and selection criteria
The award categories for 2023 are listed below. Click each category name to see the selection criteria.
- Event is held in Merri-bek.
- Event’s primary role is to engage the Merri-bek community.
- Event benefits the Merri-bek community.
- Event promotes Merri-bek’s inclusion and diversity.
- More than 2 individuals and/or community groups working successfully in collaboration or partnerships.
- Creates a positive outcome in the community.
- Increases social connection, builds capacity and / or strengthens relationships.
- Nominee has made a valuable contribution to arts and culture in Merri-bek.
- Nominee has shown commitment to the development of arts and cultural activities for the Merri-bek community.
- Nominee is a Merri-bek resident that has demonstrated significant achievement in the arts.
- Nominee has made a valuable contribution to arts and culture in Merri-bek.
- Made a significant impact to the development, integrity and professionalism of sport in the community.
- Increased physical activities opportunities for all members of the community. These can include; juniors, women, girls and gender diverse people, people with disability, LGBTIQA+ communities, First Nations communities or migrant, refugee and faith communities.
- Committed to training, recruiting and recognising volunteers and coaches.
- Made a significant contribution to sport as a leader and role model
- Nominee must be 25 years or under on Saturday 16 September 2023
- Nominee has made a valuable contribution to young people in the Merri-bek community.
- Nominee supports others to succeed.
- Demonstrated how your project has positively contributed to the environmental sustainability of the Merri-bek community.
- Description of consultation, stakeholder or community collaboration and partnerships, which have contributed to achievement or results.
- Description of innovative practices or approaches used to overcome obstacles to deliver achievements.
- Description of how your project influenced the attitudes of others in the local Merri-bek community (and potentially beyond) regarding the environmental, social and financial sustainability in the short term or longer term.
- Ongoing contribution to the Merri-bek community.
- Supports and encourages others to succeed.
- A commitment resulting in outstanding and visible results.
Nominee has made a valuable contribution to gender equality through one or more of the following:
- Encouraging participation and leadership.
- Improving health, wellbeing or human rights outcomes.
- Providing opportunities or inclusion and social cohesion in the community.
- The nominee has made a valuable contribution towards disability access and inclusion.
- The nominee has made a significant contribution towards advancing the rights and interests of people with a disability.
- The nominee has provided opportunities for increased participation, access and inclusion for people with a disability.
- The nominee has created a positive change in raising awareness about important issues relating to people with a disability.
- Nominee has made a valuable contribution to building better relationships between the wider community and First Nations peoples in Merri-bek.
- Nominee has shown commitment to create positive change by encouraging community awareness about reconciliation between wider the community and First Nations peoples in Merri-bek.
Collaborative Partnerships Award
- Winner: Judd Walsh - Loose Parts Play Spaces
Throughout 2022 Judd Walsh has been committed to establishing and facilitating the introduction of free, pop-up Loose-Parts-Play spaces throughout the City of Merri-bek. The concept of loose parts is based on the international Principles of Playwork which views children as the experts in their play rather than being led or directed by an adult.
The benefit to families is to demonstrate the importance of providing inexpensive and creative play experiences for children using materials found in the home or in the community: for example, ribbon, boxes, pots, pans, tyres, and ropes. These pop-up play spaces will continue to delight our youngest community members in 2023.
High Commendation: Coburg Primary School
Contribution to Arts and Culture Award
- Winner: Sue Johnson - Community Choir facilitator
Sue is a choir facilitator, composer, musician, musical director and educator. Sue has been leading community choirs in Coburg and surrounds for over a decade and runs workshops nationally and internationally. Sue currently directs many singing groups in Melbourne including - Trolls (usually found under bridges in Coburg), Pagan Angels, Women Of Love and Fury and Living Out Loud.
Sue has been a support and lifeline for many over the past 2 years during the pandemic and continued her 4 choirs online during the Melbourne lockdowns. Now that all choirs are back in person, Sue still offers Zoom as an option for those who aren’t able to come, ensuring all are welcome and included.
A proud Merri-bek local, Sue regularly finds inspiration for her work in the hustle and bustle of Sydney Rd or the quiet tranquillity of the frog ponds along the Merri Creek.
Contribution to Sport Award
- Winner: The Late Iris Dixon
Iris Dixon achieved a level of excellence as a cycling athlete not only in Merri-bek but in Australia. She did so at a time when it was particularly difficult for a woman in her sport. Her unwavering determination made her a formidable and unforgiving competitor on the bicycle and a role model for women for decades. Her infectious spirit and sharp wit captivated those who knew her both on and off the bike. Iris lived in Pascoe Vale and Glenroy for over sixty-two years and trained at the Brunswick Cycling track throughout the 1940s and 50s.
A precis of Iris’ achievements but by no means an exhaustive list includes:
- Twelve times Australian National Track Cycling Champion
- Four times Australian National Road Cycling Champion
- Winner of twenty-five Victorian State Titles
- Three times national Champion of Champions
- 1951 – won all five National Cycling Titles
- 1951 described by Sir Hubert Opperman as the most outstanding showing by a Victorian woman cyclist in history.
- 1951 described by journalist Col Caves as the best women’s track cyclist in the world
- 2004 Veterans World Champion in the criterium.
- Cycling Victoria Hall of Fame inductee 2014
- Australian Cycling Hall of Fame inductee 2016
Iris Dixon’s achievements were made at a time when a woman had to be not only talented but persistent, determined and resilient just to compete let alone excel in her sport. At the peak of Iris’s career there was no opportunity for women to compete in World Championships or Olympic Games. Her achievements serve as an inspiration to women racing today.
Sadly, Iris passed away this July at the young age of 91 years.
Community Event of the Year Award
- Winner - YMCA - Active Merri-bek - Men of Merri-bek
Men of Merri-bek is a free holistic 8-week health program run by Active Merri-bek. It teaches men about topics impacting men’s health, provides small group training and an opportunity for men in the community to meet and improve their social connections. Men of Merri-bek is delivered in partnership with community organizations and guest speakers that align with the programs values and goals to deliver topical weekly sessions.
All participants reported an increase in both physical activity and life satisfaction over the eight weeks.
100% of participants agreed they had tried new things, met new people, or stepped out of their comfort zone during the program and 100% of participants stated that Men of Merri-bek had a positive impact on their overall health, physically, mentally and socially.
- High commendation - YMCA - Active Merri-bek Fun Run & Walk
Honouring Women in Merri-bek Award
- Winner: Nandita Chakraborty - Author
Nandita is an Australian – Indian author and screen writer and a truly inspiring woman. Nandita has overcome adversity more than once in her lifetime.
After suffering a traumatic rock-climbing injury which led to a permanent cognitive impairment Nandita started writing. Her latest book, ‘Dirty Little Secrets’ is a brave and powerful story about her journey, her cultural obligations and overcoming adversity after being scammed by a man she met and fell in love with online. It is an empowering novel for women of all races and cultures and highlights the relevance of social acceptance, on overcoming adversity and showing us all that it is through our courage, strength and commitment that we achieve our goals. Nandita is also a strong advocate for people with Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) and people with a non-visible disability.
- High Commendation: Ready, Set, Prep! Community Champions
- High Commendation: Second Stitch
Youth Contribution Award
- Winner: Renee Fostiropolous
In year 12 Renee was 1 of 10 participants in Australia selected to participate in the United Nations Youth Leadership Tour.
Following Year 12, Renee continued to pursue interests in international affairs and advocating for youth and has participated in several model United Nations conferences across Australia as well as overseas.
Renee is passionate about being connected with the community and has spent 3 years volunteering at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and is currently a mentor with the Centre for Multicultural Youth, providing education and employment mentorship for young people aged 18-22.
Renee's aspiration is to work with young people and their communities to empower them to design a meaningful career that is aligned to their unique strengths, interests and values and has recently completed a 2-year term as a Merri-bek Youth ambassador. Renee was awarded a scholarship in June 2022 into the Invest in a Young Entrepreneur Program by iGen Foundation.
High Commendation: Timothy Augier
Lisa Bellear Award for Contribution to Reconciliation
- Winner - Liz Phillips
Liz is a proud Yankunytjatjara woman, originally from South Australia. Liz has been the Koorie Community Engagement Officer at Merri Health since 2010 and has played a key role in reconciliation activities within the local government area. In the last year, Liz supported Merri Health to develop its third Reconciliation Action Plan which includes more than 70 actions that push the organisation to strive for better outcomes for the communities it serves and its workforce.
Liz also plays a key role in building the capacity of teams across Merri Health to better engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Liz is currently an active member of the Merri-bek Reconciliation Network and Merri-bek City Council’s First Nations Advisory Committee, and in the past was involved in a range of previous committees and working groups advancing reconciliation locally.
Liz is known throughout Merri Health and more broadly throughout the Merri-bek community for her warmth and generosity; and widely recognised for her ability to bring people along on the journey, while still advocating for change.
- Winner: The Late Elder Margaret Gloria Gardiner
The Late Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Elder Margaret Gloria Gardiner, who passed away in August 2022 aged 63, was a steadfast, smart, articulate and fiery advocate when it came to her connection to Country and Ancestors across all of her First Nations.
Through her mother the Late Gloria Gardiner nee Terrick, Margaret has a direct biological connection to her Ancestors from Woi-wurrung, Ngurai Illum Wurrung, Wamba Wamba, Barapa Barapa, Dja Dja Wurrung, Waywurru, Taungurung and Yorta Yorta First Nations Clans. As a multi-clan Elder, she has fought to protect the cultural interests of Wurundjeri Woi-wurring and as well as her interests in other First Nations heading to court to raise her concerns about the right people speaking for country.
As a young woman, Aunty Margaret was quick to get to work for her community, starting off with a job at the Dandenong Aboriginal Co-operative Limited. Through the 1970s and decades that followed, there were big changes in Victorian Aboriginal Affairs as a surge in the number of community-run bodies delivered greater self-determination to First Nations communities. Aunty Margaret was in the thick of it, being elected to the ATSIC Binjeru Council and working at the former Mirimbiak Nations Aboriginal Corporation with Victorian native title groups to help Traditional Owners assert their rights over country.
She was involved in significant projects capturing the oral histories of Victorian Traditional Owners, accumulating a deep knowledge of Aboriginal history across the state. She was a strong human rights activist across her own First Nations and Clans. Most recently, she sat on the board of the Birrarung Council, helping give a voice to the interests of the Birrarung (Yarra River) through legislation she helped her Wurundjeri community push forward. Margaret did the first Womin-jika at the then Glenroy KODE school in 1995.
In 2011 Aunty Margaret played a key role in the campaign to keep open the Ballerrt Mooroop College in Hilton Street Glenroy the former KODE school. Since the school was closed in 2012 she had been campaigning to keep the school site for the benefit of the Hume and Merri-bek First Nations communities. She has continued this work until most recently in August 2022 when Aunty Margaret was leading the campaign for the Ballerrt Mooroop community hub to be built in Glenroy.
Aunty Margaret is survived by her children Jemima Gardiner, Luke Gardiner, Mathew Gardiner and Jesse Rotumah-Gardiner.
Environmental Sustainability Award
- Winner: Neighbours United Climate Action Growers
Starting as a small seed in 2019, this humble group has spread roots and sown many seeds. The Neighbours United for Climate Action (NUCA) Growers is a small group of locals, predominantly in Fawkner, who are part of Neighbours United for Climate Action - a Merri-bek-based network promoting a social and localised form of climate engagement.
NUCA Growers undertake a range of activities such as public talks on Zero Waste, permaculture garden tours at Fawkner properties to educate and inspire locals, Native Seed-Bomb making and undertaking various plantings & weeding near Merri Creek.
NUCA Growers have organised planting at local schools and transformed two public spaces including the Creedon St grass reserve and Mutton Street Walkway which have brought much joy, more shade, and more green beauty to our public space. NUCA growers gives hope to all that a small group of neighbours can come together and have a positive impact on climate change.
High Commendation: Growing Farmers
Access and Inclusion Award
- Winner: Elizabeth Bennett - Disability Advocate
Over the years Liz became motivated to become a disability advocate on both a local and national level through volunteering. Liz recently became a member of the Merri-bek Council's Disability Reference Group and additionally created a following of 35k viewers on TikTok by creating content that helps people laugh, feel less alone, and validates others in their mental health journey.
Liz shares stories of navigating social systems, promotes the destigmatization of hospitalization for mental health, shares skills and resources found in their personal journey, and by encouraging others to seek support when needed. Liz has also contributed to a number of medical research studies to help gather data to improve resources, treatment methodologies and accessibility for disabled people.
Working with The Pheonix Institute (AUS) on advancing PTSD treatments, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (QLD) on exploring possible genetic links, plus financial and social impacts of Eating Disorders/Autism/ADHD.
Liz is currently working with a leading health provider in Melbourne to develop an educational program for patients with late/adult diagnosis autism to gain a better understanding of their condition and to assist them to access supports locally.
Volunteer of the Year Award
- Winner: I’m Still Learning
I'm Still Learning was founded in 2017 by Mandy Gosetti.
When Mandy lost her husband to cancer she realised two things; firstly, how much home maintenance he did, and secondly how much she didn't know about home maintenance. This inspired Mandy to create I'm Still Learning, which is a Not-for-Profit Organisation run by volunteers.
I’m Still Learning offer Basic Home Maintenance, Basic Car Maintenance and Cooking for One courses that are accessible particularly to those who will benefit most from learning these skills. Besides learning new skills, participants make new social connections and friendships and also gain confidence in an area of their lives that was previously lacking. Participants complete the course feeling empowered and good about themselves.
High Commendation: John Mastrogiannakos
- Winner: Judd Walsh - Loose Parts Play Spaces
Collaborative Partnerships winner: Adam Tardif
We would like to congratulate the recent 2021 Merri-bek Award winner of the Collaborative Partnerships Award: Adam Tardif from Dads of Merri-bek.
Adam has achieved a highly successful partnership between local dads, Dads Groups, and the Maternal and Child Health team. Adam has been instrumental in starting new Dads Groups in Merri-bek, during the last 18 months Adam has ensured dads stay connected through weekly and weekend online sessions, and when restrictions permit to come together in person to have a coffee, chat, and play with our children.
Adam has shared his own journey of dad hood with so many, is easygoing, approachable, reliable, a skilled collaborator, and committed to making a difference. Adam has changed the culture of dad hood and built a network of volunteers throughout Merri-bek supporting local families.
Honouring Women in Merri-bek winners: Thasleem Banu, Arjumand Khan, and Faiza Syed
We would like to congratulate the recent 2021 Merri-bek Award winners of the Honouring Women in Merri-bek Award: Thasleem Banu, Arjumand Khan and Faiza Syed.
Arjumand, Faiza, and Thasleem are three passionate women with careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). They are entrepreneurs, active community members, and mothers. They founded STEM Catalyst with the aim to increase gender equality in STEM. You can see more of their work on the STEM Catalyst website. They received funding and support from ‘The Great Idea Program’; a Hello, Fawkner! initiative supported by Merri Health. They run family-friendly, community-based STEM workshops in Fawkner.
In the past year the group has facilitated:
- 6 online sessions with 400 attendees
- 4 webinars with 200 attendees
- 2 face-to-face workshops with 85 attendees
- 80 participants engaging with content and conversation through their WhatsApp group
These sessions encourage participation and topics discussed have included water bugs, wild pollinators, and coding.
Volunteer of the Year winner: Billy Moore
We would like to congratulate the recent 2021 Merri-bek Award winner of the Volunteer of the Year Award: Billy Moore.
Billy Moore is a young man who lives in Brunswick with his family. He has autism and intellectual disability and is an NDIS participant. With the guidance of his support worker Jakub, Billy spends much of his week helping out in his community. Billy is a regular volunteer at the Brotherhood of St Laurence op-shop in Brunswick where he sorts and cleans. He can often be spotted removing rubbish from the streets of Brunswick and has recently started helping with neighbourhood gardening.
Outside of Merri-bek, Billy is a regular volunteer at the Royal Botanic Gardens where he helps keep the children's garden neat and tidy and helps out in the potting shed. He also picks up rubbish on Melbourne's bayside beaches and does gardening work at an autism charity. Billy loves to smile and to give a reason for others to smile as well.
Contribution to Youth winners: Paige Cunningham, Bailey Papic, and Monique Marshall
We would like to congratulate the recent 2021 Merri-bek Award winners of the Contribution to Youth Award: Paige Cunningham, Bailey Papic, and Monique Marshall.
Paige, Bailey, and Monique are Fawkner-based creatives who run a digital content-creating service, Untitled Creations. You can find out more about this organisation on the Untitled Creations website. The trio has used their digital design skills to support local businesses impacted by COVID-19, whilst also boosting community connections and becoming a role model to young people in Merri-bek. The arrival of COVID-19 required businesses to increase their digital presence in order to reach customers. Paige, Bailey, and Monique recognised that many Fawkner businesses lacked the creative skills, resources, or finances for this.
The trio knew they could use their skills to support local businesses to succeed during this challenging period. They turned their desire to help into a project, Promoting Fawkner. Their work helped support these businesses to succeed, built pride in local businesses, celebrated local culture, people, and stories, and encouraged engagement and participation in local life.
Lisa Bellear Award for Contribution to Reconcillation Activities winners: Gary Murray and Sowing Sistas Living Together on Stolen Land
We would like to congratulate the 2021 joint winners in the Lisa Bellear Award for Contribution to Reconcillation Activities: Gary Murray and Sowing Sistas: Living Together on Stolen Land.
Gary Murray, a First Nations Elder of the Wamba Wamba, Yorta Yorta, Dhudhuroa, Dja Dja Wurrung, Djupagalk and Baraparapa Peoples based in Fawkner. A father of 12 and grandfather to 28 grandchildren. Gary has lived in the Merri-bek area since 2008 and is an active member of his community. Gary is an Academic, Researcher, Writer, Cultural Activist and Spokesperson for environmental, social justice and human rights issues. Through the examples set by his grandfather Sir Doug Nicholls and father Stewart Murray he was inspired to educate himself in lore/law and continue the family legacy with his leadership. For more than 50 years, Gary has been a driving force in the local community sharing his knowledge to empower community members and provide culturally informed guidance, direction and support to people from all walks of life. He has a range of commitments in the community including his recent involvement in the Merri-bek Reconciliation Working Group. Gary has been a great advocate for all people and bringing cultures from across Merri-bek to promote community harmony. Gary believes in diversity, inclusiveness, and real participation, and all walking together on our journey to reconciliation and co-existence.
The Sowing Sistas living together on stolen land formed the Merri-bek Reconciliation Network to progress reconciliation in Merri-bek and now consists of 165 members. Activities and events are all community based anti-racism initiatives in collaboration with Indigenous people. These include online courses such as “Speak to self, speak to others’ highlighting the voices of Indigenous people living in Merri-bek and beyond. These activities have contributed to increasing community awareness of the complex issues around reconciliation and consequently build stronger and more respectful relationships between the wider community and Indigenous people in Merri-bek. Sowing Sistas living together on stolen land consult with the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation and have informal partnerships with groups such as Aboriginal Community Elders Services.
Environmental Sustainability Achievement winner: Paul Ting
We would like to congratulate the recent 2021 Merri-bek Award winner of the Environmental Sustainability Achievement Award: Paul Ting from Brunswick Secondary College.
Over the past year the Student Representative Council of Brunswick Secondary College, led by Paul, has committed to fostering and promoting sustainability throughout the school community and beyond. Within the school, this has meant consultation with the school authorities, as well as recycling companies like Redcycle, to develop the school's waste system. In an effort to reduce waste going to landfill the school has a three-bin system, consisting of recycling, landfill, and compost, and the introduction of a school-wide soft plastic recycling system.
During the lockdown period, the students have been distributing a fortnightly newsletter that provides sustainability tips for around the home, including but not limited to reducing energy consumption and how these changes can benefit the environment.
Beyond the school, the Student Representative Council has partnered with the local Australian Conservation Foundation to assist with their social media efficacy, organise environmental activities for the school and contribute to the Australian Conservation Foundation's regular meetings. This relationship will continue to grow with student participation in environmental education and discussion on current topics, especially around Climate Change.
Access and Inclusion winner: Jess Mitchell
We would like to congratulate the recent 2021 Merri-bek Award winner of the Access and Inclusion Award: Jess Mitchell.
Jess is a peer worker and disability advocate living in Merri-bek and has made a valuable contribution towards disability access and inclusion through the provision of inclusive-only events. Jess has found ways to use the pandemic to the advantage of people with disability through the creation of online spaces that welcome people of all disability types and life experiences.
Jess has always prioritized making the outcomes of research accessible, including the provision of PowerPoint and plain English summaries. This ensures that people with disability who participate are included and can access the findings. Jess has participated in the Disability Royal Commission, the National Youth Disability Summit 2020, and researched how to improve school transitions for young people with disability, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the first half of 2021, Jess established the inaugural CYDA Youth Council and was also approached to co-chair the National Mental Health Commission’s Technical Advisory Group on Public Stigma which will contribute to a national strategy about reducing mental health stigma.
Community Event of the Year winner: Sophie Koutoulas
We would like to congratulate the recent 2021 Merri-bek Award winner of the Community Event of the Year: Sophie Koutoulas from Our Daily Bread Coburg.
Our Daily Bread Coburg is a local charity operating from ‘The Presentation of Our Lord Greek Orthodox Church’ located in Coburg. Every Tuesday morning from 8am to 9:30am they provide the local community with 100 grocery bags filled with fresh produce and non-perishables, 25 homeless packs, and 25 toiletry packs. On Thursdays at 4pm they also offer free dinners and dessert to the community as well as groceries and non-perishables.
There is also a dedicated outreach team that delivers freshly prepared meals and groceries to people in need directly to their door. Community residents only need to reach out to ‘Our Daily Bread’ and they will be ready to assist.
Contribution to Arts and Culture winner: Brunswick East Entertainment Festival
We would like to congratulate the recent 2021 Merri-bek Award winner of the Contribution to Arts and Culture Award: Brunswick East Entertainment Festival.
The Brunswick East Entertainment Festival is a collective of 4 performers who brought the arts, sheer joy, and connection to the local community in 2020 at a time when it was needed most. Losing their livelihoods throughout the pandemic they decided to put on some 80s outfits from their costume room and took to the front lawn of their Brunswick home and danced for 1.5 to 2 hours each day at the same time.
Their performances were an anchor for the community in a time of despair and offered joy to all those that passed by. During this time, these talented performers also made The Wholesome Hour, a children's web series that won Best Design at the Green Room Awards in 2021. You can find out more about them on the Brunswick East Entertainment Festival website.
Their outstanding perseverance throughout the first lockdown and their engagement with their community has inspired and motivated so many throughout these times. Still they dance!
Contribution to Sports winner: Michael Carney
We would like to congratulate the recent 2021 Merri-bek Award winner of the Contribution to Sports Award: Michael Carney from the Coburg Harriers Athletics Club.
Michael is the president of Coburg Harriers Athletics Club, a historic sporting organisation with a rich 125-year history. Michael has worked tirelessly to engage with organisations for desperately needed upgrades to the facility and formed partnerships with neighbouring sporting clubs. He has invigorated the Coburg Harriers Athletics Club with new marketing initiatives, policies, targeted development programs, calendars, and membership packs.
Michael addressed important issues facing the club, including a lack of cultural diversity within its membership base. He designed the first brochure for over 10 years that was printed in multiple languages, which he personally delivered to thousands of households around Merri-bek. As a direct result of Michael’s initiatives, the Coburg Harriers are now working with Jesuit Social Services to create volunteer positions so that young people seeking employment can get real-life work experience.
With Michael’s expertise and application, the club has developed its first-ever Strategic Plan with an inspiring vision for the club over the next ten years. During the pandemic, when COVID-19 restrictions have devastated communal sporting activity, Michael has almost singlehandedly kept the club going, growing and hopeful.