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When Nora Spencer, Joyce Sidebottom, Doreen Whitford and Mary Walker played in the 1956 Avenel Ladies Football team against Nagambie, they never would have expected to receive an Australia Day Community Award in 2022.
“We had a lot of fun,” Joyce White (nee Sidebottom) said.
“People said to me, ‘what did you wear’ and I said, ‘Avenel football jumpers, of course’.”
Avenel Australia Day event organiser Dick Rankin said they decided to give the football team the award when they realised many of the players’ families still lived in Avenel.
“You can look at the names of the players, and the town’s mainly populated by the descendants of those people,” he said.
“It’s almost like the AFLW 70 years before it started.”
The four women there to accept the award on the day, aged in their 70s, 80s and 90s, have lived in Avenel for the duration of their lives.
“Who could be better deserving of an Australia Day award than the team who’s had such a huge influence on Avenel as it’s developed over the last seven decades,” Mr Rankin said.
Doreen Whitford produced a photograph of the team while on board the weekly ‘Get Me to the Shops’ community bus to Seymour for Avenel’s elderly residents.
It’s an initiative run by Jim Billings, and won him Avenel’s Citizen of the Year award.
“We have the pleasure of helping people who are elderly, who are disabled, and we take them shopping,” he said.
“The best part about it is it gets them out of the house, they get socialising, and they’re not isolated.
“It’s a joy for me, it’s not arduous at all.”
Junior Citizen of the Year was awarded to Lucy Steers, whose leadership at Avenel Primary School and statewide leadership events made her a standout candidate for the award.
Finbar O’Sullivan received the title of Avenel’s Young Citizen of the Year award.
As a keen sportsperson, the 15-year-old has represented Avenel Primary School and Seymour College in a number of events, including as one of Victoria’s top 10 under-17 road cyclists.
Both Lucy and Finbar also won the respective Strathbogie Shire awards for their achievements.
Music teacher Fleur Smith received a Special Recognition Award for her contributions to the community, an accolade she wasn’t expecting.
She was instrumental in organising a digital grand piano for the community and devotes her time to providing music therapy to the sick, old and terminally ill.
A Mangalore local, Ms Smith moved to Avenel almost 10 years ago, after 30 years away from the region, and immediately felt at home in the community.
“I was embraced (by the community) straight away,” she said.
Shepparton News journalist
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© McPherson Media Group 2021

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