Lauren O'Keefe

Journalist | Photographer | Cyclist

Avenel fire brought under control

The fire at Tarcombe Rd near Avenel which was started by lightning strikes on March 1 is now under control.

Difficult terrain restricted the firefighting efforts against the blaze near Booroola Homestead.

Although under control and well within containment lines, the fire is still an ongoing concern for the CFA who remain onsite.

It’s estimated that the fire has destroyed 220ha of dense scrub which includes stringybark eucalyptus trees and tea trees.

When clumps of tea trees catch fire, they can send flames three or four metres up into the air.

Firefighters set up containment lines around the fire but were restricted in their firefighting efforts because of the steep, rocky terrain.

CFA crews are on the ground night and day, constantly monitoring the fire.

Incident controller Peter Bell said aircraft were used to water-bomb the fire.

‘‘[The terrain] is all mountain range, rocks, boulders and the like that can’t be driven across so we’re fighting it with aircraft and tankers up close where we can,’’ he said.

‘‘We have aircraft fly across it each day to find out all the hot spots so we can try and water-bomb those.’’

The fire has been burning in deep valleys that run in a north/south direction with limited drivable tracks which made it hard to access the fire.

‘‘Because we can’t get into the actual fire because of the hilly and steep terrain, we’ve got to let it burn out to the control lines which is sometimes putting up a lot of smoke which you’ll be seeing across the district,’’ Mr Bell said.

Unlike the Bunyip State Park fire which has destroyed over 30 houses and nearly 70 outbuildings, no structures have been lost as the area is sparsely populated.

The fire did come extremely close to the vineyard at Booroola Homestead where picking is under way but firefighters successfully defended the vines and none were damaged.

Mr Bell said that there was no danger to the public or any structures.

Due to the terrain, Mr Bell said what they really need is rain to give the site a good soaking but at the moment there’s little forecast.

One of the bigger concerns now is air quality with VicEmergency issuing a statewide warning for the Labour Day long weekend.

This was due to smoke from the various fires combining and drifting across the state.

People can connect to multiple sources for emergency information, including the VicEmergency app emergency.vic.gov.au, the VicEmergency hotline on 1800 226 226, or follow VicEmergency on Facebook and Twitter.

For information about the effects of smoke on health go to epa.vic.gov.au/your-environment/air/smoke or for more information on air quality visit EPA’s website at epa.vic.gov.au/airwatch

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on March 13, 2019.

Practising law, her way

Jacqui Brauman wants to change the law profession.

Jacqui Brauman, owner of TBA Law and its principal solicitor.
Photo: TBA Law.

Ms Brauman first qualified as a solicitor while working at Tehan George & Co in Seymour but then moved to Wagga and then to Sydney for several years with her husband who is in the military.

In 2012, fate brought her back to the Seymour region and she bought Rod Theobald’s practice, determined to find a different way to practice law after a particularly disturbing experience in Sydney.

‘‘I had a horrendous experience with my last employer in Sydney,’’ Ms Brauman said.

‘‘Discrimination, sexual harassment. I even got physically hit once by my boss. That compelled me to work for myself because I wanted to be in control of my environment and I want it to be safe. And I wanted women who I brought into the workforce to also be safe.’’

The experience of being slapped across the face by the general manager in the middle of heated discussion is a central motivating factor behind why Ms Brauman has set up her law firm, TBA Law, the way she has.

Starting with herself and one support staff member, she has grown the firm to 10 employees and all of the solicitors who work at TBA Law are women.

Ms Brauman said that was intentional.

‘‘I only have female solicitors working for me. I’ve got a couple of male support staff and that’s been conscious,’’ she said.

‘‘I really tried to flip the model a little bit because traditionally it’s been male partners, maybe some female associates and then female support staff. But no, my firm’s going to be females solicitors.

‘‘My first and foremost goal was to have a safe environment for myself. So when I’m bringing other junior staff members and mentoring them, I want them to have a safe experience in legal industry and I want to protect them to some degree from what it can be like.

‘‘Obviously they’re still exposed to other solicitors in other firms on other sides of matters and I can’t protect them completely.’’

She said she had hired one or two male solicitors but they elected to move on voluntarily when they realised they didn’t fit with the culture of the firm.

Ms Brauman wants to change the way it has become acceptable for opposing lawyers to attack each other in an attempt to win their cases.

‘‘Some people think that just because it’s adversarial, it’s alright to attack people personally. It’s not okay and you don’t tear someone down professionally just to achieve a result for a client.’’

After her experiences, Ms Brauman wants to make TBA Law a safe place for young lawyers who are entering the profession and to show them the law doesn’t have to be an aggressive, win-at-all-costs environment.

She doesn’t regret starting her law firm even though it’s a six-day-a-week job at the moment and encourages any woman who’s thinking about starting their own business to do it and to seek out other like-minded women as she has done.

‘‘I would say find a good network of other business women. I think that’s made the biggest difference for me because it’s a safe place to share things and get ideas,’’ she said.

She belongs to a variety of female-only professional groups including Her Business (formerly called the Australian Business Women’s Network) and WOW Women in Shepparton which allows her to float ideas and spend time with other like-minded women.

As for the female business leaders of the future, Ms Brauman believes that someone’s first career choice doesn’t have to be their last.

‘‘The first degree you do doesn’t have to be the last or the only profession that you follow. I really hate that the school system says you have to do so well in VCE and then know what you want to do for the rest of your life from there,’’ she said.

‘‘I think they should know that you can go back to uni, you can go back any time. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you to make a decision about what you want to do.’’

This article was originally published in the Seymour Telegraph, March 6 2019.

Cooking up a career

Peta Crowl was stuck living in a shed with her baby son when she decided she had to do something.

Ms Crowl with some of her delicious wares.

Before finding herself in the shed, she was the only female beer plumber in Australia and had been running a successful business in Port Macquarie.

But when life got complicated, she decided to leave her business and move to Melbourne.

‘‘I went from being a beer plumber, earning great money, $85 a hour to pretty much having nothing,’’ she said.

On one of those days when she was stuck at home she stumbled across Cupcake Wars on television.

She was fascinated and decided that she would try her hand at baking, even though she had never baked anything in her life.

For five years she baked cupcakes at home and did whatever she could to sell them.

‘I was baking at home, walking the streets, sitting on the side of the freeway, walking into shops. Doing some really crazy stuff just to try and get back into the business world,’’ she said.

‘‘I thought I needed to do something for myself because no one else was going to.’’

Ms Crowl eventually found full-time work at the Cheesecake Factory in Epping, moving quickly from the front counter to the kitchen out the back.

She became their head baker and spent the time learning as much as she could about running that sort of business.

She said the work was extremely tough but it helped her enormously.

‘‘While I was working there, my eyes were wide open, I was watching everything, learning. I was just a sponge, absorbing everything. It taught me to be quicker because you had to multi-task and being the baker you might have 30 cakes in the oven; you’ve got a mix on that’s got 30 in it and you’re preparing the next batch and you’re putting cakes away as well that you’ve baked. So it was all multi-tasking and you had to work very hard.’’

Ms Crowl’s dream was to open her own cupcake and cake shop and a year ago she did just that.

The journey has been a tough one and she freely admits that she’s made plenty of mistakes along the way.

She has found a mentor in Cynthia Lim from Blue Tongue Berries.

‘‘She knew I was looking and I was trying different things. And one day she goes ‘here, what do you want help with?’ She wants me to strive and succeed. It’s been really good,’’ Ms Crowl said.

She is also an advocate of women educating themselves and backing themselves.

‘‘Make sure you research, research, research and just go for it. If you’ve got a dream, go for it. You can really do whatever you want if you set your mind to it, I really believe that,’’ she said.

‘‘Go and do a small business course. I did one even though I had a lot of experience in accounting.

‘‘There’s lots of short courses to help you along the way. Find a good friend in the industry that will help you and you can go to for advice.’’

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on March 6 2019

Casual flick was a disaster

Fire destroyed two sheds on Monash Drive in Seymour last Thursday.

It’s believed the fire was started by a discarded cigarette that had been flicked into grass at the back of a property.

Emergency services were quickly on the scene and no one was harmed in the fire.

A shocked but calm Melissa Smith told The Telegraph that she and her two daughters were next door visiting her mother, Dianne Ginn, when she went out the back to smoke a cigarette.

When finished, she flicked the cigarette away and went back inside.

At first, no one in the house realised anything was amiss until Ms Smith thought she could hear a tap running.

Thinking it was her younger daughter playing with the taps in the kitchen, she went to check and was horrified when she looked out the back door to see the backyard on fire.

The grass in the backyard had caught alight and the fire quickly spread to her mother’s storage shed and to the one on Ms Smith’s property.

Ms Smith was shocked at how fast the fire caught hold and said she ‘‘couldn’t believe how quickly it went’’.

Ms Smith’s older daughter, Brittney, had just done a load of washing which was hanging on the backyard’s clothesline to dry.

The clothesline and the clothes were destroyed in the fire.

Once the family realised they couldn’t put the fire out with their hose, they ran up the street to escape the smoke.

Country Fire Authority operations officer Peter Bell said the fire hadn’t reached the homes but smoke had got into Ms Ginn’s house.

Mr Bell confirmed the fire destroyed both sheds, a clothesline and a couple of trees.

‘‘There was a report of a smoke sighting at 2.06pm today which turned out to be a couple of storage sheds in the backyards of houses, a couple of tree and grass that caught on fire. The grass was fairly long in the backyard where the fire started,’’ he said.

‘‘Both the sheds have been full of the person’s belongings which have been destroyed.’’

Police, Ambulance Victoria and the fire brigade all attended the scene as well as AusNet Services in case the power needed to be cut.

The properties are owned by the Department of Health and Human Services and representatives from the department quickly arrived to help the family and assess the damage to the properties.

Mr Bell said the firefighters were hampered in their efforts by the locked and very full sheds.

‘‘It’s created a lot of hassles for the firefighters in the storage sheds, pulling all the belongings out to douse the fire,’’ he said.

Ms Smith could only say ‘‘never do it, never flick your cigarette’’.

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on March 6 2019.

Residents pressured to sign up for NBN by robocallers

Unscrupulous retailers are cold-calling residents in Seymour and telling them their phones will be disconnected within 24 hours because of the switch over to NBN.

While it’s not illegal for these retailers to call potential customers, Greg Maher from Seymour Technology believes the calls are exploiting vulnerable people in the community.

‘‘People are getting phone calls saying that they’ll be switched off if they don’t act in the next 24 hours and that they need to sign up with them [the retailer] then and there,’’ Mr Maher said.

‘‘It’s scare tactics they’re using so that they can get the job or the hook-up for them.’’

Calls are coming from an automated voice which prompts whoever has answered the phone to push ‘one’ to talk to someone about NBN.

Other calls are coming from call centres who then tell the resident that their phone will be disconnected within 24 hours if they don’t switch to NBN immediately.

Mrs Ure, pictured here at her home, is concerned for vulnerable residents in Seymour who could be taken in by the persistent calls.

Longtime Seymour resident Faye Ure, who is 85, has received multiple calls from a robocaller.

At first she thought the voice was a real person but soon realised it was a robocall and hung up.

‘‘It was a programmed voice, it wasn’t anyone speaking. A good Australian accent saying ‘we’re calling from the NBN, about your national broadband’,’’ Mrs Ure said.

Mrs Ure is already on NBN as her son Andrew organised it for her and all notifications about her service go to her mobile phone.

While Mrs Ure simply hangs up on the calls, she’s concerned about other people who could be taken in.

‘‘If someone in town, an older person got called and when it says press one they do that, what do you lose? That’s where I’m cautious,’’ she said.

Mr Maher has had a few people come in to the store who have been conned into signing up for an NBN plan without really understanding what they’re getting.

They then assume because Seymour Technology is the local authorised Telstra provider, the business will know what’s going on.

‘‘A couple of people have come in, they’ve already signed up and don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into,’’ he said.

‘‘We can only look after the ones that we do. We had someone in earlier this week and she was saying, ‘oh, the NBN is going to be switched on today. What plan am I going to be on?’ I wasn’t part of that conversation, I didn’t hear what you said you wanted to go on.’’

Mr Maher said that Telstra and the other major broadband providers won’t cold-call residents and they had been sending out letters to customers advising them of what was happening.

The calls are coming from either telemarketers looking to secure a sale or scammers trying to steal personal and banking details.

He said that if people wanted to protect themselves from being ripped off, they would be better off visiting a store who is an authorised NBN provider.

‘‘Bottom line — go into a store, especially where you know the people. Do it face to face and hopefully you’ll be more comfortable and more understanding of what you’re actually getting yourself into rather than over the phone,’’ Mr Maher said.

He also urged people to not wait too much longer to organise their move to NBN as the old copper exchange will be switched off on April 12 and anyone who hasn’t moved over will have their phone cut off.

‘‘The last thing we really want is people coming in after the 12th saying ‘ah, my phone’s been cut off’. Once it’s been cut off, it’s going to be a quagmire because it goes into quarantine. Can we get that number back for them? Probably after about two or three hours of work and that’s not something we really want to have to do when it can be averted.’’

Mr Maher and his staff are encouraging all Seymour residents to act sooner rather than later.

‘‘Make sure you’re sorted before the end of March. The contractors can only do so many in a day before they move onto the next area after April 12.’’

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on February 27 2019.

All aboard extra train services

Seymour and Shepparton are getting new train services.

Regional Development Minister Jaclyn Symes was in Nagambie last week to announce that from April 1 there will be two new daily train services on the Shepparton line, meaning extra trains for Nagambie and the other stops between Seymour and Shepparton.

Regional Development Minister Jaclyn Symes, Regional Rail Revival director Mark Havryluk and V/Line chief executive officer James Pinder were in Nagambie for the announcement.

In the timetable change, the early morning service which currently terminates at Seymour will be extended to Shepparton.

This is due to the completion of track works and train stabling upgrades in Shepparton.

Ms Symes said the new service was the first part of delivering on the Andrews Government promise to provide more train services along the Shepparton line.

‘‘Local passengers have been calling out for more train services and we’re delivering exactly that, giving people more choice when they travel,’’ Ms Symes said.

Also in attendance was V/Line chief executive officer James Pinder who said the train was scheduled to arrive in Shepparton at around 8.45am, making it possible for commuters in smaller towns to catch the train to work in Shepparton instead of driving.

The train will make a return trip to Melbourne mid-morning, significantly reducing the six-hour wait between trains that currently exists for passengers on the Shepparton line.

Ms Symes also announced a new afternoon train service from Melbourne to Seymour will be added to the timetable from April 1.

The new service to Seymour will leave Melbourne at around 4pm.

Mr Pinder said the new train to Seymour will stop at all stations along the route, giving workers who opt for an early start to their day another option for getting home.

New timetables will be available from March 1, a month before the new services start.

Preliminary work has begun for stage two of the Shepparton Line upgrade to allow V/Locity trains on the line for the first time.

During the next few weeks, work crews will dig 22 test pits and drill six bore-holes between Shepparton and Nagambie to conduct soil tests and to gain a better understanding of the ground conditions in the area.

An assessment of the train line between Seymour and Shepparton has also been conducted by specialists in January and February.

They walked more than 80km of the train line to document the general condition of the track and to check on the condition of the sleepers and ballast.

The preliminary work being conducted will help inform the design and construction of stage two which includes level crossing upgrades, signalling and track upgrades and platform extensions.

‘‘With the next stage of works now progressing, passengers have even more to look forward to, with more modern trains and more reliable journeys on the way,’’ Ms Symes said.

It’s estimated the line upgrade and the addition of V/Locity trains will cut 20 minutes from the trip between Melbourne and Shepparton.

The Shepparton Line upgrade is part of the Regional Rail Revival program which is upgrading every regional train line in Victoria.

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on February 20 2019.

Remembering the 2009 Victoria Bushfires

The remembrance garden at District 12 headquarters.

A plaque dedicated to the men and women who fought the 2009 Victorian Bushfires was unveiled during a ceremony last week.

A commemoration event for the 10-year anniversary of the fires was held at the District 12 headquarters in Seymour last Thursday.

Former CFA regional director Alan Davies hosted the service, which was attended by representatives from all the emergency services and the Australian Defence Force.

Senior CFA staff were in attendance including chief executive officer Paul Smith, chief officer Steve Warrington and assistant chief officer Ross Sullivan.

Operation managers from four of the five CFA districts in the North East were also in attendance including the regional commander Paul King.

CFA chief officer Steve Warrington

Chief officer Steve Warrington was the deputy chief officer at the time of the 2009 bushfires and he was invited to speak at the event.

Mr Warrington spoke about what he remembers of the fires and days that preceded them.

He remembers days of continuous hot weather when more than 300 people died, the extremely low humidity and storm force winds that grounded the bulk of the aircraft used for firefighting

He spoke about having to make the terrible decision to not send aircraft to areas that desperately needed them.

Mr Warrington said the 10-year anniversary of the fires was time to reflect on the 173 lives lost on the day but to also remember the many more who have died since.

He also spoke about how he saw people come together and that ‘‘badges were forgotten’’.

On that day in 2009 he said it didn’t matter where someone had come from, if they were CFA, MBF, SES, Parks Victoria, Police, SES.

What mattered was everyone working together to try to save as many lives as possible.

He had only praise for the crews who worked so hard to protect what they could.

He warned that no one can ‘‘rest on their laurels’’ and the sad reality is there will be another incident like the 2009 Victorian Bushfires.

But Mr Warrington pointed out that some good had come from the fires with the development of the national Emergency Alert system and the advances in technology that helped the CFA both fight fires and warn the public.

Mr Warrington also urged anyone who was struggling to seek help and told those in attendance that he himself had sought help in dealing with trauma caused by the fires.

‘‘There’s no shame in asking for help,’’ he said.

With the conclusion of Mr Warrington’s speech, a smoking ceremony was conducted by Uncle Steve Walsh, a Taungurung man.

Mr Walsh explained that smoking ceremonies are traditionally used to welcome people onto tribe land, to offer protection to those present and as a cleansing of the spirit.

He invited all in attendance to step into the smoke.

Six wreaths were then laid by a representative of each of the emergency services and the Australian Defence Force.

CFA chief executive officer Paul Smith laid a wreath that incorporated the names of the 173 people who died in the fires.

The other wreaths were laid by representatives from the CFA, Victorian Police, Ambulance Victoria, State Emergency Service and the Australian Defence Force.

Once the wreaths were in place, a minute’s silence was observed.

To end the ceremony, six rose bushes were planted to form a remembrance garden.

The plaque in the remembrance garden.

Five of the roses represent each fire district in the North East with the final one representing the communities who suffered in the fires.

Representatives from districts 12, 13, 22, 23 and 24 planted a rose bush each and the final one for the community was planted by former CFA chaplain Graeme Scorringe.

The roses were planted around three pillars of wood, representing the forests.

Also buried in the garden are thoughts and reflections of CFA volunteers and staff as a gesture of feeding new growth and new beginnings.

At the front is a plaque dedicated to those who fought the fires, thanking for their service.

Mr Warrington unveiled the plaque and said that while the community should move forward, no one should ever forget what happened.

‘‘Our history should serve as a reminder to our future. To ensure that as emergency service practitioners, while we can never guarantee that it won’t happen again, all our endeavours are towards ensuring the impacts are reduced, that our communities are safe. And that all our people come home in the future.’’

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on February 13 2019.

Herd immunity achieved

Residents in Mitchell Shire are protecting vulnerable community members from illness by achieving herd immunity.

Immunisation rates across the shire have hit 98 per cent for five-year-olds, surpassing the recommended 95 per cent rate from both Victorian and Federal governments..

Mitchell Shire Mayor Bill Chisholm was extremely proud of his community and its efforts to protect those with vulnerable immune systems.

‘‘Our health services in the Mitchell Shire are doing a brilliant job of working with residents to get the best results for everyone who lives in the municipality,’’ he said.

‘‘It is tremendous we have reached herd immunity, it is a brilliant, co-operative effort.

‘‘While we are doing a great job, we need to make sure we continue to vaccinate and keep up-to-date with the latest information. This is the best way we can continue to protect the most vulnerable people in our shire.’’

Herd immunity is vital for those in the community who cannot be immunised against diseases such as measles, whooping cough , rotavirus , meningococcal and the flu.

Babies under six months old, who are yet to have their first round of needles, and the elderly are the most at risk of becoming ill and rely on herd immunity to avoid what can be life-threatening diseases.

People who have damaged or suppressed immune systems are also at risk as they often cannot be immunised.

Australia-wide, immunisation rates for one-year-olds sat at 94 per cent, 90.63 per cent for two-year-olds and 94.62 per cent for five-year-olds as recorded by the Federal Department of Health at the end of 2018.

Victoria fared only slightly better with 94.21 per cent of one-year-olds and 91 per cent of two-year-olds fully vaccinated, meaning the state average was below the recommended rate.

However, 95.48 per cent of five-year-olds were fully immunised, meaning herd immunity had been achieved in Victoria for that age group.

There have been multiple outbreaks of measles in Victoria, the most recent one across the Australia Day long weekend in Mildura with a baby being taken to the Mildura Base Hospital and diagnosed with the disease.

Measles is a highly infectious disease and can be fatal for babies.

Victoria’s acting chief health officer Brett Sutton said measles often first presented with cold-like symptoms.

‘‘The characteristic measles rash usually begins three to seven days after the first symptoms, generally starting on the face and then spreading to the rest of the body,’’ he said.

‘‘Anyone developing symptoms is advised to ring ahead to their general practitioner or hospital first and tell them that they may have measles so that appropriate steps can be taken to avoid contact with other patients.’’

Measles outbreaks are rare in Australia because of country-wide use of the measles vaccine but recently there has been multiple outbreaks, usually linked to someone who was visiting from overseas or an unvaccinated person returning from an overseas trip.

A Victorian Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson praised the Mitchell Shire community for its efforts.

‘‘Immunisations are safe, effective and save lives. Mitchell Shire has done a wonderful job promoting the importance of vaccination,’’ they said.

‘‘Immunising your child not only protects you and your family, but other children in the community.’’

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on February 6 2019.

ATAR not the be-all and end-all for students

In 2015 Callum Ellis was up early on the day the ATAR scores were released.

Young man standing in front of a tree.
Not getting the ATAR he wanted hasn’t stopped Callum Ellis from achieving his dreams.

He was brimming with excitement, certain he was about to reach his dreams of doing a Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) at RMIT University which had an ATAR entry score of 94 at the time.

In an endeavour to achieve his best possible score he had quit his job and the football team, and cut down on his socialising to focus solely on his studies.

It was going to be the moment of truth and he’d find out if his efforts had been worth it.

For Callum, it wasn’t.

He achieved an ATAR score of 56.75 — 38 points below the score he needed to get into his dream course.

Not surprisingly, he was devastated and felt that he’d failed.

‘‘It was silly, I had my hopes pinned onto the idea that I was going to get into this course and this was going to be my future, my pathway. But it was a very unrealistic expectation in the end,’’ Callum said.

After recovering from the disappointment, he decided he might as well play to what he thought were his strengths and study something that was related to his strongest subject in VCE — physics.

Callum started an Associate Degree in Engineering Technology and hated every minute of it.

‘‘It was a lot of electrical engineering that I already knew about and didn’t want to relearn — and I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on stuff that I already knew,’’ Callum said.

He quit the course within a month and decided that a year working would be a better idea while he again reassessed what he wanted to do.

Callum got a job at the Seymour BP petrol station and worked there on the weekends.

Seeking to challenge himself and to work on what he felt what his worst aspect — his memory — Callum decided to do a Diploma of Languages at RMIT.

His language of choice was Chinese, one of the hardest languages to learn, and he decided to do it in intensive mode which meant that students only had one year to complete their studies.

‘‘The course had a drop-out rate of about 80 per cent, 75 per cent. I think we started off with about 15 students in this course and finished up with four by the end of the year — and one of those failed at the end. I ended up topping the class,’’ Callum said.

‘‘I was really determined; I was really determined to prove to prove myself because I’d had people joking around and mucking around because I’d got the bad ATAR. But I was very determined to prove to myself that I was actually able to do something.’’

However, the best news was yet to come.

Because of his high grades in the diploma, he was eligible to apply for the Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) and he was overjoyed when he found out that he had been accepted.

Callum said in hindsight his decision to cut so much out of his personal life and prioritise school was a mistake because in the end it had the opposite effect of what it was supposed to.

‘‘I quit everything and decided to try and focus on studies — but I got so burnt out that I couldn’t be bothered with my studies any more. I was like, ‘I’m too tired to do this, I’ll study later’. It was really, really boring and horrible,’’ he said.

‘‘Looking back on it, it was such a bad decision. You can’t expect a normal functioning human to be able to simply study then sleep. You want to enjoy yourself and not have a bad time or be bored. It’s just natural instinct. So to just simply study and then sleep, it can really burn you out. And I learned that pretty quickly.’’

This was the message Callum gave to this year’s senior students at Seymour College when he spoke at an assembly on Thursday last week.

He spoke about his disappointment at not achieving the ATAR score he wanted and believing he would never get into the degree he wanted.

However his experience has taught him there are many pathways to get where you want to go, and that ATAR scores aren’t the be-all and end-all.

Callum finished his talk by saying he hoped others would realise that it was never too late to chase your dreams.

‘‘I’m hoping that you can take something out of my story and realise that if you don’t achieve exactly what you were hoping for and you’re devastated, it’s never too late.’’

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on February 6 2019.

Local champions now OAMs

Two Seymour residents were awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in this year’s Australia Day Awards.

John Jennings received his OAM for services to the community while John Phoenix was recognised for his service to veterans and their families.

John Jennings (left) and John Phoenix (right).

Both men have dedicated themselves to the Seymour community.

One thing they share is a humility towards being singled out for their contributions.

They both believe they are individuals who are members of groups trying to make things better for Seymour.

Mr Jennings has been a resident of Seymour since 1980 when he and his wife Ginny relocated to the region so that he could take up the role of principal at Seymour Primary School.

He was quick to say that while the award has his name on it, he believes it belongs to everyone in the groups he has been involved with over the years.

‘‘Well, certainly it was a thrill and an honour and all of that but in turn I think what it does is recognises not so much me but the groups I’ve been in, the different groups over the years and certainly Ginny has been my backup all the time. So I think it goes to a lot of people,’’ Mr Jennings said.

He is best known in the community for his work at the Seymour Historical Society were he spent 21 years as either the president or the secretary.

Mr Jennings and his wife are life members of the Seymour Historical Society and last year he became a life member of the Light Horse Park in honour of the work he has done for that group.

He has been involved in numerous groups and was chairman of the Friends of the Bridge since its inauguration until last year.

If an event was organised in Seymour in the last 36 years, there was a reasonable chance that Mr Jennings was involved at some point.

He has also written 15 books, eight of them about Seymour and the surrounding towns, compiling the local histories of each area.

Mr Jennings said that volunteering is in his blood.

He grew up watching his parents volunteer in Rye where the family was based.

‘‘I just think it’s always been a part of me. Mum and dad were good volunteers. My brothers and sister were always involved in things,’’ he said.

‘‘The first time I remember doing anything, I was about 10 years old and I was the scorer for the footy club, sitting up on the roof, changing the signs and I loved that. I did that for quite a few years and then I became the reporter for the footy club when I was still at high school. I wrote the articles for the local newspaper for a couple of years.’’

His volunteering slowed a little while he was at teachers’ college but it picked up once he was appointed to his first teaching position in Framlingham, near Warrnambool, where he became secretary of the local Scouts group.

Mr Jennings believes that his life has only been enriched by volunteering.

‘‘You get more out of it than you put in because you get to make friends who are of a like mind as you and some of those friends last forever,’’ he said.

‘‘You also learn a lot as you’re volunteering. People who volunteer down at the information centre, for example, must learn a lot about the town that they didn’t realise before.’’

John Phoenix is an Vietnam veteran who served in the Australian Army from 1965 to 1991.

He has volunteered for projects in Seymour since moving to the town after leaving the army.

He was quick to say that he didn’t deserve the award but that he was simply part of a group and that the group should have been recognised, not him.

‘‘I’m a firm believer in, if you do a group project, the project should get the award,’’ he said.

‘‘I’d like to thank the people that I’ve worked with on different projects.’’

Mr Phoenix started volunteering when he was still in the army and restored a tank which he then donated back to the School of Armours Museum.

When he left the army he felt compelled to do something to pay back the support he felt he received while he was in the army.

‘‘I just feel you’ve got to pay back something to someone. And to Seymour,’’ he said.

He has been involved in a multitude of projects since permanently settling here in 1981, the first was the adding of plaques to the cenotaph.

Since then he has been involved in some large projects. The most recently completed one is the upgrade to the Hospital Memorial.

He quietly improved the hospital gates before the major restoration began and found a tradesman who could remake the lights that had originally hung above the gates but had disappeared.

Mr Phoenix was the driving force behind the Vietnam Veterans Walk and Wall and is the vice chairman of the committee that maintains the memorial.

His focus now is the Seymour Memorial Swimming Pool upgrade, which is a three-stage project to turn the pool into a memorial for all the conflicts Australian soldiers have been involved in since the Boer War up to and including Afghanistan.

He has been in touch with the artists who have created the stunning portraits on grain silos around Victoria and is hoping to engage them to create a mural for the pool.

While doing this, he has also started fundraising for the refurbishment of the two guns on Anzac Ave.

Mr Phoenix saved his loudest praise for Seymour locals and businesses who have stunned him repeatedly with their generosity.

When he needed to start fundraising for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial he started near his business on Emily St.

‘‘I walked up Emily St and down Emily St and by that afternoon I had $10000 to start the walk going. They’ve always supported us,’’ he said.

‘‘When we did the memorial at the hospital, a lot of the tradies gave free labour. That was just the way it was.’’

His other abiding passion is cars and he is responsible for starting the Seymour Car Club in 2011.

He is still the club’s president.

The car club is a strong supporter of the Seymour Rotary Club and always volunteers its time for any events they have.

Mr Jennings and Mr Phoenix will attend ceremonies at Government House in either April or May to receive their OAMs from the Governor of Victoria.

This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on February 5 2019.

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