25 January 2022

Firefighter boss John Cullen among Bega Valley Shire's top citizens

| Albert McKnight
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John Cullen

John Cullen has been announced as the Bega Valley Shire’s 2022 Citizen of the Year. Photo: BVSC.

A man who dedicated a large part of his life to protecting the Far South Coast from the devastating impacts of fire has been recognised with one of the Bega Valley Shire’s top honours.

Former NSW Rural Fire Service Far South Coast manager, Superintendent John Cullen has been announced as the shire’s 2022 Citizen of the Year.

In addition, Clare McMahon took out the Senior Citizen of the Year Award while Jessica Duthie was awarded Young Citizen of the Year.

“I feel extremely honoured to have been awarded and recognised by the council, and being presented on Australia Day makes it even more special,” Mr Cullen said.

“And a big congratulations to the other two awardees.”

Mr Cullen has certainly faced major challenges during his 44-year fire service career, which began in 1977.

He recalled challenges posed by major fires and losing assets in a region – and the Black Summer bushfires were an example of that – but also the house fires and possible deaths, which “never get any easier”.

Mr Cullen served in a leadership position during the last three monstrous fires to come to the Bega Valley: Tathra, Yankees Gap and Black Summer.

When asked how the community was recovering since the latter, which struck the region in 2019-2020, Mr Cullen said he thought people were moving at different levels.

“There are still people suffering mentally and financially throughout our district,” he said.

“They will be recovering in their own time, and I think it’s important they go through the process at their own time to get where they need to be.”

What he is most proud of from his career is increasing membership, providing new stations into areas and seeing their brigades develop, as well as seeing members improve their skills.

When asked what his words of advice were for the next generation of firefighters, he said: “I think you can’t beat good, strong communities and brigades”.

“I’d just encourage people to join the organisation and be involved, to assist people in their time of need,” Mr Cullen said.

He said he has worked with “terrific staff”.

“You can only admire the skills and tenacity of the volunteers. It keeps you ticking over to work alongside them,” he said.

Mr Cullen retired from his manager position in RFS in 2021, although he has still been involved in training volunteers.

Aside from that, he plans on working on his property at Bemboka and fixing up an old house.

“Otherwise just cooling my heels and getting my breath back,” he said.

He thanked his wife Robyn and his three children, Nathan, Bree and Mark, for their “tremendous support”.

In addition to his fire service, Mr Cullen has been secretary of the Bemboka Showground Trust for 22 years, provides expert support to the Royal Easter Show team’s vegetable section, gives advice to young farmers to teach them the intricacies of livestock production, and has worked with high schools in preparing their calves for carcass competitions.

Clare McMahon

Clare McMahon is the 2022 Senior Citizen of the Year for the Bega Valley Shire. Photo: BVSC.

Bega Valley Shire Council said the Senior Citizen of the Year, 81-year-old Ms McMahon, had been described as a “living icon” and has made an outstanding contribution to her local community over many years as a fundraiser, volunteer, advocate, facilitator and mobiliser.

She worked in Austrade, as a trade commissioner in several countries as well as trade commissioner and consulate general in Mumbai, India, before retiring in 1999 with the dream of running the family farm in Kiah and becoming a beef producer.

“She is a sincere giver; keeping an eye out for her neighbours, lending a hand as needed, connecting people and sharing information to ensure people can access the support they need,” council said.

“Despite losing sheds, outbuildings and fences (thankfully not her home) during the Black Summer bushfires, Clare has worked tirelessly to support the local recovery process.”

Jessica Duthie

Jessica Duthie is the 2022 Bega Valley Shire’s Young Citizen of the Year. Photo: BVSC.

Young Citizen of the Year, Ms Duthie, who is from Brown Mountain, has been described as a focused and determined young woman studying to become a childcare worker.

“What many of us might see as unmanageable barriers to achieving her career goals, Jessica takes in her stride,” council said.

“Jessica is a young carer who looks after her two younger siblings when her mother is unwell, which has made her schooling and studying particularly challenging.”

She has finished her Certificate III Pathway to Further Study at Bega TAFE, was a successful applicant for council’s 2021 Further Education Scholarship and plans to complete a Certificate IV in Community Services.

“Jessica’s long-term goal is to run her own after-school care business,” council said.

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Council is also awarding Bega Valley Medallions to 14 outstanding individuals who have served the community over a number of years: David Allen, Robin Wykes, Amanda Shane, Donna Flood, Ruth Gilmour, Bill Foxwell, Mark Smith, John Stylianou, Bill Mead, Greg Holland, Ron Cole, Christine Welsh, Carolyn McColl and Robert Smith.

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