31 October 2023

Recognition 'still sinking in' for woman with lifetime of volunteering ahead of statewide ceremony

| Claire Sams
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A woman holding certificates, one framed

Gillian Kearney has won an award for her volunteering work, but she has no plans to slow down. Photo: Marine Rescue NSW.

Many of us help out in our community, but for volunteer Gillian Kearney, recognition of her hard work came in an unexpected form.

She was recently named the South Coast Adult Winner in the 2023 NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards for her work with Marine Rescue Narooma.

“I was in a bit of a state of shock when they told me, actually, because the company I was in [nominees] was pretty amazing,” Ms Kearney said.

“They’re people who work in hospitals or with terminally ill people, people who work in disaster relief and just see disaster after disaster, people working with animals.

“It’s still sinking in because there are so many other worthwhile people that can be considered for something like this.”

Ms Kearney’s passion for volunteering began when she was a child.

“I had a dad who was in Lions, so that set the scene for us to give back in some way to our community,” she said.

“He was very passionate about that.

“I think that transferred to all of us, to a certain extent.”

Ms Kearney has spent decades volunteering not only with Marine Rescue but also organisations including Landcare and the Army Reserves.

“I was a volunteer with the RFS for 25 years, Surf Life Saving for 12, and the Girl Guide movement when I was a little girl and as a leader when I was at uni,” she said.

READ ALSO Another feather bound for Bill Blakeman’s Marine Rescue cap

She was nominated in – and went on to win – the South Coast Adult category for her work with Marine Rescue Narooma.

“I joined on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic – 15 April – in 2017,” she said.

“I just felt that while I couldn’t be a firefighter anymore because asthma and smoke don’t really mix, I still wanted to volunteer.

“I still wanted to use all those things that the RFS and Surf Life Saving taught me in a practical way.”

Ms Kearney has taken up a variety of positions during the six years she has been with Marine Rescue.

A rated radio operator and watch officer with Marine Rescue, she represents the Narooma region as a member of the protocol committee.

“That is a newly formed, statewide committee that advises all our 45 [Marine Rescue] units on protocol matters,” she said.

“We’re the sounding board for people on how to wear their uniform, what sort of things to wear, what to say and do.”

Ms Kearney said it was a highlight of her time with Marine Rescue.

“I’m the only girl at the moment in that committee, and all my colleagues are highly decorated ex-military or ex-police,” she said.

“It is very humbling to be in their company because they’re very experienced mariners with a lot of tradition behind them.”

READ ALSO Surf’s up! Report assesses water quality at NSW swimming spots

Ms Kearney wasn’t the only South Coast volunteer recognised for her work, with Rodney Feltham from the SES Ulladulla Unit named Senior Volunteer of the Year and the Milton Ulladulla Hospital Auxiliary named Volunteer Team of the Year.

In the years to come, Ms Kearney said, she was keen to continue helping her community.

“I’ll just continue keeping on keeping on,” she said.

“There is a statewide awards ceremony in December that we’ll attend to represent the South Coast area and we’ll be in pretty esteemed company.”

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