Rural mental health advocate Ray Akers of Heyfield was today named Wellington Shire Council’s Citizen of the Year for 2022.
Ray is well known in farming communities throughout Wellington and wider Gippsland for his extensive work co-ordinating hay drives to assist drought-affected farmers to feed their stock, along with essential supplies for families.
But it is Ray’s commitment to the mental health of farmers and their families that has had the greatest impact on his community. Knowing men especially were reluctant to seek help with their mental health, Ray took the approach of “cold calling” – where he either dropped in for a visit or gave them a call on the phone for a chat.
Through a friendly chat, Ray was able to gauge how the farmer was coping with the drought and other farming or family pressures. He could then suggest services that could help and arrange practical assistance where it was needed – whether that was a delivery of stock feed or a visit from a financial counsellor to help sort out some of the bills. Or at the very least, just someone to talk to.
Wellington Shire Mayor Ian Bye said Ray Akers was a worthy recipient of the award.
“Dryland farmers around Wellington cannot say enough about Ray Akers and his dedication to supporting them through one of the toughest droughts in history,” he said.
“Ray Akers gave his heart and soul to those farmers during their time of need and we will never know how many lives he saved during that time simply by checking in and providing someone to listen.”
Sale teenager Archie Towers took out the Young Citizen of the Year award, in recognition of his quiet, no fuss dedication to ensuring facilities were maintained for both the Sale City Junior Football Netball Club and the Sale Touch Football Association.
The second annual Covid Hero award, which was introduced in lieu of the Event of the Year award due to Covid event cancellations, was won by Ben Davies of Stratford. Ben has dedicated his time during the Covid-19 pandemic to ensuring all local events for the Stratford Lions Club, Stratford RSL and Stratford Mechanics Hall were Covid-19 compliant.
Community Group of the Year was awarded to The Junior Hive in Yarram. A relatively new group, The Junior Hive provides a safe space for local kids to attend after school and on school holidays.
The group works hard to provide events and activities to keep the young people of Yarram engaged and provide them with skills they can use into the future.
“After another tough year for many in Wellington, it was fantastic to be reminded of all the great work members of our community have achieved,” Cr Bye said.
“Our Wellington communities are resilient and positive; they roll with the punches and make the best out of every situation.
“Today’s awards are testament to that, we should all be proud to live in Wellington.”
Wellington Shire Council Australia Day award winners:
Citizen of the Year – Ray Akers
Young Citizen of the Year – Archie Towers
Group of the Year – The Junior Hive
Covid Hero – Ben Davies