Media Release

May 31, 2010

The founder of Neighbour Day, an asylum seeker help centre and an innovative digital media project have been named the winners of the 2010 Westpac Kookaburra Awards.

The awards, an initiative of Our Community and Westpac, are designed to highlight the individuals, organisations and projects that really made a difference - that stretch people's vision of what's possible in Australian society today.

The winner of the inaugural Westpac Kookaburra Award for an Outstanding Individual was Andrew Heslop, who won $10,000 in cash and prizes for his work in creating 'Neighbour Day' - a national celebration of community that brings together the people from next door, across the street or the next farm.

The initiative was developed in response to the 2003 news that an elderly woman, Elsie Brown, had been dead at home for two years before being discovered.

"The sad discovery of Mrs Brown's lonely death confronted many Australians - not just the elderly - because she had simply been forgotten by neighbours, friends and family," Mr Heslop said.

"The related discussion on radio around the country caused many people to ask 'what if that had been me?', so my idea for Neighbour Day was simply to encourage all Australians to have better relationships with their neighbours and to keep an eye on the elderly or vulnerable who live nearby."

Mr Heslop said he would use his prize money to provide small grants to community organisations and residents' groups so they could hold local events to celebrate Neighbour Day on Sunday, March 27, 2011.

The winner of the Westpac Kookaburra Award for an Outstanding Community Organisation was the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, a hardworking, largely volunteer-based organisation that is working to protect and uphold the human rights, wellbeing and dignity of asylum seekers.

Assisted by more than 550 volunteers, the organisation provides aid, empowerment, justice and community programs. It has assisted more than 7000 people seeking asylum and provided more than 1 million hours of free help since 2001, offering comfort, friendship, hope and respite to asylum seekers in times of despair and hopelessness.

"I think the ASRC works so well because we are a grassroots community organisation, we're inclusive of all walks of life and we provide tangible ways for the community to get involved at the coalface," said CEO of the ASRC, Kon Karapanagiotidis.

"The strengths of the ASRC are that we uphold a vision for a better world; we are willing to take risks and are completely committed to turning no asylum seeker away that is in need of help," Mr Karapanagiotidis said.

"We feel deeply honoured and thrilled to receive this award. We don't do this for recognition, but such an award is an affirmation of the wonderful work our team of volunteers and staff do, particularly in the current challenging political environment towards asylum seekers."

The winner of the Kookaburra Award for an Outstanding Community Project was the 'Nukkan.Kungun.Yunnan' ('See, Listen, Speak') project, run by South Australian-based Change Media.

The project involved Change Media working with local Ngarrindjeri communities in the Coorong, South Australia, to produce a hard-hitting documentary about water problems in the area, with a strong focus on Indigenous elders.

"We wanted to create training programs for local communities that would to empower them to tell their own stories," said Change Media Managing Director and Executive Producer Carl Kuddell.

"When we liaised with local communities we found out that the three key issues they were passionate about were traditional culture, their elders and water management.

"I think the program worked so well because it meant handing the power of media back to the communities to create and share stories that are relevant to them, instead of having no control over them. It's only recently that this new digital media has become available, so now the challenge is to empower these communities and give them the skills to truly make the most of it."

Mr Kuddell is hoping that further government funding will allow the program to continue for several more years, until it becomes self sufficient enough to be fully run by the community.

Westpac's Head of Social Sector Banking, Vanessa Nolan-Woods said the three winners of the inaugural Kookaburra awards embodied the spirit of the awards - inspiring ordinary people to change their lives, and the lives of others.

"Westpac and Our Community would like to congratulate the three winners for the remarkable and valuable contribution they are making to our local communities and also to broader Australia," she said.

Our Community Managing Director Denis Moriarty said more than 700 entries were received for the awards, a phenomenal result for a project in its first year.

"The nominations provided a remarkable illustration of the incredible work that is being undertaken in communities right across this country," Mr Moriarty said.

"These are the people, the groups and the projects that are really making a difference and stretching our understanding of what's possible and what still needs to be done to build the type of world we all want to live in."

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