Blue Mountains Council's 2020 Citizen of the Year is Winmalee High School drama teacher Madeleine Sheehy, whose work was instrumental in the students' recovery after the 2013 bushfires.
"It's very humbling," she told the Gazette. "When they told me last week I wasn't sure they had the right person, I don't know who nominated me."
The Warrimoo resident is known for her original collaborative piece 'Straw hats, thongs and toothbrushes' reflecting on the impact of the 2013 fires which destroyed some 200 homes. Those who lost homes, prominent locals, the school community and first responders were interviewed for the student production of 2016.
"I was very proud of that show I must admit, that was a crowning moment in my career. I felt we were three years on from the event and our school community was struggling. I had good contacts with a professional theatre company ... and asked if they would be interested in a collaboration ...and then I approached my principal Katrina Middlebrook. I wanted to explore the nature of recovery, it was about healing rather than the event ... she jumped on board and was incredible supportive."
Mrs Sheehy said it was "obviously very emotional for a lot of people. They were pleased to hear their own stories through someone else's voice". Counsellors helped with the process and she received many emails afterwards thanking her.
"It was an amazing program, I'm sad [the play] couldn't travel. I think the trauma... they [some students] are still working through it."
"And it will be interesting with the trauma from this summer do we need this again?" she asked.
Mrs Sheehy "fell into teaching". She grew up in Alice Springs and was keen to leave after school.
"I got early entrance to Armidale [University] and was always interested in performance. I dabbled with the idea of becoming a full time performer [but] I didn't really cope with my first rejection. I decided to use those skills to work with children."
Falling in love with a fellow university student, who hailed from Penrith, led to living in the Mountains.
Mrs Sheehy said drama gives students the courage to speak in public, teamwork skills and helps in many career paths.
"Drama really helps you hone your empathetic skills, because you are walking in their footsteps. And with Straw Hats they were doing that. I don't think they realised how powerful it was until they got the reaction from an audience."
Mrs Sheehy is one of several individuals honoured in the 2020 Australia Day awards. Senior of the Year has been shared by three residents - John Wakefield, Coralie Richmond and Greg Chidgey.
Mr Wakefield, OAM, is a former police officer and Rotary stalwart who has worked tirelessly on community projects including the Police Officer of the Year award, Australia Day at Glenbrook, the Crossings committee, the Blue Mountains/Nepean Special Olympics Committee, as well as in child protection. Teacher Coralie Richmond has worked with a number of community organisations including the Salvation Army, the church, the Sydney 2000 Olympics, and the Royal Easter Show. She sits on the board of directors for the Blue Mountains Aboriginal Culture and Resource Centre. And Greg Chidgey receives the honour for his work raising awareness and fundraising for multiple sclerosis, especially his 2,654km, three month walk from Springwood to Cairns.
Mayor Mark Greenhill announced the winners at the ceremony at Springwood's Hub today (Sunday). Guests included Opposition Labor Leader Anthony Albanese (who gave the Australia Day address), Australia Day ambassador Diana Ryall AM, Member for Blue Mountains Trish Doyle and Macquarie MP Susan Templeman.
Environmental Citizen of the Year is Margaret Baker - a passionate advocate for more than 40 years for protecting the local environment. Ms Baker wrote the highly regarded native plant identification course for TAFE. It provided formal training in the botany of the Sydney and Blue Mountains flora; when no such course was available in NSW. She formed and leads the BMBR Ecological Surveys citizen science group.
The Springwood District Basketball Association Under 16 Women's Representative Team was named Young Citizen of the Year for their work as positive role models within the SDBA family and for actively participating in community service. The team is: Tara Aitchison, Grace Blackwood, Tia De Silva, Charlotte White, Rhiana Stockill, Skyla Smith, Mia Urquhart, Elizabeth Senavatalala, Siobhan Rafter, Elise Manewell and Zara Ali.
The community achievement of the year award went to all emergency services for their work during the recent fires.
Forty six people chose to become new citizens today at the Hub, part of the 27,000 around the country who became new Australian citizens.