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Australia Day Awards 2021

Meet the 2021 Australia Day Awards recipients

Natalie O’Driscoll

Six inspirational Gold Coasters have been honoured at the City’s Australia Day Awards for 2021.

The annual Australia Day Awards give the City of Gold Coast the opportunity to recognise community members and groups who have made an outstanding contribution to the Gold Coast for exceptional achievement.

The 2021 presentation ceremony was held at Q1 on 21 January, with six recipients topping a large field of worthy nominees in order to receive awards for their efforts across a diverse range of sectors including culture, environment and sport.

We spoke to three of the awards recipients following their win.

Warren Young | Citizen of the Year

One of the City’s more recognised residents, Warren Young joined the Gold Coast’s professional lifeguard service in 1973, rising to his current position of Chief Lifeguard just two years later in 1975.

“My boss at the time told me I should put in for the job,” he reminisces, “or I might not have gone for it. He must’ve seen something in me.”

This faith seems to have been well-founded. Among the many achievements in Warren’s decades-long tenure was the installation of the now-iconic Gold Coast lifeguard towers, providing connecting and interlocking surveillance along our beaches.

In the nineties, Warren’s pioneering push for lifeguards to utilise jet skis saw the Gold Coast become the first location in Australia to implement these life-saving vehicles for surf rescues.

Warren is decidedly humble when it comes to discussing his career, preferring to pass thanks onto those who have worked with and supported him along the way.

“It’s all about having men and women around you who are passionate about and dedicated to the water and protecting our ocean environment,” he states. “I’ve been fortunate to work with some really amazing people.”

“I’ve had all three good superintendents along the way, and I’ve got great support from council -they’ve always been supportive of me and what we’ve done,” he continues.

Warren is set to retire shortly, a milestone he is finding bittersweet.

“I’ve got mixed feelings of course. It’s been fantastic, and I’ll miss the interactions. I’ve been very blessed to take a job where I can grow with the city and raise a family who love this place and the ocean as much as I do.”

Warren’s professional legacy was already assured, but council has determined that it required an additional flourish, with the Burleigh Lifeguard Centre set to be named in his honour. Warren is typically humbled by the distinction.

“Finding out was such a wonderful surprise,” he said. “It’s a great legacy and I’m very proud.”

Elijah Palmer | Gold Coast Young Citizen of the Year

Sixteen-year-old Gold Coast student Elijah Palmer is unstoppable. Born with several physical and intellectual challenges including Spina bifida, intellectual impairment, Autism, and lower limb paralysis, Elijah is nonetheless working hard towards sporting goals that most of us only dream of.

Elijah’s mother Robyn spoke with us about his medical journey.

“From birth till the age of seven, Elijah underwent between 30 and 40 operations to improve his physical capabilities and is confined to a wheelchair,” she tells us. “But it hasn’t stopped him from doing incredible things.”

Elijah has been trying a variety of sports since a young age and is a keen swimmer. But it’s wheelchair racing where he’s really found his niche.

“Under the tutelage of his coach Garth Plank from Mentor 4 Me, Elijah has gone from strength to strength,” says Robyn. “Elijah’s first public event was the 5km race at the 2014 Gold Coast Marathon. He became quickly addicted to the cheers and public adoration,” she laughs.

The next year at age 13, Elijah trained hard to compete in his first wheelchair event in the 4km Junior Dash at the Gold Coast marathon. The following year he competed again, still in his day wheelchair, bettering his time by 14 minutes.

Finally, Elijah got a racing chair for Christmas a couple of years ago, sourced at a heavily discounted rate thanks to local businessman Michael De Santo. Since then he has set his mind to developing the best technique to use it, and getting into fighting shape at the Griffith University gym.

All this training will set Elijah up to compete at the wheelchair racing event Summer Down Under at the Australian Institute of Sport this month. He also hopes to make the Queensland Schools team to compete at the Australian Schools Championships, and to compete in the 15km wheelchair race at the Gold Coast Marathon.

“He also is keen to assist other young people to have the same opportunities that he has, by working with some partners to help facilitate wheelchair racing for other young people across South East Queensland,” Robyn tells us. “Elijah has so many goals for the future.”

Renee Cohen | Sports Achievement Award

Renee Cohen has worked at the Gold Coast Titans since the club’s inception fourteen years ago. In that period she’s worked across a range of roles, stuck out the tough times, and is now living her best life as General Manager, Community and Game Development.

Renee’s long-time passion for the inclusion of people with disabilities in sports led to the creation of the Titan’s League Ability program.

“It’s the first program of its kind to be able to provide an opportunity for everyone. No matter what your abilities are, you can play a game at the Titans,” explains Renee.

All was going well with the program until the disability support provider who looked after the logistics and employment opportunities for participants went into receivership. Renee explains how the team banded together to save the program.

“People kept asking me ‘so is it over then?’ and I said ‘No we will come up with a way’. “Our receptionist started managing the team, my staff starting coaching the team, and we started working with our sponsors to find employment for the players.”

So successful were the team’s mammoth efforts that ABC, who were meant to just be filming the launch, ended up following them around for nine months, resulting in the documentary League Ability, now available to watch on ABC iview.

Renee is also eager to continue the implementation of the club’s direct reconciliation plan, the only one currently in existence in the NRL.

“We do a bit in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island community, but we’ll be looking to do more with our plan in the next few years,” she says. “It’s really important that the players and their families feel supported and connected.”

These goals are certainly not the limit for Renee, who hopes to eventually set up League Ability with its own South East Queensland competition, which will eventually lead to state and interstate competitions. She is determined to one day see a Queensland and New South Wales match held right before State of Origin.

“That’s the big picture of course,” she laughs. “When my General Manager listens to me talk he always says ‘you don’t do things by halves!’”

With regard to her award, Renee can’t talk enough about the close-knit, hardworking team of hers.

“I was surprised, excited and so humbled to receive the award and hear all those beautiful speeches,” she tells us.

“But I’ve got an amazing team without whom I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, they’re such a great support system. We’re a small team and I wouldn’t have anyone else in my corner, because they’re extremely community-minded and always put everyone first, so I’m really lucky.”

This year’s remaining award recipients were: Melanie Annand, Secretary of the North Gold Coast RSL Sub-Branch (Community Award); Friends of the Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens (Environment Achievement Award); and Ken Dinh, former Mayor’s Student Ambassadors for the Gold Coast (Cultural Achievement Award).

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