COMMITMENT to their communities has earned Australia Day Awards for some of the region's most self-sacrificing citizens.
The recipients were the stars of Australia Day ceremonies held from Millmerran to Yarraman and everywhere in between.
Pouring rain forced the last-minute shelving of the original plan to host open-air celebrations for Toowoomba at Picnic Point.
Luckily, a contingency plan was in full swing.
Within the water-tight expanse of Rumours International, host and Empire Theatre board chairman Professor Peter Swannell welcomed Toowoomba Regional Council Mayor Paul Antonio to the stage.
"I think we ought to reflect on how fortunate we are to live in this wonderful country," he said.
"Many of us who are Queenslanders believe we're even a little bit more fortunate to live this side of the border."
Hearts and humours tickled by the patriotic sentiment, the crowd burst into a flag-flourishing fit of applause.
Here are our region's deserving Australia Day award winners.
Congratulations and thank you to them all.
Sharing her story
REGIONAL Citizen of the Year Sharon Boyce has not let her disability stop her from achieving and helping those around her.
As founder of educational disability awareness program Discovering DisAbility and Diversity, Ms Boyce has worked with mroe than 650 schools and universities and work-shopped with more than 100,000 teachers and students.
"I want to create communities that are aware of an individual's needs and communities that value all," she said.
"I believe you have to work together collaboratively to create change."
The full record of Ms Boyce's achievements is too long to list, but the key to her success has been her openness about her own life experience.
She has forged countless partnerships aimed at changing how the community thinks about people with disabilities, most often through education, research and real-life storytelling.
"By sharing my story and struggles and ways I overcame issues in my own life, I open up ways we can look for solutions and be creative within our community," she said.
Her own experience of physical disability and her acceptance of a different type of life to her previous existence has been central to her role as chair of the Regional Disability Council and to all the roles she takes on in supporting disability and inclusion in the community.
Some of her career highlights include winning last year's Rotary's Ron Martin award for her community work, joining the Leaders for Tomorrow program and the approaching release of her new book in February.
Sharon has also received the Disability Action Week Award, the Australian Human Rights Award 2008 and the Queensland Regional Achievement Service Award 2012.
She is also completing a Doctorate of Philosophy at the University of Southern Queensland.
"By educating people, we are creating real change, and because the participants experience the learning for themselves, the change is a heart change that lasts long-term," she said.
Inspiration to his people
REGIONAL Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Citizen of the Year Don Nikkelson has been recognised for his inspirational work to enrich his community with his knowledge of the cultural heritage of his people.
The young advocate has been conducting his business Traditional Aboriginal Cultural Lessons for most of his adult life.
He first started volunteering at the Highfields Pioneer Village during his late-teens, teaching Japanese tourists traditional dance moves and symbolic art lessons.
Mr Nikkelson's virtuosic skills on the didgeridoo allowed him to perform with Aboriginal performers at the opening of the Catholic Indigenous Education Conference in 2010.
He has played for the University of Southern Queensland Multicultural Festival where he taught the didgeridoo to young men.
He also represented his people last year in a trip to Japan where he performed at the 20th anniversary celebrations of the sister city relationship between Toowoomba Regional Council and Takasuki.
Mr Nikkelson has studied Aboriginal culture at the Indigenous Centre for Learning and has trained at Alice Springs with elders from that region. He is familiar with bush medicine and is able to identify native healing plants and flowers.
He is very approachable and always willing to share his knowledge, particularly with younger generations where is often seen to volunteer his time at local schools to teach them the old ways of his people.
Don Nikkelson is an inspiration to his people.
Beyond his years
REGIONAL Young Citizen of the Year James Ryatt is a 16-year-old who has become a recognised face in Clifton community for the work he has done to assist the town.
For several years, Mr Ryatt has earned the respect of the residents of the town.
His commitment has not gone unnoticed, earning him candidacy for the Clifton Lions Club's Youth of the Year Award.
Upon his own initiative and following his desire to further the causes of the Lions Club efforts to help his community, Mr Pratt approached the organisation to suggest forming a Leos Club at the local high school.
The initiative was speedily implemented and the Clifton State High School Leos Club was officially charted on August 24, 2012.
Mr Pratt has demonstrated that he is able to realise his plans with forthright determination and studious efficiency.
"In an age when young people need to devote all their time to develop their own skills and opportunities for their own future, it is encouraging to see a young man who can so easily balance personal growth, family spirit and community responsibility into a limited schedule," a Clifton Lions Club spokesman said.
"We Clifton Lions are in agreement that Jame Ryatt has not only himself and his family but his community in his conscience.
"Evidence such as his traineeship at the Clifton Co-Op Hospital, his traineeship at the Clifton pharmacy, his position as group leader in the SES cadets, the TNT Youth Group, the Presbyterian Music Band and work experience at a Toowoomba Radiology clinic all together allow us to see his initiative and drive.
"All this to date from a 16-year-old."
The herd was heard
CREATING a nation-spanning herd of corflute cattle was an innovative and effective way to get the true message of the Year of the Farmer where it was needed - and it all started with one man.
Darling Downs farmer Paul Blinco's brainchild, Cow Art 2012, was named Regional Cultural Event and Community Spirit Award at Toowoomba's Australia Day ceremony on Saturday.
His idea was to draw focus on a "new endangered species" - the farmer.
It certainly did that, starting at Clifford Gardens Shopping Centre and going as far afield as Perth.
Mr Blinco's pet project received a huge amount of media spotlight all over Australia through his invitation to schools across the country to decorate one of 1200 corflute cut-out cows.
More than 35,000 people had contributed to the herd's embellishment by the event's end.
The event culminated in a two-week display of almost 1200 painted and decorated cow shapes in a vacant paddock adjacent to the Drayton Cemetery beside the New England Highway.
Mr Blinco was humble in his acceptance of the award, accepting it behalf of the "thousands of children" who had made it possible.
"It's what we do, not who we are that defines us," he said. "You have made a difference."
Town crier receives his dues
THE man with the bell, the voice and the kilt to match has entered Toowoomba's history books by being chosen the city's Citizen of the Year.
Few people would not have heard Ralph Cockle's signature "Oy yay, Oy yay, Oy yay!" at some event throughout the region, but his lifelong commitment to community participation is less widely known.
Whether in kindergarten groups, school committees, Scouts or Rotary, Mr Cockle has always been willing to put up his hand to help anyone who asks.
"Then there's his 15 years as Town Crier in Glen Innes, Broken Hill and his beloved Toowoomba," Professor Peter Swannell said.
"You know he's around when you hear that bell."
Ralph's community service has been acknowledged many organisations, with his acceptance of the Paul Harris Fellow for Service Above Self to the Community being one of his proudest moments.
Mr Cockle slowly made his way to the stage at Rumours International - "One step at a time," he said - while Prof Swannell conferred his utmost praise.
"I know that Ralph wouldn't want to receive this award without acknowledging the dedicated and loving support of his dear wife Shirley," he said.
"For behind every good man is a great woman!
"In spite of recent 'not-so-good' health, Ralph has continued to help community groups when he is able, and as we all know, it's very difficult for Ralph to say 'no' to anyone who asks for his help in promoting a worthy cause.
"Despite starting another course of treatment, Ralph's desire to help people keeps him positive and active.
"Ralph is a man with an absolute passion for his community - a man who gives 100 per cent commitment to what he does and who he does it for.
"Here is a man who knows that you can only build a community to be proud of, if you're part of the building process.
"The citizens of Toowoomba probably know how much it means for Ralph to receive an Australia Day Award, when we all know how passionate he is about Australia."
Theatre program earns recognition
THE Toowoomba Choral Society Youth Choir has long been an important platform for young people to make their debut into the world of public performance.
Convenor Sandy Robertson was joined on stage by treasurer Gabrielle Elliott and conductor Vicki Bravery to accept Toowoomba's community group/event award for Australia Day 2013.
The choir has held its annual school holiday theatre program since 1993, providing talented young people with the opportunity to experience the skill and art involved in presenting a major musical production.
It is a place of training and discovery where, during the two weeks of activities, the production team focuses on all the elements involved in presenting a major theatrical production.
It also provides an artistic outlet for the many generous and talented volunteers involved in the programme from set design to music, costumes and makeup.
Last year's production, Beauty and the Beast, involved 80 volunteers and 100 performers and drew 1400 members of the public to the Empire Theatre.
Many members who graduate from the Youth Choir return as volunteers to assist with choreography, props, drama and vocal coaching of young members, costume production, orchestra, set design and construction.
Many also go on to be involved in Senior Choral Society productions as well as other productions staged at the Empire Theatre.
Role model in the arts community
VETERAN Toowoomba artist and critic Sandy Pottinger's passion for creativity has earned her Toowoomba's Australia Day Cultural Award.
Ms Pottinger's weekly Darling Downs arts review has been popular for more than 14 years, providing insightful comment on art exhibitions around the galleries.
She spent more than 20 years lecturing in visual arts at the University of Southern Queensland, but in recent years has focused on assisting local art groups in a voluntary capacity.
She is a well-known artist in her own right, as well as a curator at the John Mullins Gallery in Miles, the Rosalie Gallery in 2012, Patron of the Darling Downs Potters Club and a great supporter of many different genres of art practice.
For many years, Sandy has given lengthy illustrated art lectures to the volunteers from the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, Rosalie Gallery and Crows Nest Gallery.
Her eagerly anticipated talks cover topics as diverse as sculpture, painting, Italian masters and contemporary American art. She is an inspirational role model in the arts community.
Ms Pottinger was nominated for the award by members of the Darling Downs Textile Group who consider themselves lucky to have her as their guide, motivator and friend.
Her generous spirit and wisdom has enabled the group to set a high standard for both individual and group artistic practices.
The cultural life of Toowoomba is richer for having Ms Pottinger's contribution and voluntary time.
Abilities, not disabilities
MICHAEL Pratt's inspiring work as co-ordinator of the weekly All Abilities Program at Toowoomba's PCYC has earned him the city's Australia Day Sports Award.
The physical education teacher and has spent the vast majority of his career teaching students with disabilities.
His All Abilities Program features disability-specific sports aimed at improving the confidence and skills of some of the region's most marginalised citizens.
Michelle Watson, mother of one of Mr Pratt's program members, nominated him for the award. "Michael has the gift of only seeing each individual's abilities, and these are what he focuses on," she said.
"Michael is ably assisted by a number of volunteers and they are fortunate enough to experience in Michael an exceptional role model.
"A particular magical energy envelops the hall at the PCYC as Michael urges the students on, challenges them, encourages them and lavishes praise on the seemingly smallest improvement or achievement.
"I have witnessed nothing short of miracles occur as the students grow in ability and confidence and radiate pride.
"For those two hours, they are part of something special, part of a team reaching beyond their wildest expectations and finding, to their joy, that they can get there."
Mr Pratt wanted to share the honour with his team of helpers and seemed reluctant to receive all the attention. "This award is definitely not about me," he said.
"This is for all the parents of kids with disabilities out there.
"Please take a share of this award."
Sharing music with Toowoomba
TOOWOOMBA'S Young Citizen of the Year lives, breathes and dreams music. Nancy Webb's generosity with her talents was founded in a home-life of active and joyful participation.
Being one of 12 children provided a lot of opportunity for Miss Webb to help out at home with a variety of tasks as vast as training younger siblings with piano and violin to caring for the family's animals and substantial vegetable patch.
The 16-year-old's parents have taught their children about the importance of caring for their neighbours, and that members of the wider community are their "neighbours".
With this family grounding of helping one another, Miss Webb has moved out into the community to help in a variety of ways.
She is an active member of her local parish, singing in the choir and playing the organ or violin at weekly masses or at funerals.
She has also assisted in raising donations for disaster relief by busking in local shopping centres.
Her lounge room concerts and nursing home performances bring respite and joy to many members of the community. On average, she performs at two concerts per month with audiences ranging from 10 to 100 people.
Miss Webb's weekly volunteer work at a local nursing home allows a small group of elderly people to enjoy time with young people usually playing games of their choice such as Scrabble or Uno.
She is a member of the Toowoomba Choral Society Youth Choir and is involved in all practice sessions and performances.
In the 2012 production of Beauty and the Beast, Nancy played the piano and also undertook a number of tasks in the preparation period, not least of which was the role of repetiteur which required hours of practice prior to the intense holiday program practice schedule.
Her work to provide introductory training in piano and violin has helped a number of children and their parents to begin music training in a relaxed and safe environment.
A major highlight for Nancy in 2012 was being chosen as the recipient of the Norman Miller Violin Award.
The award is aimed at aspiring violinists to enhance their musical career prospects through use of the hand-crafted violin for a year.
Judges chose Nancy to receive the award because of her commitment to the violin and her future potential with the instrument.
It is obvious that she enjoys her music and is happiest when the music can be shared with others.
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