News & Media

CFA Australia Day honours

  • David Gerrard
  • Peter Schmidt AFSM
  • Andrew OConnell

By: CFA Media

Category: Honours & Awards

  11.02 AM 26 January, 2014

Location: General

Views: 7313

The Australia Day 2014 Honours were announced by the Governor-General today.

The Honours provide national and formal recognition for more than 900 Australians across the nation who have made a significant difference to their communities.

CFA recipients are as follows:
(see profiles below)

Leon Williams – Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)  

Ian Bodinnar  – Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)

John McEvoy – Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)

Norm Bodinnar – Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)

Alan George Eley– Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)

Andrew  O'Connell – Australian Fire Services Medal (AFSM)

Peter Schmidt – Australian Fire Services Medal (AFSM)

David Gerrard– Australian Fire Services Medal (AFSM)


Leon Williams – Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) 

Looking at the long list of committees and organisations that have benefited from one of Mooroopna’s most dedicated citizens, it’s not hard to understand why Leon Williams has been bestowed one of the nation’s highest honours.

Leon’s incredible 55 yearlong commitment to the Mooroopna Fire Brigade began as a boy watching firefighters jog past his home on route to the running track.

“For a lot of years it was the main part of my life,” 74 year old Leon says.
“I used to watch the running team pass my house and one thing led to another and I found myself among them.”
Half a century later as Chairman, Leon would oversee the State Firefighting Championships at the same sports ground, from the comfort of the grandstand which now bears his name.
Over more than 43 years as Secretary of the Brigade Leon says his greatest achievement was successfully lobbying for better resources for the Mooroopna, including 2 substantial upgrades to the fire station.

“We were too big for the old station and as secretary I wrote letters to everyone I could. It took some time but we eventually got a block of land behind the old station,” Leon recalls.
In 2007 Leon was honoured with an Australian Fire Service Medal in recognition to his contribution to keeping the Mooroopna community safe.
Leon is typically low key about his latest honour.

“Mooroopna is a town with its own identity,” he says of the place he’s spent all his life.
“I’ve just helped out making the town a better place.”
A sentiment which can equally be applied Leon’s contribution to the Mooroopna Fire Brigade.

Ian Bodinnar  – Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)  

With the exception of four years spent studying engineering in Melbourne, Ian Bodinnar has lived in Nyah West all his life.

He has now been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community of Nyah West.

Ian and wife Hazel raised five children in Nyah West – four daughters and one son. While one of their daughters now lives within 15 kilometres, their other children and 15 grandchildren are spread around the country.

“My father started a blacksmith business here in 1920,” says Ian, “and I moved into that when I got back from Melbourne with my engineering degree. We had tinsmiths, blacksmiths … people with a lot of different skills working here. The business peaked in about 1960 and we installed a lot of pumps along the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Wakool rivers. It’s now a hardware business.
“Nyah West is a great place to live. Like all country towns, it’s losing its population because of the expanding size of rural properties with fewer people running them.”
Ian joined CFA in 1955 and is now a life member of the wider organisation and Nyah West Fire Brigade which he served as apparatus officer, foreman and lieutenant. He still attends meetings to keep up with events and support the brigade.

Ian’s community commitment doesn’t end there, however. He also spent about 30 years in the Swan Hill Gliding Club where he served as president for 15 years. He has been a Justice of the Peace since 1975 and on the local hospital committee for many years. Ian has also been a keen member of the local Lions Club for almost 35 years and takes particular pride in their fundraising success.
“Last year we raised about $30,000 which was distributed to local sporting clubs,” says Ian. “We could do with a lot more new members. You get a lot out of doing things for the community.”

Ian will be celebrating his OAM by rising early and working on the barbecue for the community’s Australia Day breakfast in the park.

“There will be a choir and citizenship awards,” he says.
“I’m very proud to receive this award but I think I’m also very lucky. There are a lot of people who work hard and and I’m very fortunate to be selected.”

Ian is also proud to share the day with brother Norm Bodinnar who has also been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia today.

Nyah West Urban Brigade was formed in 1938. In 1958 Nyah and Yarraby brigades amalgamated and to form Yarraby Fire Brigade. In August 1975 the name was changed to Nyah District Rural Fire Brigade.
Nyah and Nyah West brigades always operated from the same station and, for the 20 years before amalgamation in 2012, officers and members were almost identical.

John McEvoy – Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) 

Since moving to the area 32 years ago, John has seen big fires, little fires and a lot of changes with the Dederang brigade. Right now he’s assisting the brigade with the digital radio changeover.
Since leaving the teaching profession two years ago to concentrate full time on his beef and sheep farm, John is enjoying having more time to devote CFA and has stepped up into a lieutenant role.

“There are so many good people in the brigade, intelligent people who are very easy to get along with,” he said. 

John reckons that the brigade and community service is in his blood – he couldn’t imagine a different way of life.

Following 2009 Beechworth-Mudgegonga John didn’t hesitate before taking six hard earned weeks of long service leave to assist with the recovery effort. He took on a role coordinating the distribution of food and fodder, and other jobs within the reconstruction effort.  “I just saw a need there, so much need,” he said.

John’s career as a teacher and leader within the Catholic school system, which he did for 35 years were a big part of his nomination for Australia Day honours, which he describes as a surprise and an honour.

“It’s very flattering. I really think there should be people in front of me receiving this award, which is why it is such an honour,” he said. 

Norm Bodinnar – Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)

Norm Boddinar says CFA, “kind of gets in your blood,” which might explain why he has been an active member of the Nyah West Brigade for more than 50 years.
During his time as a volunteer firefighter with CFA Norm has attended major campaign fires including the Ash Wednesday and the Sydney fires – and credits his family with the contribution he has been able to make.
“I think a lot of people don’t realise how hard it can be for the family when you’re away for weeks at a time with limited contact.”
“I think my family deserves a lot of the credit for this award – they’ve always been incredibly supportive.”
When asked what has been his motivation to continue volunteering for such a long time Norm says:
“It’s hard to give it away when you enjoy what you’re doing.”
“I’ve had a great time over the years – I guess you could classify CFA as a family.”
“I was landed with the Captains job early in the piece and that was also very enjoyable.”
In fact, Norm was Captain of the Nyah West Fire Brigade for 29 years.

Norm says he’s seen a lot of change with his time at CFA, most notably a range of improvements that have made it safer for firefighters to respond to incidents.

“I think the change to vehicles has been the biggest thing.”
“When I started out it was the days of jumping on the back of an open truck and hanging on like grim death.”
“All we had to go and fight fires was a knapsack, no communications tools that they have these days. We didn’t even have a radio.”

During his time with Nyah West Brigade Norm has seen trucks upgraded from old army vehicles to Austins, and most recently tankers.

Norm says the Nyah West Brigade has always had close links with the community.

"I think when you live in a small community like Nyah West many people who are members of the Brigade are also members of Hospital committees and business committees etc."

Not only is Norm receiving a prestigious Order of Australia medal, but so is his older brother Ian making it a family affair.

“Well I think Ian was really the instigator, he joined the Brigade first and then I followed some years later and we’ve both been active members ever since.”

Alan George Eley – Medal of the Order ofAustralia  (OAM)

Alan Eley has been volunteering at the Echuca Fire Station all his life… literally.
The 84 year-old was born at the fire station house in 1929, where his father worked as the Resident Officer, and it wasn't long before Alan was following in his father’s footsteps.

“I officially joined as a volunteer when I was 14 but it’s been my whole life – I have always wanted to help the community in their time of need because, like all firies, you see people’s memories destroyed and sometimes they never fully recover, so if I can help them in some small way then I feel good about it,” he said.

 For the past 70 years, Alan has dedicated his life to keeping the close-knit community safe in his role as a Fire Investigator.

 “In fire investigation, when we go into a house we start of in the least damaged areas and work towards the most damaged parts. From there, we look for various indicators that we look at to see where the fire came from.

 “Once we've established the area of origin, we then get down to the nitty gritty of establishing cause.”
 An expert in his field, Alan said receiving the Member of the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) has been a humbling experience.

 “I'm really quite surprised, I had no idea whatsoever but I feel honoured that somebody out there recognised what I do to help the community in my own little way.”

 Alan also praised his brigade and fellow volunteers for their support and team work over the past seven decades.

 “There’s a challenge to it but it helps me keep my mind active. You should never think you know it all because there’s always something new to learn.”

Andrew  O'Connell – Australian Fire Services Medal (AFSM)

Andrew O’Connell’s distinguished career as a firefighter began when he was just 15 years-old after he signed up as a volunteer at CFA’s Hurstbridge Fire Station.
Too young to ride in the trucks, Andrew had to wait until his sixteenth birthday before he could join in with his peers.

“I was fairly young but I was lucky I had good people around me who I could learn from and who encouraged me to take up firefighting full-time,” Andrew says.

The 44 year-old has since dedicated his entire adult life to firefighting – when he’s not working at the MFB as an Operations Commander, he volunteers at the Hurstbridge Fire Station.

“It’s been the best job I’ve ever had and I love it. The people involved are all very community-focussed and passionate and everyone supports each other through thick and thin.”

During his 30-year career, Andrew has been responsible for developing and commissioning firefighting appliances at the forefront of Australian technology. He has project-managed specialist Hazmat Appliances and Breathing Apparatus which were successfully rolled out in March last year.
Andrew has also been instrumental in mentoring young firefighters and encouraging them to participate in CFA competitions to give them a greater awareness and appreciation of other fire services.

“Young people are the future of firefighting and it’s important that they understand the culture of fire fighting and, by taking part in competitions, they get a sense pride in what they do and it’s something they can hang on to and feel a part of.”

Now after three decades of outstanding leadership and commitment in both the MFB and CFA, Andrew has been awarded one of the nation’s highest honours.

“I’m very humbled to receive the (AFSM) award because it means you’ve been recommended by your peers. So it’s really nice that people have thought highly enough of your achievements and thought you should be recognised.”

Andrew credits his fellow firefighters and peers for his success over the years.
“I definitely have my fair share of shortfalls but I am extremely grateful to all my peers and teammates – it’s as much their award as mine.”

Peter Schmidt – Australian Fire Services Medal (AFSM) 

 Peter Schmidt has dedicated most of his life to CFA yet he’s modest about receiving the prestigious Australian Fire Services Medal.
“I’m quite surprised, I never thought it would happen to me but I feel very honoured. It’s nice to be recognised for what I’ve been able to contribute to CFA,” Mr Schmidt said.

 Mr Schmidt’s CFA career spans 41 years which started as a volunteer firefighter for Bunyip Fire Brigade and now as the Southern Metropolitan Regional Director.

Following his father’s and brother’s footsteps as CFA volunteer members, Mr Schmidt said becoming a volunteer was all about helping the community.

 “It’s great to be able to give back to the community. CFA has come a long way since I started in 1972 and it’s incredible to be a part of that development.” 

In his 30 years volunteering for Bunyip rural and urban fire brigades, he was Captain for four years and also played an instrumental role in the amalgamation of the Bunyip rural and urban brigade to become Bunyip Fire Brigade.

While volunteering for CFA, he undertook several senior roles including Deputy Group Officer for Pakenham Group and also as an instructor at Fiskville in the early 80s until the early 90s.
Mr Schmidt was heavily involved in the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires and was battling a blaze at Upper Beaconsfield when the fires swept through the township. After those tragic fires, he was heavily involved in the findings and in ensuring the lessons learned were adopted into CFA practice.

 “The Ash Wednesday fires were a turning point in my life. I decided I wanted to become a full-time staff member for CFA and I wanted to make a difference,” he said.

In 1993, his full-time career begun at CFA as the Regional Administration Manager. During this time he was involved in the amalgamation of Regions 8 and 26 which formed District 8 and now Southern Metropolitan Region.

From 2001 to 2005 he worked in various roles at CFA Headquarters where he was part of a key funding initiative from the Victorian Government, and during this time he enabled CFA fundraising practices to align with government policies, ensuring volunteer brigades would be able to continue to publically fund raise.

 “I was able to remove the red tape which allowed volunteers to fundraise for their brigades. An achievement I’m very proud of which has become an important part of CFA to this day.”

After undertaking the role of Area Manager at Gippsland for three years, Mr Schmidt became the General Manager of Western Port Area and then the Regional Director of Southern Metropolitan Region, and has served five years in that role.

“This position opened up great opportunities for me to provide service to a growing part of Melbourne which now has a population of nearly one million,” he said.
 “Through various government funding programs and through negotiations with key stakeholders including local government, I have been able to re-build many new fire stations across the Region and I’ve seen those projects come to fruition, including the new District 8 Headquarters."

 Peter Schmidt has recently joined his local CFA Sorrento Fire Brigade and is looking forward to jumping on the back of a truck again and he may even take on some instructing roles.
 “It will be good to teach others what I’ve learnt over the years - it’s my time to give a bit back and pass on my knowledge to others!”
David Gerrard— Australian Fire Services Medal (AFSM)

David has been a member of Beaufort fire brigade in CFA District 16 for more than forty years and says CFA has always been part of his life. “My father was Captain of the Beaufort Rural Fire brigade and I’ve got two of my three sons who are active members in CFA,” he says. “My wife Robyn is also the brigade communications Officer”.

Captain of the brigade for 22 years and currently Deputy Group Officer for the Beaufort Group of brigades; David is a local farmer in Beaufort. He says the biggest fire he’s been involved with over all the years of his service in CFA was last year’s Chepstowe Fires. “It was a very fast moving fire and probably the most destructive we’ve seen around here for many years”.

Community safety and education has been a major focus of the Beaufort Fire Brigade and David has been leading a program of community engagement for more than two decades. “Early on in my captaincy of the brigade I went out of my way to meet people and new-comers to the district to tell them about the importance of preparation for fire risk,” he says. “I reckon it’s very important for all brigades to spend as much time as possible out in the community talking about fire prevention education.”

David says he’s very proud to have received the AFSM. “It belongs to the brigade and really is recognition of the work of many people not just an individual effort.”
“The companionship and teamwork has been very satisfying for me in the years that I’ve been in the brigade.”

A recipient too of the National Service Medal, David has also been awarded a CFA Life Membership and a Brigade Life Membership. “I feel that the Brigade Life Membership is a great honour as it’s awarded by your fellow Brigade members,” he said

Every year at Easter, David is also the joint coordinator of Beaufort’s participation in the annual Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal. “We generally collect about $3000 in the community which has been very supportive over many years,” he says.

Last Updated: 30 January 2014