29 January 2024

Pedal problem redirects service dedication for Cooktown’s top citizen

| Lyndon Keane
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Cook Shire Council’s 2024 Citizen of the Year Julie Oliver (right) takes time out to discuss her achievements with Australia Day Ambassador Justine Christerson. Photo: Supplied.

The winner of Cook Shire Council’s 2024 Citizen of the Year credits a “firm but fair” approach ingrained through being in the classroom and serving the country as the driver behind a lifetime of advocacy for her community.

Julie Oliver, who has called Cooktown home for more than two decades, was announced as recipient of the community’s highest Australia Day award last week, after a tireless dedication to several local groups, including aged care facility Sunbird Cottage and the Cooktown Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) sub-branch.

Miss Oliver, who is also a fulltime carer for her husband, Peter, is also an advocate for local aged care and the RSL – her self-confessed passions – on the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Community Advisory Network.

The unassuming award winner and president of the Cooktown RSL sub-branch said she believed being involved with multiple volunteer groups had helped her effectiveness as an advocate.

“I guess I’ve always taken a firm but fair approach from my teaching and army days,” she said as she explained her passion for volunteering to the Cape York Weekly.

“You also have to be out there to feel those people in the community who have needs.

“I’ve got feelers out there for a lot of things, and know where to go for different people and groups to find help.”

Mayor Peter Scott congratulates the Allam family on their Australia citizenship during Cook Shire Council celebrations in Cooktown. Photo: Supplied

Miss Oliver laughed when she described her time in the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC) in the mid-1970s, the precursor to the current Army Reserve.

“It’s funny, because I was the shortest one of the whole lot,” she recalled.

“They couldn’t get shoes to fit me, but uniforms were easy because they just gave me the smallest one they could.

“I wanted to get into transport, but my legs were too short to reach the pedals in those days to even drive the Landrover, so I went into signals.”

Despite the early change of direction in WRAAC, Miss Olive flourished to progress to sergeant, and then become the first female warrant officer of Sydney University Regiment.

“I ended up teaching on corporal and sergeant courses, and that married into … my teaching life,” she explained.

Miss Oliver spent 22 years in the classroom, teaching kindergarten to year six, but admitted she preferred educating “the little ones, because they are just a sponge for information”.

In addition to Miss Oliver’s award, the 16-year-old sports captain of Cooktown State School, Lucas Giese, claimed the Young Citizen of the Year gong for his commitment to community service, sportsmanship and youth engagement.

John and Tanya Ahlers were celebrated as the Cook Shire Volunteers of the Year for their unwavering commitment to the Lakeland State Emergency Service and as Queensland Ambulance Service first responders.

Despite being known as a quiet achiever in the local sporting community, Don Wood was recognised with the Sports Award for his outstanding achievements in horse archery, which included donning Australian colours at the International Horseback Archery Alliance world championships in Mongolia, and placing third at the Australian Horse Archery Championships.

For her transformative work with the Cooktown School of Art Society and the Elizabeth Guzsely Gallery, Jane Dennis was crowned recipient of the Arts and Culture Award.

Denicka Danaher received the council’s Environment Award for her significant contribution to environmental conservation on Cape York through by coordinating the largest feral pig control effort in the region.

Cook Shire Council Mayor Peter Scott praised the contributions of the award winners and urged the Cooktown community to use them as the benchmark for giving back to the town.

“These outstanding individuals exemplify the spirit of community and service,” he said.

“Their contributions have made a lasting impact, and we are proud to honour them with Australia Day Awards.”

To complete the community celebration last week, a number of Cooktown locals – the Allam family and Robert Kloetzer – became Australian citizens following a conferral ceremony officiated by Mayor Scott.

New citizen Robert Kloetzer celebrates his naturalisation with Cook Shire Council Mayor Peter Scott. Photo: Supplied.

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