News

Local champions now OAMs

By Lauren O'Keefe

Two Seymour residents were awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in this year’s Australia Day Awards.

John Jennings received his OAM for services to the community while John Phoenix was recognised for his service to veterans and their families.

Both men have dedicated themselves to the Seymour community.

One thing they share is a humility towards being singled out for their contributions.

They both believe they are individuals who are members of groups trying to make things better for Seymour.

Mr Jennings has been a resident of Seymour since 1980 when he and his wife Ginny relocated to the region so that he could take up the role of principal at Seymour Primary School.

He was quick to say that while the award has his name on it, he believes it belongs to everyone in the groups he has been involved with over the years.

‘‘Well, certainly it was a thrill and an honour and all of that but in turn I think what it does is recognises not so much me but the groups I’ve been in, the different groups over the years and certainly Ginny has been my backup all the time. So I think it goes to a lot of people,’’ Mr Jennings said.

He is best known in the community for his work at the Seymour Historical Society were he spent 21 years as either the president or the secretary.

Mr Jennings and his wife are life members of the Seymour Historical Society and last year he became a life member of the Light Horse Park in honour of the work he has done for that group.

He has been involved in numerous groups and was chairman of the Friends of the Bridge since its inauguration until last year.

If an event was organised in Seymour in the last 36 years, there was a reasonable chance that Mr Jennings was involved at some point.

He has also written 15 books, eight of them about Seymour and the surrounding towns, compiling the local histories of each area.

Mr Jennings said that volunteering is in his blood.

He grew up watching his parents volunteer in Rye where the family was based.

‘‘I just think it’s always been a part of me. Mum and dad were good volunteers. My brothers and sister were always involved in things,’’ he said.

‘‘The first time I remember doing anything, I was about 10 years old and I was the scorer for the footy club, sitting up on the roof, changing the signs and I loved that. I did that for quite a few years and then I became the reporter for the footy club when I was still at high school. I wrote the articles for the local newspaper for a couple of years.’’

His volunteering slowed a little while he was at teachers’ college but it picked up once he was appointed to his first teaching position in Framlingham, near Warrnambool, where he became secretary of the local Scouts group.

Mr Jennings believes that his life has only been enriched by volunteering.

‘‘You get more out of it than you put in because you get to make friends who are of a like mind as you and some of those friends last forever,’’ he said.

‘‘You also learn a lot as you’re volunteering. People who volunteer down at the information centre, for example, must learn a lot about the town that they didn’t realise before.’’

John Phoenix is an Vietnam veteran who served in the Australian Army from 1965 to 1991.

He has volunteered for projects in Seymour since moving to the town after leaving the army.

He was quick to say that he didn’t deserve the award but that he was simply part of a group and that the group should have been recognised, not him.

‘‘I’m a firm believer in, if you do a group project, the project should get the award,’’ he said.

‘‘I’d like to thank the people that I’ve worked with on different projects.’’

Mr Phoenix started volunteering when he was still in the army and restored a tank which he then donated back to the School of Armours Museum.

When he left the army he felt compelled to do something to pay back the support he felt he received while he was in the army.

‘‘I just feel you’ve got to pay back something to someone. And to Seymour,’’ he said.

He has been involved in a multitude of projects since permanently settling here in 1981, the first was the adding of plaques to the cenotaph.

Since then he has been involved in some large projects. The most recently completed one is the upgrade to the Hospital Memorial.

He quietly improved the hospital gates before the major restoration began and found a tradesman who could remake the lights that had originally hung above the gates but had disappeared.

Mr Phoenix was the driving force behind the Vietnam Veterans Walk and Wall and is the vice chairman of the committee that maintains the memorial.

His focus now is the Seymour Memorial Swimming Pool upgrade, which is a three-stage project to turn the pool into a memorial for all the conflicts Australian soldiers have been involved in since the Boer War up to and including Afghanistan.

He has been in touch with the artists who have created the stunning portraits on grain silos around Victoria and is hoping to engage them to create a mural for the pool.

While doing this, he has also started fundraising for the refurbishment of the two guns on Anzac Ave.

Mr Phoenix saved his loudest praise for Seymour locals and businesses who have stunned him repeatedly with their generosity.

When he needed to start fundraising for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial he started near his business on Emily St.

‘‘I walked up Emily St and down Emily St and by that afternoon I had $10000 to start the walk going. They’ve always supported us,’’ he said.

‘‘When we did the memorial at the hospital, a lot of the tradies gave free labour. That was just the way it was.’’

His other abiding passion is cars and he is responsible for starting the Seymour Car Club in 2011.

He is still the club’s president.

The car club is a strong supporter of the Seymour Rotary Club and always volunteers its time for any events they have.

Mr Jennings and Mr Phoenix will attend ceremonies at Government House in either April or May to receive their OAMs from the Governor of Victoria.