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By Peter Douglas

The Cockatoo community enjoyed a rousing Australia Day breakfast at the beautiful Alma Treloar Reserve on Friday 26 January.
With loyal community members heading out in droves to enjoy an early breakfast, a huge audience gathered to enjoy the official ceremonies.
Among those representing the community were members of the local Scouts, Emerald SES and the Cockatoo CFA, with the latter forced into a mid-ceremony exit to attend an emergency call-out.
Community leaders also joined representatives from Cardinia Shire Council, Gembrook MP Brad Battin and La Trobe MP Jason Wood, who led the Affirmation.
During his speech, Mr Battin expressed his passion for the day and his commitment to see Australia Day remain on 26 January.
“Australia Day is important for everyone to celebrate, whether you’re a First Australian or one of our newest Australians; whether you were born here or not,” Mr Battin said.
“However, we’re seeing a bit of a tradition at the moment where some people are saying we shouldn’t be able to celebrate Australia Day the way we want.
“(But) everyone, including the community here at Cockatoo, deserves that place to celebrate; we deserve to celebrate our volunteers … those who’ve been and built our country, whether it was the First Australians or the new Australians who have come through.”
Meanwhile, the first to gain widespread praise was Cockatoo Young Citizen of the Year winner, Blake Howden.
The young winner said volunteering for your community was a great way to give back.
“G’day … thanks for having me,” Blake said.
“I started off with the Cockatoo Conservation Group, which has taught me a lot about plants and the environment, and how you can give back to your community.
“We’re always looking for volunteers and I recommend you give it a go.”
Among Blake’s volunteer work also includes with the local fire-wise garden and the Cockatoo RSL.
Interestingly, Blake’s mother, Rachelle Mechielsen, was the next on stage, accepting her Cockatoo Citizen of the Year award.
Ms Mechielsen said the Cockatoo community had quickly become her home.
“I arrived here, ironically, on Australia Day six years ago, with a young family and a dodgy marriage,” she said.
“But what I found was a community full of opportunity and welcoming smiles. So my kids and I jumped straight in.”
Among Rachelle’s involvements have included with the local tennis club, the Country Market, the Roads Action Group, and with the Cockatoo Primary School and the Emerald Secondary College.
She even started a local fire-guard group.
“Cockatoo feels like a great big family where, sure, people grumble and bicker … but, in truth, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. That’s probably true for many of you here today,” she said.
“Cockatoo is now where my heart calls home.”
The Senior Citizen of the Year honour went to Marilyn ‘Maz’ Golden, who has been involved with upkeep of the community hall, the op shop and offering child-care services over many years.
The RSL Christmas Lunch, and it’s mantra that no-one should be alone at Christmas, was awarded the Community Event of the Year honour.
Steve Utting and Carol Thompson accepted the award on behalf of the RSL.
Musicians Ayden Gadsden and Meaghan Nelson provided entertainment, while ‘Pattsy’ revved up the crowd during a rendition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

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