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It seems natural for Edgar Gaunt to roll up his sleeves and set about helping. It’s that attitude that has seen the committed community volunteer recognised for his service to Camden and Cobbitty with an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Mr Gaunt has been recognised for his service to the Rural Fire Service and community in different capacities.

“I enjoy helping people,” Mr Gaunt said.

“I sometimes get into trouble for putting my hand up,’ he said with a smile on his face. The Camden local said giving a hand when required in the community just seems natural and it stems from his childhood growing up in Victoria, to his time in Western NSW to more recently as a resident of Cobbitty.

He feels humbled by the award and said doing his bit is about being “part of the community”.

“Helping neighbours when they need it.” It’s something he has done both figuratively and literally.

His wife Jennifer of 43 years agrees he has “put a lot of time and effort over the years”.

“He is very generous with his time.”

His contribution to the community has been vast and includes:

Camden West Brigade, NSW Rural Fire Service – deputy captain, since 2018.

Cobbitty Rural Fire Brigade, NSW Rural Fire Service member since 1990 to becoming captain from 2003-15.

Volunteer, Cobbitty Village Market Day Committee, since 2009 and Cobbitty Aids Leukaemia Foundation (CALF), 1991-2001.

ommittee member, since 2015.

Including five years as groundsman.

His other volunteering positions included: Saving St Matthias' Church – raised funds to halt the sale of a 175 year old family heritage church in Tasmania, 2018; Torch Relay, Sydney Olympics, 2000; Volunteer, Rhett's Foundation, 1990s; Volunteering, Junior Red Cross and Scouts, Victoria, and; Member, Apex Clubs, 1987.

He strongly believes in volunteering and his heartened that younger people are stepping up – especially joining the RFS.

At the height of the Green Wattle Creek fire in December 2019, Mr Gaunt and the local brigades including Camden West were working constantly.

“On December 19 2019 at Bargo we rescued an old couple.”

He remembered later that day two RFS volunteers were killed when their fire truck was hit by a tree at Buxton.

“It was an absolutely bad day.”

During that time of battling blazes, both volunteers and the community were working on different levels, but all for the same cause.

“It brought out the best in the community and our guys.” Mr Gaunt a father and grandfather has no intention of stopping and will continue to volunteer as long as he is able.

For Order of Australia Medal (OAM) recipient Paul Sweeney, humbled to be acknowledged in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours List – doing what he does isn’t about rewards or awards – it’s about giving.

Mr Sweeney received the Australian Fire Service Medal for his contribution including 32 years as a volunteer. Mr Sweeney said when anyone sees the RFS firetruck, they know that the people on it are “well trained”.

The retired school teacher of 40 years was at Austral Public School for a number of years. The village of Austral in the Liverpool local government area was reliant on the brigade from Camden responding if needed. It was some distance away.

His motivation to become a Rural Fire Service volunteer was because he lived at Leppington at the time, and wanted to make sure there was help on hand in the event of a bushfire.

“My motivation [in the beginning] was to protect my house and to live.”

In 1989 at the Leppington Brigade he worked his way up – brigade training officer, brigade secretary, brigade treasurer, deputy captain, senior deputy captain, captain and also deputy group captain in the Camden district.

He said the NSW taxpayers paid for “his wages (as a teacher), put food on the table and enabled me to buy other things.”

He wanted to give back.

But joining the RFS became much more – it became an important community service.

“You help in the time of need.”

It is something his family has always done and he and late brother carried on that ethos.

Mr Sweeney eventually became a peer support officer with the Critical Incident Support Services (CISS) in 2002 and then a CISS duty officer in 2008 and currently serves in that role. As a senior member of CISS, he has attended many traumatic incidents and events and has performed an extraordinary number of hours in volunteer service.

He had also assisted with Queensland and South Australia bush fire investigations as well as training Korean wildfire investigators in 2014.

One of the highlights of his time as a volunteer beyond the RFS was volunteering in the Sydney 2000 Olympics as a lead trainer with the Olympics Volunteers in Police (OVIP).

“I saw Cathy Freeman run.”

Another highlight of his volunteering experience was in 2018 when he was part of a team of volunteers deployed to Gallipoli for the Anzac Day Service in Turkey. His role was to search bags of visitors and for him it was a privilege being at Gallipoli and witnessing the Dawn Service.

Service runs in the Sweeny family – Paul's brother the late Superintendent John Peter Sweeney (NSW Police) was award the Australian Police Medal (APM) in June 2004.

“I feel very humble accepting this award,” Mr Sweeney said.

“Our volunteers in the Rural Fire Service are ready to assist the community in their time of need across our wonderful state. I love serving our community.”

Mr Sweeney has lived in the Camden area all his life and doesn’t see himself living anywhere else.

“We are happy here because this is where we want to be,” the husband, father and grandfather said.

Matt Smolcic received an Order of Australia award (OAM) for service to aged welfare.

The Camden resident has a list of credits including:

Cardinal Stepinac Village Nursing Home – Chief Executive Officer, 1992-2019;

Liaised with state and federal government to purchase land and build an aged care residential service for 140 people, and;

Coordinated volunteers for fundraising and labour.

Church of St Nikola Tavelic:

Community Member, Construction Committee, 1980s,and;

Volunteer Fundraiser, Australia Day Appeal.

Australia Day Appeal Fundraising for:

Bush Fire Volunteer Brigades;

Fairfield, Liverpool, Campbelltown and Westmead Hospitals;

Nyngan Flood Victims;

Canberra Bush Fire;

Sydney Bush Fires;

Tsunami Appeal;

Surf Lifesaving Equipment;

Cabramatta and Fairfield Libraries;

Cancer Council of New South Wales, and;

Westmead Children's Hospital.

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