HE has always been passionate about helping others and now – after decades of hard work and volunteer service – Millicent’s Michael Bleby has been awarded the honour of the Order Of Australia Medal (OAM) after he was named in the Australia Day honours at the weekend.
The ac.care board convenor and former Forestry SA worker said he was contacted by the Governor General’s Office regarding the award, which came as a “great surprise”.
“It is an honour, but also very humbling to be included among the names of others who have received national recognition for their services,” he said.
Mr Bleby’s work brought him to the Mount Burr Forest in 1983, following the Ash Wednesday fires and he has been part of the community since.
Over the years he has been involved with ac.care, the Anglican Diocese of the Murray, Pastoral District of Millicent/Penola, Millicent/Penola Parish Council, South East Natural Resources Management board(SENRM), the Millicent Choral Society, Lions District C2, the Millicent Lions Club and volunteering as a Justice of the Peace (JP).
Working as the local district forester, Mr Bleby had the chance to be involved professionally in the community, something he said was his job.
“Forestry was a very satisfying career and there were also opportunities to volunteer,” he said.
“There were things like conference organising for The Institute of Foresters of Australia and I still arrange awards for the Commonwealth Forestry Association as the regional coordinator for South East Asia and the Pacific Region.”
After retiring from ForestrySA, Mr Bleby lectured in forestry for Southern Cross University and then continued his professional interest through the natural resources management board.
He also maintained long involvement with the Anglican Church and its agencies, holding several positions within the organisation.
“Locally I have been a church warden, a pastoral assistant and hold the office of lay canon in the Anglican Diocese of The Murray.
“I was a member of the diocesan council for 30 years and I still chair the board of ac.care, a role I have had for over two decades.
“Involvement in the governance of an agency such as ac.care means that we can have an organisation that strives to provide country people in particular with a safe home, enough money to live on and strong positive relationships.”
ac.care chief executive officer Shane Maddocks congratulated Mr Bleby on the honour and praised his long-standing and deep commitment to building resilience among country communities and opportunities for all.
“As board convenor, he has been a great supporter of the work of ac.care to reduce homelessness, poverty and isolation and support families and children to be strong and safe,” Mr Maddocks said.
“His extensive connections in the South East and involvement in the work of ac.care, from foster care through to homelessness programs, has made him a passionate champion of country people not just close to home, but across the state.”
Last year the organisation found homes with local foster carers for 331 children across its service area, successfully used early intervention services to help 282 people avoid becoming homeless and helped move 906 people from homelessness into stable accommodation.
Mr Bleby said he had received satisfaction from serving the community by volunteering with various organisations and in diverse roles.
“I have been fortunate and privileged to serve where I can – it has been enjoyable and challenging,” he said.
“As a justice of the peace, there is always something interesting to help someone with.
“As the musical director of the local choral society, making music and singing in a group is something completely different and quite a buzz when our audiences appreciate our efforts.
“Physically working in a group to maintain our great natural assets at Canunda and Beachport parks is always gratifying and enjoyable.
“Service clubs have always got projects on the go, they are lots of fun and always need volunteers to work for the betterment of our community.”
Mr Bleby has lived and worked in rural communities for his entire adult life and believes volunteering and community service is what makes country communities function properly.
He has immersed himself in the Wattle Range district and appreciates the wide range of organisations and activities locals can participate in.
“There is a slogan that says ‘live life for others’, which has always attracted me over the years because of the opportunities and rewards it can deliver,” Mr Bleby said.
“I have had the marvelous opportunity to be involved in service clubs and organisations associated with education, the high school and TAFE, the church, our social services, our natural environment and as a JP.”
Mr Bleby added “retirement” was the wrong word in his experience and he juggles his volunteer work and service to the community with other pastimes.
“It’s certainly not possible to do the various things I have been involved in unless you have the support from others, like an understanding wife,” he said.
“I try to make the most of the time we spend with family and grandchildren, as they do not live locally.
“I certainly enjoy maintaining the garden and travelling, but I guess there is not a lot of time left for much else.”