2023 Local Celebration Award Winners

2023 Local Celebration Award Winners

Penrith is home to many dedicated, selfless and inspirational people and Council’s Local Celebration Awards are an opportunity for us to recognise and celebrate these people in our community.

2023 Citizen of the Year: Royce Simmons


Our 2023 Citizen of the Year, with an overwhelming number of nominations, is local legend Royce Simmons. The rugby league icon has raised millions for dementia research through his ‘Royce’s Big Walk’ fundraising, which goes straight to working towards a cure.

Royce’s walks have inspired many, and his humble nature means he will stop for a chat with everyone. And it’s no wonder local people love him – Royce is a ‘one club man’, having played for Penrith Panthers between 1980 and 1991, while also representing New South Wales and Australia – he was the first Panther to represent the Kangaroos. In 2016 he was inducted into the Penrith Panthers Hall of Fame, and many fans will tell you ‘Simmo’ is their all-time favourite player.

His extraordinary sporting achievements are matched by his service to our community. After his heartbreaking dementia diagnosis aged just 61, Royce put his energy into starting a charitable foundation and set about the massive job of fundraising. His walks have attracted the support of other sporting greats and drawn big crowds of well-wishers to see him.

The wave of nominations we received for Royce emphasised his humility, warmth and openness. The people who know Royce – and that’s a lot of people – all feel honoured to call him a friend.

Although Royce hails from the tiny town of Gooloogong in Central New South Wales, it’s safe to say that Penrith City has claimed him as our own.

2023 Mayor’s Local Hero: Andrew Paech


Andrew is a well-known leader in the Penrith community. It’s hard to know where to begin when describing him, because his work has been so varied and impactful.

His work at WestCare has touched many. For people escaping domestic and family violence, Andrew and the WestCare team provide special crisis accommodation, and supply other local services with essential items to ensure families starting a new chapter have everything they need.

Many of us are familiar with Andrew’s work in flood relief and supporting local families through the lockdowns. He has the ability to mobilise people for support and become a central point others can rally around. Andrew and WestCare were an essential part of the evacuation centres set up after the three recent floods, providing food hampers, gift vouchers, white goods, furniture and essential items for those affected.

Andrew is an organiser of the Penrith Men’s Walk and Talk, an initiative to bring men together to have a coffee, catch up and go for a stroll. Even if they don’t know a single other person there, the weekly event is an opportunity for men to forge social connections and boost their mental health. No one attending the event has ever had to pay for their coffee, as Andrew and his mates arrange for local businesses to pay for the coffee tab every month.

When you drive through Penrith, you’ll often see a WestCare van or truck – most likely that’s Andrew driving one of those vehicles, on his way to help someone in need.

To quote the person who nominated him, “Penrith wouldn’t be Penrith without Andrew Paech”.

2023 Young Citizen of the Year: Reece Nuttall


At 21 years old, Reece is a proud Gamilaraay man, advocate, community leader and tireless volunteer.

Reece has an extraordinary work ethic which he applies to helping others, volunteering with the Rotary Club, Penrith PCYC, and as a committee member of the Deerubbin local Aboriginal Land Council in Penrith.

Reece is a mentor for Go4Fun, a 12-week healthy-eating initiative for children and families. Reece leads by example, showing the young participants how to swap unhealthy choices for nutritious alternatives, encouraging them to spend less time looking at screens and more time being active outside.

Reece is also well known for advocating for a new play space at his local park in Cranebrook. While still in high school, Reece successfully lobbied Council to upgrade the facilities at Callisto Drive Reserve so local kids would have a more exciting and shadier place to play and gather.

Now in his final year of Law at Macquarie University, Reece has recently been elected as a student representative for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at the University.

And even with a full-time study load, Reece still referees rugby league games on weekends and mentors aspiring referees looking to make it big in the NRL.

Every so often you meet a young person and it’s obvious that big things are in store for them. But that shouldn’t take away from what Reece has already achieved and is achieving right now.

Making a Difference – Community Service Award: Margaret Collie


When Margaret retired after a stellar career in aged care – she received the Premier’s Award in 1994 for her contributions to the sector, including her advocacy for therapy dogs in nursing homes – it made perfect sense to continue giving back.

And so in 2000, Margaret and a friend cofounded Caring Hearts Quilters. This group of incredible women keep the art of quilting alive, handmaking quilts for patients in hospitals in the Penrith, Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury regions.

The patients who receive the quilts are facing serious illness, are receiving end-of-life care, and some have experienced a stillbirth. Receiving this gift can literally bring warmth and physical comfort, and the hours of artistry and focus are unmistakable to anyone who sees them.

Caring Hearts Quilters has responded to natural disasters including the catastrophic Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009, providing over 200 quilts to families who lost their homes and all of their belongings. They did the same for people affected by the 2014 fires in and around the Blue Mountains, visiting schools and distributing gift bags.

In 2018, Margaret organised quilts and gifts to be sent to two small schools in the drought-affected towns of Eumongerie and Tooraweenah in NSW. These included sports equipment, books, toys and Christmas gifts for the children and their families, whose livelihoods had been undermined by years of prolonged drought.

Margaret has also made quilts for Australian Defence personnel serving overseas through the Aussie Heroes initiative. Aside from quilting, Margaret’s volunteer work has been extensive, supporting Vietnam veterans at St John of God in Richmond and taking school groups through the much-loved Australian Arms Inn Museum in Emu Plains.

Making a Difference – Community Service Award: John Fenton


During his 25 years with the Australian Army, service to his community and country has defined John’s life.

John has been stationed in several places, both around Australia and internationally, including in the Territory of Papua New Guinea where he supported the successful independence of our close neighbour. As a commissioned officer progressing to Major, John commanded various units; during his quarter of a century of service, he was responsible for the safety of Australian soldiers in peacetime and wartime.

After years of selflessness, it’s no wonder that when John resigned from his Commission in the Army, he still felt a strong sense of duty. He became involved with the Returned and Services League Penrith Sub-Branch, advocating for veterans and their families.

John supports current and former serving members of the Australian Defence Force and their families with everything from accessing medical help, food hampers, emergency accommodation and navigating access to specialist assistance. In the last couple of years, there has been an increase in ex-service personnel from recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan experiencing homelessness and other serious issues; John’s volunteer work is a lifeline for those men and women.

John has been the Wellbeing Officer for the City of Penrith RSL Sub-Branch for 22 years. He now lives with family in Thirlmere, but even at 84 years of age John travels up to three days a week to Penrith to volunteer. At a time when many people would be slowing down, John’s enthusiasm for helping others has not dampened.

Making a Difference – Community Service Award: Kevin Canning


Kevin Canning is a pillar of our community, a person who will always lend an ear and provide support. He is a founding member of Penrith’s Men’s Walk and Talk and one of the driving forces behind the group.

He dedicates many hours to volunteering for this incredible mental health initiative, organising guest speakers, manning the group’s communications, networking, fundraising and providing one-on-one support to others, which he has trained for. Kevin is also active in helping the Penrith Women’s Walk and Talk, which he advocated for and helped to launch three years ago.

Through his hours of volunteer work, Kevin has undoubtedly improved the lives of many local people. The Walk and Talk was founded four years ago after the son of Kevin’s close friend was tragically lost to suicide. In the wake of that devastating event, Kevin and his co-founders wanted to create something to help prevent social isolation among men in our community.

A resident of Emu Plains since 1973, Kevin says his greatest achievement is raising three wonderful children with his wife Alisse, who is also his business partner.

Kevin is a proud life member of the Emu Plains Junior Rugby League Football Club, with an association that spans well over 40 years. He is also a life member of the Parents and Citizens Association, acknowledging his dedicated 19 years of service while his children were at school.

Kevin lives by the words, “It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice”.

Making a Difference – Community Service Award: Susan Hunt


The phrase ‘works tirelessly for the community’ could have been written for Sue Hunt.

Sue’s jam-packed CV includes 21 years (and counting) as Secretary of the Emu Plains Lions Club, a humanitarian group dedicated to improving the lives of people locally and internationally.

As the only service organisation working in Emu Plains, the role of Secretary of the Lions Club is a busy one, ranging from raising money through raffles and BBQs, to bigger projects like collecting tens of thousands of unwanted eyeglasses for people struggling with poor eyesight in the developing world.

Sue somehow finds the energy to be an avid sailor, volunteering with Sailability, a charity that teaches people with disability how to sail at Penrith Lakes. In addition to being in the boats teaching, Sue also helps to steer the organisation, having held the role of Secretary of Sailability for 15 years.

When our area experienced devastating floods, Sue was on the Australian Red Cross Emergency Services response team, working on the front lines setting up evacuation centres and supporting those affected to access support services.

You can find Sue doing nightshifts at Ronald McDonald House in Westmead Childrens Hospital, providing homecooked meals for families who have travelled from around Australia, often in very stressful circumstances, to access neo-natal care.

And all this comes after a 33-year career in Community and Cultural Development within the Children’s Services department at Council, helping to build the strong foundations of a community we all rely on today.

Recognising Sue with a Community Service Award is a way for us all to say thank you.