You are here: Home / Council / News, Public Notices and Media Releases / Media Releases / Archived Media Releases / 2023 Media Releases / JANUARY 2023 / MEDIA RELEASE | COOK SHIRE ANNOUNCES 2023 AUSTRALIA DAY AWARDS WINNERS

“Community-minded, dedicated, selfless and iconic,” Cook Shire announces 2023 Australia Day Award winners

Cook Shire Council is proud to recognise those who make a difference in their local community by presenting the 2023 Australia Day Award winners. The awards are held across local governments to celebrate outstanding contributions to community life and active citizenship.

Winners of this year’s Cook Shire Australia Day Award winners were announced in front of an audience of more than 100 community members, Councillors, Australia Day Ambassador, Dr Tahnee Bridson, award nominees, family and friends at the Cooktown Shire Hall on Thursday 26 January.

Introduced in 1991, the Australia Day Awards recognise outstanding achievement and dedication to our community. This year saw a record number of nominations from, and for, community members across the vast shire.

“One of the most wonderful things about our Shire are the amazing, community-minded people who selflessly give their time, energy and skills to make life better for others,” said Cook Shire Mayor Peter Scott.

“Every year we proudly acknowledge the outstanding efforts of the winners and nominees, and raise awareness of their causes in the hope they will inspire others to make a positive impact.”

In recognition of her dedication to the Cooktown History Centre and the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery Association, Jean Stephan was named Cook Shire’s Citizen of the Year.

 “Jean’s local knowledge, generosity of spirit and commitment to promoting art, culture and the rich history of our region is an absolute asset to our community,” said Cook Shire Mayor Peter Scott.


Cook Shire Australia Day Awards 2023 Young Citizen Alec Stemmler with Citizen of the Year Jean Stephan .jpg

Pictured above: Young Citizen of the Year, Alec Stemmler with Citizen of the Year, Jean Stephan.

Citizen of the Year: Jean Stephan

A passionate and active volunteer, published author and President of the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery Association since 2012, Jean Stephan’s dedication to her community and to sharing her passion for art, culture and history has seen her go above and beyond promoting and supporting the association and the gallery. Coincidently, the association’s namesake, Vera Scarth-Johnson was the inaugural Cook Shire Citizen of the Year in 1991.

Beyond her work with the Vera Scarth-Johnson Association, Jean is actively supportive of Nature’s Power House, serving as a member on the NPH Steering Committee, as well as staffing the Information desk, and even helping clear tables for the café staff during busy times. She is also a very active member and volunteer of the Cooktown History Centre.

Young Citizen of the Year 2023: Alec Stemmler

Demonstrating a level of responsibility and commitment towards safety and community beyond his years, young Lakeland local, Alec Stemmler was announced as Young Citizen of the Year for taking on the role of local controller for the Lakeland SES. Alec also volunteers to coordinate and maintain all the equipment for the Lakeland First Responders.

“Alec is an upstanding example of selfless service. He has chosen to give up his own time to provide a critical service to his community – which in itself is exemplary for someone so young. What ’s more, the service he provides is likely to save someone’s life in the future. He really is a remarkable young man,” said Mayor Scott.

Volunteer of the Year 2023: Melissa Gunton

Recognized for her commitment to the Cooktown Amateur Swimming Club, Melissa Gunton has been an active member of the committee for many years, and is currently serving as committee President. A busy mother of five, Melissa dedicates a significant amount of time towards managing the club, organizing fundraising events, travelling to and supervising swimming meets. She has been instrumental in growing the club through membership drives, grant submissions, developing and supporting talent and promoting the club locally and nationally. 

Cook Shire Australia Day Awards 2023 Dr Tahnee Bridson with Volunteer of the Year Melissa Gunton.jpg

Pictured above: Volunteer of the Year, Melissa Gunton with Australia Day Ambassador, Dr Tahnee Bridson. 

Sports Award (Joint winners): Corinne Stallan and Makeilla Gibson

Corinne Stallan
Since catching the eye of selectors at the 2022 Lawn Bowls Junior State Championships in January last year, Corinne Stallan has gone on to compete at several local, state and national lawn bowls tournaments. She Captained the Queensland under 18s girls’ team when they took on New South Wale, and was hugely successful when she again represented Queensland at the Nationals, winning two gold and one silver medals.

A role model to her peers and an exceptional ambassador for Cooktown and her sport, Corinne hopes to compete for Australia one day.

Makeilla Gibson
Originally from Cooktown, Makeilla Gibson is a rising rugby league star. Recently selected for the 2023 North Queensland Toyota Cowboys, Gold Stars Academy Squad, Makeilla’s talent has also seen her Captain the under 17 Girls Centrals ASA Tigers and Co-captain the under 17 Girls Townsville Blackhawks. At the FNQ Regional Rugby League Championships, she was awarded Player of the Championship and was selected to play for the Queensland Country team at the 2022 QRL Women’s City versus Country Game.

Having moved south to further her education and sporting dreams, Makeilla proudly represents her community and demonstrates outstanding leadership and dedication to everything she does.

Cook Shire Australia Day Awards 2023 Joint Sports Award Winners Corinne Stallan with Teegan Kulka accepting for her daughter Makeilla Gibson.jpg

Pictured above: Sports Award joint winner, Corinne Stallan with Dr Tahnee Bridson
and co-winner Makeilla Gibson's mother, Teegan Kulka

Arts and Culture Award: Black Image Band

or the Harrigan boys - Vince, Dylan, Pando, Cliff and young lead guitarist, Arrami – music is a family business. Since forming in 1997, Black Image Band has won a number of industry awards, performed at many venues in Queensland and across Australia, and won the hearts of our community. Promoting the region, their family and their connection to country through their lyrics, and giving back to their community by supporting the growth and development of emerging local talent has been integral to the development of music, art and culture in region, and ensured their place as a toe-tapping crowd favourites whenever they perform.

Cook Shire Australia Day Awards 2023 Arts and Culture Award Winner Black Image Band member Dylan Harrigan, Dr Tahnee Bridson and Mayor Peter Scott.jpg

Pictured above: Arts and Culture Award winners Black Image Band were represented by band member Dylan Harrigan, pictured with with Dr Tahnee Bridson and Mayor Peter Scott

Environment Award: Sue and Tom Shephard (Artemis Station)

Tom and his wife Sue have dedicated their lives to raising children and cattle, caring for their country, researching, and protecting the highly endangered, Golden-shouldered parrot on Artemis Station at the heart of the small area where this beautiful parrot calls home. With an estimated population of between 500 and 1000 birds, that includes approximately 150 breeding pairs, the Shephard’s also work closely with the Olkola Indigenous rangers, who call the parrot ‘Alwal’ and recognize it as an important cultural totem for their clan. Together they undertake monitoring and vegetation control to help protect nests from predators and increase the chances of young parrots’ survival.

Cook Shire Australia Day Awards 2023 Environment Award Winners Sue and Tom Shephard with Dr Tahnee Bridson .jpg

Pictured above: Environment Award Winners, Sue and Tom Shephard with Dr Tahnee Bridson.

Cook Shire Australia Day Awards 2023 (8).jpg

Pictured above: Morning tea, provided by the Cooktown CWA was a huge hit with event attendees (below)

Cook Shire Australia Day Awards 2023 (9).jpg

For more information contact Cook Shire Council via email to or by phoning 4082 0500.

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ABN: 45 425 085 688

10 Furneaux Street Cooktown, Qld 4895

Mail: PO Box 3 Cooktown, Qld 4895


Phone: (07) 4082 0500

Fax: (07) 4082 0588

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