Cancer support group volunteer named Shire’s top citizen


Karlie Brady


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Citizen of the Year Maria Atkinson (centre) with Labor member for Cook, Cynthia Lui (left) and Douglas Mayor Michael Kerr (right). Image: Supplied.
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Douglas Shire’s most outstanding citizens have been recognised at the 2021 Douglas Shire Australia Day Awards in Port Douglas on Tuesday, with the top honour going to the founder of a local breast cancer support group.

Maria Atkinson was named the 2021 Douglas Shire Citizen of the Year for her dedicated volunteer work helping local women feel less isolated during their breast cancer journey.

Ms Atkinson is one of the four founders of ‘Pink in the Tropics’ (PITT) Breast Cancer Support Group which helps people battling the disease with emotional support as well as organises services to make day-to-day life during a difficult time a little bit easier.

She also organises countless fundraising events and helps people get to their various appointments at the Mossman Hospital, where she also works as a Patient Travel Officer.

PITT was formed in 2008 by four local women, all diagnosed with breast cancer, who banded together to support one another.

Despite her contributions to PITT for the past 12 years and to Mossman Hospital for 10 years, Ms Atkinson said she was completely caught off guard by the honour.

“I was so surprised, I thought there were so many other worthy nominees, I never thought I was going to win,” she said, even joking that she thought she had misheard the announcement when her name was called.

“It felt so surreal, I was very overwhelmed but thrilled to win.

“I never asked for any recognition but it was a lovely surprise to have other people recognise that. I was really thrilled that someone took the time to nominate me.”

Ms Atkinson thanked the ladies at PITT and her colleagues at the hospital for their support, especially after what has been a very tough year for workers in the health industry.

“I couldn’t do it without them.”

Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr awarded the prestigious honour to Ms Atkinson and said her contribution to the community was outstanding.

“Most people have been impacted by cancer in some way, shape or form, and can appreciate how vital the selfless work done by people like Maria is to a successful recovery,” he said.

“Maria has supported many families in our community, becoming a vital part of the healing process for women with breast cancer.

“Maria is an outstanding member of our community and truly deserving recipient of the Citizen of the Year.”

Ms Atkinson said this recognition has re-fuelled her passion to help the community.

“It makes me want to do more supporting our ladies who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer and makes me want to thrive more in the work at the hospital,” she said.

“My dream would be one day to hopefully have patients that are undergoing treatment for cancer be able to have their chemo at our local hospital.”

Ms Atkinson encouraged anyone in the Douglas Shire battling breast cancer to reach out to PITT.

“We can help, we have more and more services coming on board and we hope to get bigger and better each year.”

Seven other locals were also recognised yesterday with Australia Day awards.

Young Citizen of the Year – Angela Brischetto

Talented teenage dancer, Angela Brischetto, has inspired hundreds of young performers through her unwavering talent and commitment

She had devoted her life to her art, training six days a week at local dance school Bodies In Motion, where she is an assistant teacher and a role model to many.

She was recently accepted into the Dynamite Studios Performing Arts High school on the Gold Coast in 2021 and will kickstart her career as a professional dancer and singer- by training full-time while she completes her year 10 studies, proving that you can achieve your dreams, regardless of where you live.

Over the years, Angela has regularly represented the Douglas Shire at different dance eisteddfods and competitions across FNQ and Brisbane. In the past two years, she has received several major awards including Most Promising Song & Dance Performer, Modern Champion and a bursary award at the International Dance Awards.

Junior Sports Award - Couper Smith

Couper Smith is a local golfing superstar and a great advocate for the Mossman Golf Club’s junior golfing program. Couper has represented his Club and community to the highest level of integrity, professionalism, and commitment on the sporting stage.

He has represented the region overseas in the U.S.A and New Zealand as well as on the School Peninsula team and in the Greg Norman Classic. 

Senior Sports Award – Jack Murday

Jack Murday has been an integral part of the Port Douglas Union Club for many years, even captaining the club to a premiership win in 2020.

He also won the Port Douglas Ruby Union Best and Fairest Player of the season, as well as the FNQ Rugby Best and Fairest Award.

In the past few years, Jack has helped overseas players secure housing and jobs enabling them to stay local and play for the club. He is a terrific club ambassador, an active volunteer and has played a pivotal role in the growth of the club.

Environmental Achievement Award – Alyssa Jackson and Caitlin O’Neal

Local teenagers, Alyssa Jackson and Caitlin O’Neil, have become sustainability heroes after releasing a children’s book, ‘Everything Flows to the Sea.’

The girls have a passion for bettering their local environment which led them to release their book last year which traces the journey of a plastic straw to the ocean, in an effort to get the public to clean up rubbish and reduce single-use plastics.

Written by Caitlin, the book features Alyssa’s artwork of Mossman Gorge and local Kuku Yalanji culture, referencing local wildlife with their Kuku Yalanji names.

Arts and Culture Award – Rose Watts

Rose Watts has been involved with the Douglas Arts Base for 11 years, where she works as a tutor and mentor to local creatives.

Rose received a Council Community Grant to deliver free art classes ‘Elements of Drawing’ over a 10-week period in 2020 to residents of Cow Bay and surrounds.

Rose taught her participants the fundamentals of drawing and gave participants the opportunity to develop new skills and find stimulation and distraction during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some classes were delivered online during the lock-down – having a strong and positive impact on those living in the remote community and facing issues of isolation and stress.

Volunteer of the Year Award – Craig Mitchell

Junior Crocs President, Craig Mitchell, has shown outstanding commitment to his club and the local footy community.

Throughout 2020, Craig has volunteered his time across a raft of activities and initiatives including organising mental health education and welfare support programs for the kids, coordinating volunteers, organising grants and fundraising events, as well as coaching and organising games, and much more.

Civic Recognition Award – Noel Weare

Noel Weare established the Douglas Shire Historical Society in 1994 and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of our Shire’s history.

He managed the restoration of the old courthouse into the popular Port Douglas museum and wrote a book on its history, “Built to Survive”.

He was instrumental in rescuing and restoring Dixie’s Shed and the Port Douglas Flagstaff, and erecting a memorial to pioneer Charles May. Currently, he is working on five new historic photo posts for Port Douglas.

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