Citizen of the Year announced

Australia’s first recognised Indigenous surgeon and a passionate advocate for health equality, Associate Professor Kelvin Kong, has been honoured as City of Newcastle’s Citizen of the Year 2021. 

When not tending to patients at his Broadmeadow practice or performing operations, Dr Kong devotes his time to researching Alloiococcus otitidis – an organism prevalent in ear disease – with the Hunter Medical Research Institute and lecturing students at the University of Newcastle. 

As one of only three Indigenous surgeons in the country, Dr Kong is passionate about addressing the disparity in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. 

Each year, he spends time working in remote Australian communities, providing access to quality healthcare that would otherwise be limited or unavailable. 

“Indigenous people have been practicing medicine in this country for 60,000 years, a history I am proud to be part of and carry on for future generations,” Dr Kong said. 

“I am both humbled and galvanised by this prestigious award, to continue striving towards improved ear health in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.” 

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said Dr Kong’s demonstrated leadership in Aboriginal health service delivery, advocacy and research had earned him the Citizen of the Year gong at an intimate award ceremony in Newcastle in January.

“Dr Kong exemplifies the values of the Citizen of the Year title, representing Newcastle at the top of his field and working tirelessly to improve health outcomes among disadvantaged communities,” Cr Nelmes said. 

“The year 2020 was challenging for our health professionals, so it is apt that today we recognised Dr Kong for his continued efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Awarded Newcastle’s Young Citizen of the Year 2021 was professional netballer Samantha Poolman. 

Poolman, of Rankin Park, was recognised for her contributions to women and girls in sport, representing Newcastle in the Giants Netball team at the sport’s most elite level. She is also an ambassador for the Confident Girls Foundation, inspiring and empowering a new generation of young netballers. 

In 2020, Poolman led a fundraiser for Black Summer bushfire affected communities through her Hunter athlete development program, Aspire Netball, which raised $12,000 for Netball Bushfire Relief. 

This year City of Newcastle also awarded a Senior Citizen of the Year accolade to Jaci Lappin, CEO of Carrington Bowling Club, for her dedication to providing a safe, inclusive space for the community to gather, enriching the City’s vibrant social tapestry through a range of community activities. This became even more significant at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when social isolation was prevalent. 

Ms Lappin was also the driving force behind fundraisers to install solar panels and complete much-needed renovations to the club. 

“Both Samantha and Jaci are well respected, well-loved members of our community who give so much of their time to that which they are passionate about for the benefit of others, and I’m pleased to be able to formally acknowledge their contributions,” the lord mayor said. 

Taking out Community Group of the Year 2021, Hamilton Business Association Inc was recognised for its commitment to the betterment of the Hamilton community, and the Association’s renewed sense of purpose to attract people to the Beaumont Street precinct and surrounds. 

The Hamilton Business Association has worked closely with the City during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the community’s safety, a partnership from which the LiveSpots initiative was born, helping local musicians recover from the pandemic’s economic impact. 

The Association was also instrumental in helping to secure a new home in September for Newcastle Men’s Shed after four years without a dedicated space. 

“Hamilton Business Association embodies the sense of community spirit the Community Group of the Year award aims to highlight and celebrate,” the lord mayor added. 

“I commend each of our 2021 award recipients and congratulate them all on making Newcastle an even better city to live, work and play.” 

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