We’ve known it and now the nation knows it – Vicki Jellie is our local hero.
Ms Jellie said she was “nearly speechless” as she accepted the Local Hero 2017 honour from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Australian of the Year Awards in Canberra on Wednesday night.
The Peter’s Project founder and tireless community campaigner said it was an honour that belonged to the entire region.
“To me, the term ‘local hero’ collectively belongs to the community of south-west Victoria, together we’ve proven that nothing’s impossible and have worked determinedly to ensure that cancer patients in our region have been given the absolute best access to cancer treatment,” she said in her award speech.
“The last eight years have shown me that when a community works together to better a need in their region it exemplifies their resilience, community spirit, teamwork and incredible, inspiring determination to help themselves and those around them.
“Community is much more than belonging to something, it’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter.”
Ms Jellie’s journey, and that of Peter’s Project, proves nothing is impossible.
When her husband Peter died of cancer in 2008, Ms Jellie discovered he had a plan to bring radiotherapy services to the south-west.
It became her goal to turn her late husband’s dream into reality and Peter’s Project was born.
Ms Jellie said Peter’s Project’s formation was driven by the difficulties regional people faced in accessing cancer treatment facilities. With no radiation services in Warrnambool, Mr Jellie had treatment in Melbourne, spending precious time away from his family, home and his support network.
Peter’s Project was named in her husband’s memory, but Ms Jellie said the campaign was for “all the Peters” facing their own cancer battles.
After successfully lobbying local, state and federal governments, Peter’s Project began a fund-raising campaign to secure $5 million from the community. Ms Jellie was told the fund-raising target was impossible, but within nine months the goal had been reached.
State and federal governments then came on board with $25 million, leading to the opening of the South West Regional Cancer Centre in July 2016.
“I’m sure my Peter would be so very proud of us all,” Ms Jellie said.
In her speech, Ms Jellie encouraged other individuals and communities to “aim high” and strive to make a difference.
“We can all make a difference, no matter how small or large it is… Don’t be afraid to step forward and talk about what you believe in and what your dream is, lead by example with optimism and courage,” she said.
“A community can help itself to achieve a goal.”
National Australia Day Council chairman Ben Roberts-Smith said Ms Jellie’s achievements, and those of other Australia Day Award recipients, were inspirational.
“They remind us to dream big, work hard and believe in what you’re doing,” he said.
From local hero to media star, Ms Jellie will be splashed across the airwaves and television screens on Thursday morning as well as taking part in official Australia Day celebrations in Canberra.