FRANK Ward OAM has always been community-minded.
For all of his adult life the 93-year-old Shoal Bay resident has served on committees, councils and community groups in a bid to make things better for others, particularly those doing it tough.
The self-confessed "news junkie" subscribes to both regional and national news sites.
He has a thick Manilla folder full of newspaper clippings with hundreds of "letters to the editor" he has submitted over the years to defend or debate decisions that could impact his community.
"I think the letters columns are one of the most well-read sections of most papers, because it helps you get an idea about what others are thinking about different issues," he said.
The former real estate agent and Sydney councillor said knowing what was going on in his own backyard via local news had always helped him to feel more connected - particularly when he was establishing himself in a new town after relocating from the city.
Mr Ward was approaching 80 and had not long been living in the Port Stephens area when his constant agitating for change and government accountability led his new friends at the golf club to goad him into running for the local council elections.
"Because of my background working in council in Campbelltown, I was a very strong critic of the council up here. I was always writing to the paper," he said.
"It got around to the council election time and a few guys around here said it was time for me to either put up or shut up."
On the polling day of the election, "dozens" of people approached him and said: "You're the Frank Ward that writes in the paper! I wondered what you looked like".
"I still think I got elected off the letters I'd written to the local paper - because I'd done nothing else. I was basically new in town," he said.
He served four years on Port Stephens Council.
He believes we all have an obligation - no matter our life stage - to do what we can to ensure everyone has the opportunity to have a good and happy life.
Mr Ward suspects his ongoing passion for social justice and politics was influenced by the views of his "fierce" Irish grandmother, as well as his time living in an orphanage in Armidale during The Great Depression.
He and his older siblings had been taken in by the nuns at St Patrick's after his mother had died suddenly, aged 31, and his father's mental health collapsed after losing his job at the bank when it closed in 1931.
Mr Ward was two years old.
"While it didn't turn us into good Catholics, the nun's example of service to others is something I think influenced the three of us," he said.
"We were helped then, and then my brother and sister were helped by the government to go to university too. My brother, Dr James Ward, became an obstetrician, and my sister, Joan Bielski, became a teacher then a passionate advocate for women's rights. But that early experience showed us there was a need to help others along the way, and it stayed with us all our lives."
Mr Ward's story comes as Australian Community Media's Heartbeat of Australia survey found that people who were engaged with their local newspaper were generally happier, and felt more connected to the people and events in their area.
The survey, done in collaboration with the University of Canberra, found that 85 per cent of local news readers were satisfied with life, compared to 62 per cent who did not access local news.
Similarly, almost nine in 10 people found a healthy diet of information and news helped them feel connected to their community. They were much more likely to feel satisfied with their lives compared to 67 per cent of people who did not access news.
For Mr Ward, newspapers and the media have an obligation to hold those in authority to account, and keep their community informed.
"It is vital," he said. "The local press has a duty and responsibility to highlight the issues that can affect a community. Even if you live 10 streets from where councils are talking about doing something, some of these decisions and projects have a cumulative effect.
"For example, back in Campbelltown, blocks of land used to be about 600 sq metres. Now, they are 250 sq metres, if you're lucky. New sub-divisions in Campbelltown now expect to have summer temperatures over 50 degrees because there is not a tree left. You can walk streets and never touch the ground going from one roof to another. That's why I say the press highlighting and reporting on these decisions and projects at least allows those people that want to object, or do something about it, an avenue to express their point of view.
"That's what I do, on a regular basis, by writing to the paper."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.