28 January, 2024
Community at heart - Australia Day honour for humble advocate
Wendy Hewitt's passion is to use her skills to help others live healthy, active and fulfilling lives. And if they acquire a love for sport or their community in the process, or help keep another group viable, then that's a bonus.
Wendy, from Warracknabeal, now has national acknowledgement for her decades-long and invaluable community and sporting contributions as recipient of the Order of the Medal of Australia (OAM), in the Australia Day honours.
It is understood she may be the only recipient in this year's honours list from the wider region.
"I've always been involved in the community, as people in the country are," she said.
"And sport is the social glue for many communities."
Her involvement extends over many areas from sporting groups to Rotary to the town's community garden - which she initiated and where she remains a committee member - to education, the arts and kindergym.
The Paul Harris Fellow has also been president and secretary, as well as holding many other roles, with Warracknabeal Rotary Club.
Her love of tennis developed early in life and continued during her time away from the Wimmera.
A holder of a state tennis title, she played at regional level for many years, as well as representing the Wimmera in singles and doubles.
She is a former president, secretary and junior coach of Anzac Park Tennis Centre at Warracknabeal. Now golf clubs have replaced the tennis racquet.
"Sport has so many benefits," she said from her Gardiner Street home this week.
Wendy has also made her mark at the town's golf club where her roles have included president and captain of the women's section as well as co-ordinator of get-into golf programs.
Wendy's skills have also shone on the hockey field, but she went even further than that, being a former president, captain and coach of Warracknabeal Hockey Club. In 2010 she was made a life member.
Her involvement with Warracknabeal Arts Council also dates back many years, and she is a former newsletter editor. Her skill with a paintbrush is evident on the walls of her home.
She was also Warracknabeal Kindergym's inaugural president.
Community involvement runs in the family. Her grandfather Wes Woodward, a Bangerang farmer, received a Member of the British Empire (MBE) for services to Warracknabeal and district.
And brother Graeme, who is also on the farm, is the fifth generation to work the land since family members selected land in the 1800s.
Born to Bangerang farmers Lindsay and Beverley Koschitzke, Wendy attended school in Warracknabeal before attending Burwood Teachers College.
After gaining a bachelor of education majoring in physical education, she taught in Melbourne schools.
While teaching at Westmeadows Heights she ran school camps at Eppalock. This meant three days on camp and two teaching.
"It was fantastic," she said. "I drove the kids there and back, did the cooking and ran the program, with help."
Eventually the country called and she replaced her teaching job in Melbourne for one at Horsham Technical School.
During that time she met fellow top tennis player Robin Hewitt of Warracknabeal. The couple married in 1987, and the next year Wendy took a job teaching physical education at Warracknabeal Secondary College.
She was also Warracknabeal Linking Learning Literacy Project coordinator for a time.
She's particularly proud of the large community garden which takes pride of place in the town's centre.
Once a real estate business and a shoe shop, the area is now bulging with planter boxes and all manner of fruits and vegetables. Sunflowers bloom brightly near a northern wall.
"People can come and take items if they're members or put a donation in the pillar box if they aren't," Wendy said.
"The gardens are not in competition with businesses. We have plants such as curry plant, which is not available in shops here."
It is yet more evidence of Wendy's continuing drive to help bring people together.