With a smile on his face and a small chuckle, Shepparton’s Chris Hazelman says he has a suspicion who may have nominated him for a Medal of the Order of Australia. The former City of Greater Shepparton mayor and current manager of the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District has had an extensive career spanning several community organisations and government roles around Greater Shepparton.
‘My initial response was, ‘wow, what does it all mean?’ — you get a little bit reflective looking back on your career,’ Mr Hazelman said.
‘I felt all the emotions, you feel very humble, proud, appreciative and grateful; it is a fantastic honour to even be considered … in that reflection time you look back on stuff that you’ve done and the people you have helped.’
The current City of Greater Shepparton councillor said his stint as mayor from 1998 to 2002 was one of the most rewarding times of his career and one which oversaw significant changes to the municipality.
Not long before securing the role, Greater Shepparton City Council was formed after merging the shires of Rodney and Shepparton with the City of Shepparton. This merger brought new structures and processes and was one which involved developing a truly representative group of councillors.
‘It was a completely new municipality; there was going to be a lot of capital works infrastructure types of projects … it was in the time of a new council, it was like a greenfield site merging all of that together,’ Mr Hazelman said. ‘It was an amazing experience, I think now, to serve five consecutive terms; I must have been crazy and I would not recommend to anyone to try and do it now.’
In 2006 Mr Hazelman began working as the manager of the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District, a role which he said now filled most of his days.
It is evident Mr Hazelman is passionate about his work, speaking highly of the thousands of refugees and migrants he has worked with upon their arrival in Shepparton.
‘The challenges there and the people you’re both working with and for is incredibly rewarding,’ he said.
‘Shepparton’s been a destination point for non-traditional migration ever since the irrigation system started here … In its demographics Shepparton is unique for a conventional regional city, you won’t find another one with the cultural diversity for comparison that we’ve got.’
With an extensive list of community positions, including president of the Shepparton Harness Racing Club and time spent on the board of Word and Mouth, The Community Fund Goulburn Valley and Fairley Leadership Program, it is evident Mr Hazelman values his time in the community.
He said Shepparton’s disadvantage due to a lack of state and federal resources had driven a number of his community projects, and stressed the importance of reducing the imbalance between regional towns.
‘Projects and issues that I have been involved in over the years have been driven by the fact that the perception, if not the reality, is Shepparton has not got its fair share of state or federal resources,’ Mr Hazelman said.
‘We’ve been disadvantaged, I think that’s been a motivating factor for a number of things I’ve been involved with — to try and redress that imbalance — sometimes successfully, sometimes not.’
Receiving life membership at Tallygaroopna Cricket Club in 2005 and a recipient of the Centenary Medal for the City of Greater Shepparton in 2001, Mr Hazelman is passionate about community work and volunteering.
He encouraged people to get involved with their local sporting clubs and smaller organisations which continually struggle to find support.
While reflecting on his most recent achievement, Mr Hazelman said he could name a number of local leaders who deserved to be recognised, stating the experience had encouraged him to rethink our culture of acknowledgement.
‘When I got notified I could think of a dozen people I could name that deserve to be recognised, and you think, ‘oh well, there’s probably the scope there to develop a culture of community recognition,’ he said.
‘We do it on a local level through the local Citizen of the Year awards, but more broadly we don’t seem to recognise people through the Australian Honours System the way we possibly could.’