Citizen of the year a staunch advocate for asylum seekers

MARY Wood, who was the focus of a remarkable documentary on asylum seekers, Mary Meets Mohammad, has been named Brighton’s Australia Day Citizen of the Year.

Mary, who is a long-time resident of Brighton, re-evaluated her attitude towards asylum seekers when her knitting group, the Bridgewater Community Knitting Group began making beanies for those housed in the Pontville Detention Centre.

The Brighton Australia Day Citizen of the Year Mary Wood with Woolworths Australia Day ambassador John Xintavelonis and Mayor Tony Foster.

The documentary, by filmmaker Heather Kirkpatrick, tells the story of how Mary, a staunch opponent of asylum seekers, dramatically changed her mind when she met and befriended a young asylum seeker, Mohammad at the Pontville Detention Centre.

Mary Wood is now a friend and advocate for the human rights of asylum seekers

Brighton Mayor Tony Foster, who is also a staunch advocate for asylum seekers, said Mary’s change of heart even amongst adversity, was truly commendable.

“Mary Wood allowed her eyes to be open. She had to overcome some huge challenges and adversities particularly when many around her did not support her new-found attitude towards asylum seekers,” Cr Foster said.

“Those who saw the documentary would be endeared by her change of attitude. So many people have publicly commented how they admire and respect what Mary has achieved.

“We are very proud of Mary Wood. She is an inspiration to us all and role model to many. Mary deserves to be presented with Brighton municipality’s Citizen of the Year award,” Cr Foster said.

Brighton Municipality Australia Day Awards:

Australia Day Citizen of the Year – Mary Wood

Mary Wood is a long-time resident of the Brighton municipality. After her husband died, Mary talked to staff at the Brighton Community and Health Centre about her love of knitting.  From these conversations, Mary was able to play a leading role in the formation of the Bridgewater Community Knitting Group. Mary was also an original member of the Bridgewater School for Seniors and enthusiastically took on roles to ensure the success of the group.  Mary is still a committed member of both groups as well as enjoying teaching the art of knitting to young people in the municipality’s local primary schools. Mary Wood is the Mary from whom the documentary Mary Meets Mohammad draws part of its title.

Volunteer of the Year – Andrew Walker

Andrew is a dedicated volunteer for the municipality, who goes out of his way to help fellow volunteers with additional support/training and lift self-esteem. Andrew is a team leader with the Brighton SES unit and also assistant training officer and peer support for new members. He is helping new members through basic training courses as well as up skilling existing members.  Andrew is also third officer with the Brighton Fire Brigade.  He helps with organising brigade functions and turn outs.  He is a member of the Australian Arm Reserve and a member of the Claremont RSL.

Young Citizen of the Year – Brody Wylie

Brody Wylie has made a significant contribution to his school, the Jordan River Learning Federation and his community. He is treasurer for the School Council. He conducts meetings and prepares written correspondence to community organisations and community members. He has been involved in a number of surveys for the community working with Red Cross and fellow students. He has also played a pivotal role in assisting charities such as the ABC Christmas Giving Tree, Brighton Giving Tree and Red Nose Day.  Brody has represented his school at functions with the Premier of Tasmania, and at youth conferences in Hobart. He has also hosted and spoken publicly at a range of events such as the Jordan River Learning Federation Presentation Day.

Event of the Year – Broken Art Exhibition

Breaking the Silence Advocacy Group is made up of seven members of the community: Natilea Lovell, Marie Bennett, Jenna Butler, Damian Williams, Sharlee Fawkner, Shirley Williams and Sonya Williams. Two years ago young people were asked what they would say to adults if they could get them to listen. They replied: “We want people to understand all we are trying to do is survive here. Getting adults to listen to us is like whispering in the wind.” From this the Breaking the Silence Advocacy Group was formed

Broken comprised of 18 art pieces expresses the impact family violence has on families, individuals and communities.  The very powerful artworks were developed by community members and centre on their life experience of family violence. The group used micro-volunteering opportunities so that people with varying skill levels and time commitments could all contribute. The exhibition was presented at the Brighton Civic Centre over two days and was also exhibited at a White Ribbon cocktail party at MONA.

About the film Mary Meets Mohammad by filmmaker Heather Kirkpatrick:

The Bridgewater knitting club, a group of retiree-aged women, was assigned to knit beanies for incoming refugees to the Pontville Detention Centre. Mary, one of the club members, refuses to knit as she feels their arrival will only spark negative consequences for the community. However when Mary accompanies the group to deliver the beanies to the detainees, her attitude towards asylum seekers is fundamentally challenged, especially after she meets Mohammad with whom she establishes a connection.

Like Mary herself, viewers are taken on a journey and forced to consider or re-evaluate attitudes towards asylum seekers. The film contains interviews with people from various parts of the community, often revealing ignorance about or lack of empathy towards asylum seekers.

Mohammad’s story is heartbreaking and is one filled with tragedy, persecution and death — all events beyond his control.

Worse still, he and many of the asylum seekers suffer great mental anguish during their detention as they are held indefinitely.

A strong element of the film is seeing Mary’s transformation. During a scene where she is reunited with her pensioner group, who all passionately share negative and insensitive opinions on the refugees, Mary is visibly hurt and angry yet the irony lies in that if she had never visited the Detention Centre and met an asylum seeker, she would be one of the people championing these opinions.