Swan Hill pioneer awarded top honour

Laura Smith was awarded Swan Hill's Citizen of the Year by Mayor Les McPhee at the Australia Day Breakfast. Picture: PAMELA BLACKMAN

Laura Smith was awarded Swan Hill's Citizen of the Year by Mayor Les McPhee at the Australia Day Breakfast. Picture: PAMELA BLACKMAN

LAURA Smith's acceptance speech after receiving her Australia Day award was almost as moving as the work she was recognised for in receiving it.

Clearly chuffed at being selected, Mrs Smith spoke of her pride at winning and thanked her family who had gathered to show their support.

Mrs Smith was awarded the Australia Day Citizen of the Year for her work and dedication to the Pioneer Settlement. 

"I don't know if I have come back to Earth just yet," she told The Guardian. 

"It's a great honour that I can't get my brain around."

Having joined the Friends of the Pioneer Settlement Group in 1989, she has played an instrumental role in the donation of more than $1 million dollars to the tourist icon and the community. 

In 2009 as treasurer of the group, she changed the business model to assist the financial position of the Pioneer Settlement.

She identified the business potential of catering at the settlement and used the group's funds to upgrade the Lower Murray Inn and bakery.

Her foresight assisted the Paragon Cafe to come to fruition and as a result the cafe now caters for schools and bus tours generating an average $300,000 per year.

"I do things in the community because they need to be done, there is a need out there," Mrs Smith said.

"The settlement was my salvation when my husband died in 2010; it saved me and has done so for so many others.

"I enjoy my work here, I meet so many wonderful, beautiful people from all walks of life and nationalities."

Mrs Smith donates up to 60 hours each week as the cafe's manager and is responsible for ordering supplies for the Pioneer Settlement Lodge which caters for 3500 students a year.

She supports a strong buy local ethos ensuring local industry and business benefit from the tourism income generated by the Friends income.

She has also supported many young people with training at the Paragon Cafe through programs such as Work for the Dole and the Flo Campus of Swan Hill College. 

Her tireless work ethic, can-do attitude and positivity led to her success and nomination for this year's award.

Mrs Smith has a long history of volunteering dating back to the 1960s when she was leader of the Sea Lake Rangers and later trained debutante ball sets in Culgoa and Sea Lake. 

She has been caretaker of the Culgoa Catholic Church, and as part of a cake decorating group donated her creations to various organisations for raffles and fundraisers.

Mrs Smith was cited as a worthy recipient at the Australia Day Breakfast on Friday where she accepted the award in person in front of more than 1000 spectators.

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