Yass’ very own Gwen Warmington was officially announced as a recipient of an OAM as part of the 2021 Queen’s Birthday honours list.

“I had an official letter in the first week of March, so I’ve had to keep my mouth zipped up for all that time.”

“It was all of March, April, May and nearly half of June, and it seemed like an eternity, but anyhow we’re here,” said Gwen.

Originally from Sydney, Gwen moved to Yass as a 20-year-old in 1952, thanks to a suggestion from her family to her late husband, John.

“He was a Sydney boy, I brought him up to Yass to introduce him to rellies, and they told him to come and open a shop,” she said.

Together the pair opened a radio repair store and stayed for 31 years, raising their two sons, until the aggressively cold winters proved too much to bear.

“We came here in 1952, stayed here for 31 years while I was on Council and doing all sorts of things, and then we moved to Darwin to get away from the cold winters and a few family traumas.”

Gwen & John on their wedding day

“My late husband found the wet season a bit too much, so we only stopped there for six and a half years, and then we moved halfway from Darwin back to Yass, which happened to be Bargara, Bundaberg,” she said.

They moved back to Yass to reconnect with old friends nearly seven years ago, but John’s cancer brought those plans to a halt, and he died in 2016, less than 18 months into their move back home.

“We always intended to come back to Yass, to finish our years off and meet our old friends, but then cancer had different ideas,” she said.

A self-proclaimed “busy-body” in the best sense, Gwen now spends her days helping various local organisations and charities, including Yass Can Assist, Yass Hospital Auxiliary, Friends of Horton House and Warmington Lodge, and the Yass Probus Club, in which she recently finished a stint as President.

“That’s enough to keep me out of mischief most weeks,” laughed Gwen.

At nearly 89 years old, Gwen remains remarkably active and even enjoys the weekly 5:00am wakeup to make sandwiches for a coffee morning at Warmington Lodge.

As for what she believes ignited her love of service to the community, Gwen thinks her mum’s similar interests and traits were the cause.

“Mum always seemed to be on a couple of committees organising things for the Church and Civic things back in Sydney in those days.”

“I’ve just always been like that, I was Secretary of the Church fellowship, and then I was organising dances to raise money for the social club where I worked and I suppose I’ve always been a busy body,” she said.

When it came to Yass, coming from Sydney, where there were more things to do and community resources, it was always clear to her what the community could benefit from.

“When we got here, I could see things that Yass needed, because we were always at the beach or swimming when we were in Sydney and when we got here, all Yass had was what I used to call a little ‘duck pond’ of a swimming pool.”

Including the Yass War Memorial Swimming Pool, Gwen was instrumental in the foundation of Yass Valley Aged Care, Yass Community Aid and the Yass Music Club.

“I don’t know how I had time then, but you do when you’re young,” she said.

Gwen is very proud of her career at Yass Municipal Council from 1968-1977, especially considering how rare it was to be a woman on Council at the time.

“I was the only woman on Council, which was a bit of a thing in those days.”

“There weren’t many women in local government in NSW, and we got a lot of respect because we were odd bods, I suppose,” she said.

Yass looked very different back then, with only around 4000 residents, and Gwen noted the community was also quite different.

“I just love Yass, it’s certainly changed, and there’s so many new subdivisions now, but that’s progress I suppose.”

“When we first came here, you didn’t have to lock your doors; you didn’t have to lock your cars or anything. Everything was so safe, and it’s a bit different now,” she said.

It’s been a busy twelve months for Gwen, who just before Christmas had her biography, “2020 Vision Gwen Warmington, Looking Back” published, an honour she certainly never imagined she’d receive.

“I never thought anybody would be bothered writing a book about my life.”

“They did, and Tony [MacQuillan] researched it all, and I used to go up to their home every Tuesday afternoon, and we’d go through wat he had written for the week.”

“I called them my history lessons because he found out things about my great grandfather, things I didn’t even know existed,” she said.

Can Assist – Jean Frost, Gwen Warmington and Janice Puckett cut Can Assist’s 65th birthday cake

In recent times, Gwen has discovered a newfound love for technology and social media through Facebook, where she has made some new friends and regularly shares stories about her life with the groups that she’s in.

Despite her days with Council being a distant memory today, Gwen keeps her finger on the pulse of the important issues and believes Comur Street and the Memorial Hall need urgent fixing.

“Being my age now, the footpaths on the main street are very uneven and unloved, and I just watch where I’m walking now, instead of looking to see who I’m walking past to say G’day.”

“The Memorial Hall, we’ve got to save, we’ve got to get it refurbished because we’ve had some wonderful concerts, balls, art shows and everything, it’s always been at the Memorial Hall,” she said.

Gwen certainly hasn’t lost her wit and finds great joy when she is mistaken by community members for being her non-existent daughter, except when they accuse her of being dead.

“I’ve had five different people, young people and old people, think that I died and that I’m her daughter or her daughter-in-law, and I say, ‘sorry I’m her’.”

If you see Gwen around town, be sure to congratulate her on her award, and if you want to really compliment her, ask her how her mum Gwen is.

Max O’Driscoll