Two Shoalhaven residents and a former police chief have been honoured in this year’s Australia Day awards.
Berry’s Anita Chalmers was awarded the OAM for service to community health and in particular the debilitating autoimmune disease, Myositis, while in the military section of the awards Captain Peter Ashworth was awarded the OAM for meritorious service in the field of navy aviation and project management. Former Shoalhaven Police Local Area commander, now Assistant Commissioner Joe Cassar was awarded the Police Medal.
Anita Chalmers OAM
Berry woman Anita Chalmers hopes her Order of Australia Medal for service to community health will put the spotlight on the rare and debilitating autoimmune disease, Myositis.
Mrs Chalmers was diagnosed with the disease, which sees the body’s immune system attack the muscles in the arms and legs, in 1999.
“Instead of building up the muscles in your limbs, the disease attacks them, and breaks them down,” she said.
“This is a great honour and while I’m proud to be recognised, it’s not so much about me, it is about Myositis.
“We have battled to raise the awareness of this debilitating disease, so hopefully now we will be able to get it out in the media and hopefully let people know there is a support group out there and there is help.”
Mrs Chalmers was a founding member of the Myositis Association Australia in 2002 and since 2003 has been the group’s secretary.
She has been the editor of the 'Keeping in Touch' newsletter since 2002 and was made a life member of the Australian Association in 2014.
She has also been a member of the Myositis Association, USA, since 1999.
“There are at least 10 people in the Shoalhaven who suffer from the disease, spread from a child a Lake Tabourie, three in Nowra, three in Shoalhaven Heads and more recently we have had someone from Kiama join the group,” she said.
“At this stage there is no cure for this disease. No one knows what causes it.
“Myositis is not really known, I suppose it’s not interesting perhaps like other diseases which we hear a lot about. But it is just as debilitating.”
Sufferers get progressively weaker, with a horrible side effect being it eventually affects your lungs which in turn affects your breathing and ultimately every bodily function.
“For kids, they suffer muscle atrophy, their muscles waste away, as a result of the degeneration of cells,” she said “they often get a skin rash with it and can’t go out in the sun. Therefore they are often forced to miss school and just get further and further behind. It's not nice.”
She said the condition can plateau.
“Up until last year I was in what they called clinical remission. I hadn’t gotten any worse,” she said.
“Cortisone injections seemed to keep it under control, but I had a flare up last year which brought me down.”
A subsequent fall, while on a motorhome trip last August saw her smash the neck of her femur and spend 10 weeks in hospital.
Since then the challenge has been learning to walk again.
This is a great honour and while I’m proud to be recognised, it’s not so much about me, it is about Myositis and raising the awareness of this debilitating disease.Anita Chalmers OAM.
Mrs Chalmers first became aware of her symptoms in 1997, while travelling around Australia while on long service leave.
“I kept tripping over, couldn’t walk up hills, had trouble getting out of chairs and even off the toilet,” she said.
“I knew something was wrong. When I got back I went to a doctor who suggested I get a walking stick.
“I went to another GP who agreed something was wrong but it took two years to find out what it was.”
Through her dedication, support groups have been established around the country. The Australian Association now has 250 members.
To reduce isolation access to the association across the country state sub-groups have been established, with every capital city bar Darwin now having a support group.
Mrs Chalmers also visits rural members during her many road trips.
Australian president Trevor Neumann describes Mrs Chalmers as the “engine room” of the association.
“All the jobs she has undertaken are done with one thought in mind - to help those burdened with Myositis,” he said.
“We are so pleased she has been honoured.”
Through her efforts and tenacity funds have also been raised to support several medical researchers in Australia.
Her work is not just restricted to the Myositis Associations, she is part of the Berry and District Historical Society, having been a management committee member for 10 years, holding positions of deputy president, secretary and editor of the ‘The Chronographer’.
She has also worked as a Rural Fire Service volunteer in the communication brigade at both Heathcoat and Nowra for 17 years and was secretary of the Berry Masonic Village Residents' Association from 2009-2012.
Captain Peter Ashworth OAM
Captain Peter Ashworth was awarded the OAM in the Military Division of the Order of Australia for his service in the field of navy aviation and project management.
Captain Ashworth is the current deputy commander of the Fleet Air Arm based at HMAS Albatross.
A career aviator, with more than 40 years service to the RAN, he has flown in a variety of aircraft from the Sea King through to being the project manager and director for the Seahawk Romeo program which is now in full operation at Albatross.
“This honour certainly came out of the blue,” he said “totally unexpected, is extraordinarily gratifying and humbling.
“I’ve worked with and for some great people. We work as and for the team but these honours are certainly nice when they come.”
He started in the navy as a maintainer on the Sea Kings as a 17-year-old and after four and a half years crossed from working on the aircraft to be part of the flight crew as an aviation warfare officer.
His first posting to Albatross was in September 1978, noting there had been “one or two changes since then.”
He spent a lot of time at 817 Squadron working with the Sea Kings and dipping sonar, before moving to 723 Squadron flying Squirrels and HS748 before being commanding officer of 805 Squadron and the Seasprite program.
Then followed an overseas exchange to the Royal Navy from 1994-97 as an helicopter warfare instructor followed by 10 years in Canberra working on major acquisitions and projects.
Totally unexpected, extraordinarily gratifying and humbling. I’ve worked with and for some great people.Captain Peter Ashworth OAM.
That included being the project manager and director of the Seahawk Romeo program, which led to him becoming the deputy commander of the Fleet Air Arm, back at Albatross.
“I have been lucky I have been involved with the project from day one and saw it right through to the delivery of the 24th and final aircraft and the facility,” he said.
“It is incredibly satisfying to see the Romeos up and running, to see them all in place and working. We should have eight flights mounted at sea later this year.
“It has been a wonderful transition from the Bravo Classic aircraft into the Romeo.
“We have got some fantastic people maintaining and flying that aircraft.
“It is a rare privilege to be able to stay on a project as a uniformed personnel from the start of project to its completion, which was a deliberate strategy of the Chief of Navy.”
Captain Ashworth’s citation said he has demonstrated selfless dedication, determination and inspiration over a long navy aviation career including the last decade in numerous helicopter acquisition project roles.
His project management and contractual acumen and consistent capability focus contributed significantly to the safe and efficient provision of Maritime Support and Maritime Combat helicopter capabilities to the RAN and Australian Defence Force.
Assistant Commissioner Joe Cassar - Police Medal
Former commander of the Shoalhaven Police Local Area Command, Joe Cassar has been awarded the Police Medal in the Australia Day honours.
Now an Assistant Commissioner, he is in charge of the Capability, Performance and Youth Command in Sydney.
“I feel very honoured to be nominated after 31 years of policing in the state,” he said.
“I’ve been given a tremendous amount of opportunity to do good by the community and it’s nice to be appreciated for the hard work you do.
“It’s special, as it is one of those nominations where you don’t know who nominated you. It’s a tremendous experience.”
Assistant Commissioner Cassar said the Shoalhaven had “played a big part in his life, he would never forget.”
Through the Capability, Performance and Youth Command he oversees all the Police and Community Youth Clubs, the youth liaison officers, corporate and public affairs, operational programs and support as well as the performance improvement and planning unit, tracking police targets and planning across the whole state.
Assistant Commissioner Cassar joined the NSW Police Force as a trainee in 1987 at the NSW Police Academy, Goulburn and was promoted to his current rank in 2017.
He was attested as a Probationary Constable in 1987 where he was stationed at Goulburn.
In 1992 he started criminal investigation duties serving at Port Kembla where in 1994 he was designated as a Detective.
In 2000 he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant (criminal investigation) at Lake Illawarra, and in 2005 was promoted to the rank of Inspector (Crime Manager) at Eastern Beaches Local Area Command, later serving at Central Metropolitan Region and Homicide.
In 2011 he was promoted to the rank of Superintendent (Commander) at Cabramatta Local Area Command, later serving at Shoalhaven and Wollongong Local Area Commands.
The Shoalhaven has played a big part of my life, I will never forget.Assistant Commissioner Joe Cassar.
He was the inaugural commander of the Alcohol Licensing and Enforcement Command (ALEC) in 2008.
Through his leadership he was able to lay the platform for future licensing strategies, which not only saw a decrease in offences in and around licensed premises but also a more cohesive relationship between the NSW Police, the Australian Hotels Association and Registered Clubs NSW.
His citation reads Assistant Commissioner Cassar has performed his duties for 30 years with outstanding dedication to service, diligence and integrity.
His outstanding commitment is highlighted by his leadership, service to the community and contribution to the development of work practices, staff development and the enhancement of the reputation of the NSW Police Force.
He has overseen and led high profile homicide investigations in the Illawarra and throughout the state and has strengthened community relations in each of his commands.