22 December 2023

12 community stories that had you clicking in 2023

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Region Illawarra is all about community – sharing the stories of people and places that are dear to all our hearts. Take a look back through the stories that resonated in 2023. Can you guess what comes in at number one?

12. Bringing joy to generations: Beloved Stanwell Park teacher bids farewell after an incredible career
by Keeli Royle

Lynn Bedwell with her extended family who travelled to Stanwell Park Public School for her retirement celebration.

Generations of Bedwells: Lynn’s family travelled from across the country and the world to mark the milestone of her retirement. Photo: Keeli Royle.

Lynn Bedwell’s crazy characters, catchy songs and extreme dedication to children’s education has been a staple at Stanwell Park Public School for almost four decades, with generations of her own and other families experiencing the magic of her classroom.

But even though Lynn’s fun and fantastical lessons are coming to an end as she begins her well-earned retirement, her legacy and love for children are still shining bright.

11. Kiama pilot’s front yard ‘mini community garden’ idea taking off in other neighbourhoods
by Kellie O’Brien

Ian Harvey-George

Kiama Worm Farm owner and pilot Ian Harvey-George has seen his little idea for a community garden in front yards grow. Photo: Supplied.

Kiama pilot and worm farmer Ian Harvey-George has transformed his front lawn into a mini community garden – and is encouraging other neighbourhoods to do the same.

“Luckily where we are it’s a raised garden bed anyway right on the front of the road, so it’s easy access for everybody,” he said.

10. The Inspired Unemployed boys pushed to the limit in new hidden camera TV show
by Kellie O’Brien

Four housemates from Bombo have made their TV debut with The Inspired Unemployed (Impractical) Jokers. Photo: Supplied.

Despite challenging each other to step into humiliating scenarios that left them shaking and pale, four Bombo housemates and former tradies turned social media stars have survived their TV debut in The Inspired Unemployed: (Impractical) Jokers.

Jack Steele and Matt Ford (aka Falcon), well known for their humorous skits as The Inspired Unemployed after amassing 1.7 million Instagram and 1.6 million TikTok followers, were joined by best mates Dom Littrich and Liam Moore to push each other to the limit.

9. Tracy Bevan brought to tears by Wollongong student’s HSC dance about best friend Jane McGrath’s cancer journey
by Kellie O’Brien

Jane McGrath breast cancer dance

Performing Annabelle Martin’s dance composition “Jane’s 11-Year Battle are (left to right): Ava Sommerville, Hope Martin and Aaliah Hancock. Photo: Supplied.

McGrath Foundation director Tracy Bevan was brought to tears while watching Cordeaux Heights student Annabelle Martin’s Year 12 HSC dance composition that tells the story of her best friend Jane McGrath’s journey with cancer.

Annabelle, 17, created the dance composition ‘Jane’s 11-Year Battle’ for her HSC dance major at St Mary’s Star of Sea College in Wollongong.

The dance, which features her sister Hope as Jane and fellow dancers Ava Sommerville and Aaliah Hancock, highlights Jane’s story, her support network, and the establishment of the McGrath Foundation.

8. Unbreakable spirit: Kiama dad Grant Wilson inspires in the Focus On Ability Short Film Awards
by Dione David

Kiama man Grant Wilson in a wheelchair with his arms raised triumphantly.

Grant Wilson’s resilience combines with the support of his community to send a clear message – he’s not done yet. Photos: Grant Wilson.

What happens when a freak accident turns an ultra marathon-running, powerlifting dad of three into a quadriplegic? The answer will astound you.

Kiama’s Grant Wilson shares his incredible story as voting opens for the 2023 Focus on Ability Short Film Festival Awards.

7. From Catholic schoolgirl to tattooist, Little e bucks family trend and follows her passion for ink
by Katrina Condie


After gaining her licence at just 18, Little e has already started tattooing on her family and friends. Photo: Little e.

She grew up in a Catholic family, went to church every Sunday and attended an all-girls Catholic school in Wollongong, so when Eryn Testa announced she wanted to become a tattoo artist at the age of 14, it didn’t go down too well.

Four years later, at 18, Eryn is one of the country’s youngest tattooists, having recently obtained her tattoo licence. Her artist name is ‘Little e’ and she’s secured an apprenticeship at Tattoo Saloon in Oak Flats.

6. Mr Fitz’s farewell: Dapto High marks the emotional end of an era as beloved principal retires after 19 years
by Keeli Royle

Retiring Dapto High Principal Andrew FitzSimons with wife Liz Cuninghame, daughter Vida and son Reuben.

Retiring Dapto High Principal Andrew FitzSimons with wife Liz Cuninghame, daughter Vida and son Ruben. Photo: Keeli Royle.

He’s been the heart and soul of Dapto High for the past two decades, but Andrew FitzSimons is finally hanging up his hat and calling time on his incredible career as principal and paving the way for the next generation.

It was an emotional day at Dapto as more than 1000 kids, teachers and parents gathered to farewell and thank Andrew and celebrate his countless contributions to a school that he loved so much.

5. Merilyn House has been making Helensburgh’s bush her home for decades
by Graeme Burrill

Helensburgh Landcare founder Merilyn House

Helensburgh Landcare founder Merilyn House in front of the original Helensburgh Railway station and glow worm tunnel. Photo: Graeme Burrill.

After 50 years in the northern Illawarra, it would be hard to beat Merilyn House’s commitment to preserving the local environment. Meet the woman who started Helensburgh Landcare.

4. A ‘crazy life’ lived around the world but calming Kiama will be forever home
by Kellie O’Brien

Shelley in a studio with guitars on the walls

Shelley Harland has written songs for TV shows like Wentworth and toured with the likes of Elvis Costello and The Fray. Photo: Supplied.

English-born couple Shelley Harland and James Harland-Wright have worked from New York to Sydney creating songs for major TV shows and films, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Wentworth to She’s All That.

However, it’s the small seaside town of Kiama that has become their musical base – and the place that’s felt most like home.

3. Lozza’s legacy: the swim instructor who saved lives by introducing hundreds of kids to the water
by Keeli Royle

Lozza in pool at McKeon's with kid and parent.

Parents have shared the impact Lozza made on their kids’ lives. Photo: Louisa Gayland.

Lorraine Breska thought she would quietly sneak out the back door on her last day at McKeon’s Swim School, but after 15 years and teaching hundreds of kids, she couldn’t escape the praise that came her way.

Lorraine, best known as Lozza, met the McKeon family while caravanning on the South Coast and for years they were determined to get her as part of their team after seeing her skills firsthand.

“I had a special relationship with a family from Merry Beach who’s son had cerebral palsy,” Lozza said. “I used to take him out the back in the waves, and he used to have lots of fun in a rubber round ring keeping him afloat.”

2. Albion Park animal farm loved by generations says goodbye to last remaining emu
by Keeli Royle

Bob Harrison with emu, chickens, horse and peacock at Albion Park farm.

Bob Harrison adopted and rescued countless animals over the past 40 years making his farm a popular attraction for families. Photo: Harrison Family.

For decades a small animal farm in Albion Park has brought joy across generations and attracted visitors from the local area and around the world, but now the community is mourning the end of an era as the Harrison family says goodbye to their last remaining animal, an emu named Eemy.

Bob Harrison grew up in Goulburn surrounded by animals, so after he moved to the Illawarra it was no surprise that there was always a cat, dog or bird that found its way into the family home.

And it didn’t take long until he began to branch out beyond your average household pets.

1. 11 picture-perfect Illawarra rock pools to explore any time of the year
by Jen White

The sun rising over Austinmer pools.

A beautiful sunrise over Austinmer Pools. Photo: Kirk Gilmour.

If you’re not a big fan of sand in your cossies, or battling with the crowds at the local pool, why not head to one of the Illawarra’s beautiful rock pools? They’re open all year round and are a perfect place for some school holiday down time. Here’s 11 of our favourites.

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