Acknowledges an Old Girl who has substantially improved the quality of life for members of their community beyond that expected in their usual occupation.

The Nominees are:

Valma Cearns (Davies ’51)

Karen Chappel (King ’75)

Stephanie Spencer (Ludkins ’78)

Dana Hlavacek (’79)

Gail Elson (’84)

Joy Hopwood (’86)

Sarah Wiese (Davies ’88)

Natasha Harrison (’11)


Valma Cearns (Davies ’51)

Valma was one of only two woman in her year at UWA to graduate with a law degree and subsequently became one of only a handful of women lawyers in Perth at the time.  She later rose to become a Senior Partner of a law firm, which was an exception for women then, and since that time, she has served the legal community with distinction.
After starting her family, she worked mainly as a pro bono volunteer with the Citizens Advice Bureau and was part of their management committee for ten years.  In recognition of her contribution to Family Law, she was awarded the first Life Membership of the Family Law Practitioners Association in 1992. Valma was appointed by the WA Government as the Inaugural Chairman of the Case Review Board in 1988. The Board was later replaced by the Case Review Panel in which she continued as Chair until 2007.  Her dedication to this important work was seen to be above and beyond the call of duty.  In 1999, the International Year for Older Persons, she was awarded a Commonwealth Recognition Award for Senior Australians. Part of the citation acknowledged 'her contribution to Family Law, particularly for helping young practitioners in court'. In 2003 she was honoured in the Disability Service Commission 'Making a Difference’ Awards for her years of service, as Chair of the Kalparrin Centre, to parents of children with disabilities.
Valma’s incredible empathy for the challenges faced by families is due, in part, to having contracted and survived polio whilst at school at St Mary’s. Her interest and dedication to providing access and inclusion for those with disabilities has seen her spend much of her time helping others. Today, she is a member of the Access and Inclusion Committee for the Brightwater Care Group.

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Karen Chappel (King ’75)

Karen has a strong personal commitment to her community, holding positions with an array of rural and regional boards, organisations and clubs.  Karen was elected as President of the Shire of Morawa in 2009.  She has been President of the northern country zone of the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) and State Councillor of WALGA.  She is currently a Deputy Member of the Local Government Advisory Board, a member of the State Road Funds to Local Government Advisory Committee, and sits on the Nations Black Spot Consultative Panel.  Karen uses these positions to advocate on behalf of all rural people, highlighting the difficulties and challenges of living in remote and rural WA committees. 
Recognising the critical need for mental health services for rural residents, Karen volunteered as Chairperson of the Northern Districts Community Support Group (NDCSG), a family counselling service based in Morawa. She was also instrumental in the implementation of the Rural Financial Counselling Service of Western Australia (RFCSWA), which provides free financial counselling to hundreds of farmers across WA.
In 2008, Karen was awarded the Australia Day Citizenship Award from the Shire of Perenjori, for her contribution to their community during the drought, coordinating the Seed Donation Programme and organising business skills workshops for farmers.
In 2015, she was one of four finalists for the WA Rural Women’s Award for her project “Clubsmatter” which provides the tools to encourage people, especially rural women, to become involved in their community clubs and ultimately become leaders and role models for their community. Along with her vast community involvement Karen is also a registered marriage celebrant and has performed many rural wedding ceremonies.

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Stephanie Spencer (Ludkins ’78)

Stephanie’s special interest is in providing care to people in Australian remote and rural communities especially in the areas of women’s health, psychiatry and palliative care.  She graduated in Medicine from UWA in 1985 and after a period of working overseas and in Perth, has predominantly worked in rural practices since then.  Being a doctor in a rural community has produced many challenging yet rewarding situations for Stephanie.  Whilst living and working in Northam, she was one of only two available obstetricians (so she was on 24 hour call for most of the time) and she has had to handle many emergency procedures relating to fatal country road accidents, as well as diagnosing and treating members of the tight knit community. Stephanie was awarded a certificate of recognition for 20 or more years of service to the rural area as well as the Rural Doctors’ Off-Label Award for developing a new practice for an ‘old’ treatment specifically targeted to the wheatbelt community.  Her current project involves the design of a healthy weight loss strategy in the fight against obesity in rural communities.  She is held in high esteem by her family and community as a strong, intelligent and caring person.

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Dana Hlavacek (’79)

After graduating from UWA with a Bachelor of Commerce and embarking on a successful executive career spanning almost 25 years including senior roles with Rio Tinto Treasury, Dana now focuses her energy and skills on serving the community in a number of positions.  She is a Trustee of the Victorian Arts Centre Trust (VACT) where she has helped turn around its financial position in her role as Chair of the Trust and Risk Management and Audit Committees. The VACT is now able to provide free or low cost events and opportunities for families from disadvantaged schools.  Dana is also the Chairperson of the Audit and Risk Committee with the Brotherhood of St Laurence, which has a mission of achieving an Australia free from poverty, and she is also a Director of the RSPCA Victoria.  She recently addressed the International Women’s Day celebrations at Melbourne Water, where she acts as a Non-Executive Director, speaking about her experiences in male-dominated areas throughout her studies and business career.

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Gail Elson (’84)

Over the past 20 years, Gail has made valuable contributions to the communities in which she has lived, most significantly with St John Ambulance and The Australian Army Cadet Corps.  Her involvement with St John Ambulance began in 1995, in Corrigin, when she became a Volunteer Ambulance Officer, and later as Centre Secretary and First Aid Training. This was just the beginning of her volunteering journey that saw her volunteer over 1000 hours to St John Ambulance in 2014 alone.  In 2001, Gail moved to Katanning, continuing her involvement with St John Ambulance as an Officer and rising to the position of Chairperson in 2010.  Gail also became involved in the Australian Army Cadets, teaching first aid, and later became an Officer Commanding in the Katanning Cadet Unit.  Gail has been awarded Volunteer of the Year for Event Health Services for St John Ambulance and in April this year, was admitted into the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John, in recognition of her involvement and achievements with St John Ambulance for over 19 years of service.

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Joy Hopwood (’86)

Joy’s goal is for Australia’s mainstream media to show a more realistic representation of Australian life.  Ever since she started out as an actor in the 1990s and found that there were very few role models on television from multicultural Australia, she has been a huge advocate for diversity in the arts.  Joy was one of the first regular Asian presenters on ABC’s Play School, which led to guest roles on television shows like Home and Away and Good News Week, but these were few and far between.  This led her to produce her own work including her play The Wong Side of Life which has been transformed into an anti-bullying and anti-racism initiative shown in selected schools across Australia.  She also created the annual Joy House Film Festival which showcases short films about joy and diversity, and is supported by the Media Entertainment Arts Alliance’s Diversity Committee (of which she is a founding member).  Joy has been asked to write in various publications and her autobiographical story was published in the book Growing Up Asian in Australia which is currently taught in Australian schools.  Joy’s most proudest moments were being nominated twice for the prestigious Australian of the Year Awards for her community work as ambassador for the Cancer Council NSW and Mission Australia, and she also received a community award from Minister Joe Hockey and Ita Buttrose.

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Sarah Wiese (Davies ’88)

Sarah achieved a Bachelor of Agricultural Science with first class honours and a PhD in Animal Science. However, when her first child arrived in 2001 she decided to make her family and community in Narrogin her priority.  She has been a member of the Narrogin Primary School P & C for almost ten years and during that time she has been instrumental in organising many successful fundraising events and building projects for the school, both large and small. She established a local triathlon, securing Healthway sponsorship, and has seen it grow to be the largest inland regional triathlon in WA.  The flow-on effect of this event to the community has been significant and has seen the swimming club double in size, a masters swimming club established and the overall involvement in other sports including cycling and cross country having a resurgence.  Sarah is now in her fourth term as Treasurer of the P & C, managing a turnover of around $75,000.   Her other community involvement includes her hockey association, swimming club and pony club, and helping to establish the ‘Club Passport Programme’ which rewards volunteers for the hours they contribute to the Narrogin community.

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Natasha Harrison (’11)

At first glance, Natasha appears like any other university student studying a Bachelor of Science degree at UWA.  What distinguishes Natasha from most, however, is her extensive volunteer community work both in Western Australia and overseas.  It was during 2013 that she first dipped her toe into community work, spending most Saturday mornings at the Balga Community Centre, tutoring Sudanese school children.  In the same year, she spent her July holidays in Kenya tutoring students and helping to prepare meals at a children’s charity which provided schooling and care for children from a nearby slum.  Although this was confronting at times, it fuelled Natasha’s desire for volunteering and she has since gone on to volunteer in many countries including Mexico, Morocco, Kenya and Zimbabwe, in projects from teaching English to animal and plant conservation.  What is most impressive about these achievements is that these trips have all been self-funded by Natasha from savings from her part time work.  Her most recent experience has been in June/July of this year, where Natasha has been working as a volunteer at a cheetah rehabilitation project in South Africa, providing general care for cheetahs and other African wild cats at risk.  Natasha also plans to spend part of August this year planting trees at Rottnest Island.

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