Local Legends Recipients 2022

Melissa Oberin

Melissa Oberin had been taking her granddaughter Delilah to Winchelsea Playgroup for only a couple of monthsMelissa Oberin with granddaughters Delilah, front, and Willow.jpg before a bulk graduation of kids into kindergarten left the group at a standstill.

Little Delilah was the last child left, and by the time Melissa had played a central role in helping revive the group and its activities, welcoming new families, she found that she had ‘kind of inherited the place’.

Years and countless volunteer hours later she helped the group negotiate and survive a very different type of standstill during COVID-19 lockdowns, and now she is being hailed as Surf Coast Shire’s latest Local Legend.

The award recognises Melissa’s positive and tireless community-focused leadership in helping children and families connect, learn and thrive.

“Melissa is instrumental in welcoming families to playgroup, either with new babies or families who are new to the area,” her nominator said.

“She can be credited with keeping playgroup alive during COVID-19 lockdowns by sharing play content through Facebook and maintaining social connectedness.

“Melissa is the fabric of the community, and the lifeblood of the group.”

Melissa said she felt honoured to be identified and celebrated as a Local Legend.

“I get lots of thanks from the parents every session but I guess to have it recognised more widely is a real honour, and lets me know I’m doing the right thing,” she says.

“It’s working for everyone else, and they must be enjoying it.”

Delilah has now skipped off to primary school and second granddaughter Willow is enjoying all of the interaction and fun the playgroup has to offer.

“So it used to be Delilah and I would go in and set everything up, and now Willow and I set everything up,” Melissa says.

Sessions were weekly on a Thursday but switched to fortnightly while emerging from pandemic lockdowns. Now with numbers strong they might return to weekly.

Facebook helped keep the group connected during lockdown separations, with Melissa regularly posting activity ideas for kids and families.

“These days we have probably 15 kids. It has gone up and down but I found doing a theme each session helped the kids and parents to get involved,” Melissa says.

“A few members have jumped on board in a really active way helping to come up with themes and ideas and preparations. We try and make every session a bit of an event including kids and parents in what we’re doing rather than just coming and playing.

“I try to make it a bit of a journey or adventure because there is always something different going on.”

Melissa lives in Highton but looks after her grandchildren in Winchelsea.

She is mum to sons aged 29 and 30, works in aged care and apart from maybe helping out with after school care when her boys were young has never really worked in child care.


Now she finds intense reward in seeing her granddaughters and other kids flourish with activities and new friendships.

“We had one little girl who was very shy and now she just runs into playgroup and loves her friends, it’s just so nice seeing those instances,” she says.

“And it is good to see too that some parents make friends, because quite a few of them start when they don’t know anyone and they they’re actually forming relationships and then finding out they live across the road from each other, so I find it’s really good for the parents as much as it is for the kids.”

Delilah’s transition into grade prep earlier this year was made all the more easier because she did it with her best pal who she met at playgroup when she was maybe 2½.

“Now they run up and give each other a hug when they see each other at school, so that’s the reward there,” Melissa says.

Winchelsea Playgroup meets at 10am every second Thursday at St Thomas Anglican Church Hall. The group will meet for the last time in 2022 on 15 December, before resuming in February.

Jo Halley

Torquay’s Wednesday Ocean Waders are so grateful that Jo Halley finally took the plunge. Jo-Halley-Local-Legend-with-Ocean-Waders.jpg

In days past their group founder was one of those people who could barely dip more than a toe in Cosy Corner waves even at the height of blistering summer.

Now after a growth journey in cold water therapy she couldn’t be happier standing shoulder-deep in the frigid water in the middle of winter with her mates, watching another Surf Coast morning unfurl.

“When you’re down there and the sun’s coming up and you’re watching it come up over the ocean and there’s that beautiful morning light, it’s just the most magical way to start the day,” Jo says.

“We stay in the water for about 20 minutes, everyone’s laughing and chatting, and then some days we go for a coffee together.”

That’s the Ocean Wader way.

Jo started the Torquay group with a call-out for interested participants on a community Facebook page, and modest expectations.

A handful of people turned up on a dark and freezing winter’s morning for a dip which became a weekly ritual.

Now dozens turn out daily experiencing and relishing wader wellbeing, and Jo is being recognised as Surf Coast Shire’s latest Local Legend.

The award recognises her passion, inspiration and leadership in helping people from all walks to thrive through health benefits and social connections.

“Several of us from the Wednesday Ocean Waders wanted to nominate our founder Jo because of the positive influence the group has had on us in so many ways – mental and physical health, active living, friendship, support, building confidence, social and charity fund-raising events,” her nominators said.

“Jo doesn’t realise how positive her influence has been and how the group has been the salvation for many.

“We now swim every day and although we have formed a strong bond we still reach out and embrace new members of all ages and all walks of life.

“For all of us, Jo Halley is a Local Legend.”

Jo says the honour is not about her, but all about community.

“I’ve always loved bringing people together. I just love having people together supporting each other with laughter and kindness,” she says.

“Those things make me feel full I suppose. I want to see other people connecting with their community, that’s important to me.”

And if the connections come with health and wellbeing benefits, then all the better.

After having turned 50 Jo resolved to challenge herself and her deep aversion to cold by conquering a cold water/ice therapy course with son Jesse.

“I felt amazing after I got in the ice and I thought I really want to continue doing this, but I knew if I tried to go down to the water on my own it wasn’t going to happen,” she says.

Having allies helped, and after their first ocean wade she said they felt ‘like warriors’.

“Then it just kept growing and growing,” she says.

People from all walks started coming along, for the wellbeing benefits and the companionship.

“Just in normal life most of us would never have met each other and become friends, so there’s this amazing connection. Everyone is so kind and I’ve never been part of a group that is so caring,” she says.

The group’s only rules are that people have to be kind, and have a sense of humour.

As an ocean wader Jo has personally measured boosts to her health and wellbeing, immune system and resilience.

“And I think nearly every single person in the group has come up to me at some time and said thank you for what you’ve given us,” she says.

“And I suppose that makes me feel like it’s special.”

People can learn more about the group on the Wednesday Ocean Waders' Facebook page.


Dean Walton

Photo credit - Surf Coast Times

Dean Walton - Rubbish Ranger Local Legend - Pic credit Surf Coast Times.jpg

Dean Walton promised himself one thing when he realised a long-held dream to move from Melbourne to Torquay.

“I said if I get to live in the town that I’ve been wanting to live in for 15 to 20 years I’m going to do everything I can to make it the cleanest town possible,” Dean says.

“When you’re a city person and you come to a coastal town you want to contribute and return something to the community and picking up rubbish was an easy thing for me.”

The Torquay Rubbish Rangers founding member has proven true to his word.

“I do two hours picking up rubbish every weekday morning along the foreshore, Bell St and through Torquay town. I do the Surf Coast Highway from Bunnings down to Spring Creek Reserve over two days on a weekend. This morning I’ve just done Torquay North down to Anglesea on my bike along the Great Ocean Road. I do that once every seven to 10 days. I do about 20 to 25 hours every week” Dean says.

“So I’m pretty obsessed with it.”

Dean’s devotion and community leadership have qualified him as Surf Coast Shire’s latest Local Legend, recognising his positive impact in helping his community and environment to thrive.

“Dean is a humble quiet achiever who inspires and encourages others,” his nominator said.

“He should be recognised as a Local Legend for his passion, dedication and efforts.”

Dean shifted to Torquay with wife Melissa in the throes of the pandemic in August 2020 and set to work picking up rubbish solo before connecting with Rubbish Ranger groups at Aireys Inlet and Anglesea.

Members from Anglesea supported the formation of Torquay’s Rubbish Rangers, and now about 10 to 15 of hi-vis devotees turn out with their bags and grabber sticks on Sundays to scour public spaces.

 “We’re getting maybe 10 to 15 other people coming on a Sunday wanting to help pick up rubbish,” Dean says.

“It sounds strange, surely nobody else wants to pick up rubbish, but there are some people who want to do it.

“They do it for environmental reasons, to teach their kids, or help the community. There are benefits all the way around, and the town looks so much cleaner, it looks great.

“Torquay is a tourist attraction, why not make it look as good as it possibly can?”

The Torquay Rangers share regular updates on their activities via the Surf Coast Community and Surfcoast Community Notice Board Facebook pages and gather for clean-ups each Sunday at 9am above Salty Dog Café, outside Bomboras Pop-Up Bar and at Fisho’s Beach.

Before his seachange Dean already had a decent decade picking up rubbish in Warrandyte behind him.

It all grew from picking up a few cans one day while on a regular walk.

“I met a lady who was doing the same and we ended up taking bags. Then one bag turned into two bags, and two bags turned into four bags,” he says.

While he appreciates the visual and environmental benefits from his endeavours, he welcomes a deeper reward as well.

“There is a mental health benefit for me,” he says.

“I battle anxiety/depression, I don’t work any more and I find picking up rubbish is one of the only things that calms me.

“It totally shuts your mind off everything else that is going on in the world or in your life and you’re just focused for that time period on that next bit of rubbish.

“It’s very calming and very meditative for me.”

He is happy to clock up hours for his mental health as well as his community.

Dean says Melissa is ‘not quite as keen’ on rubbish as him, but she also is a regular with Torquay and Anglesea Rangers and regularly devotes hours combing Torquay beaches.

Dean says clearing rubbish backlogs is a top Ranger priority.

“Once you get rid of the backlog it’s much easier to just maintain a few bits and pieces,” he says.

“And you hope that a tidy town will mean less people will want to throw rubbish out.”

People can find updates on Torquay Rubbish Rangers activities via Surfcoast Community and Surfcoast Community Noticeboard Facebook pages.

Rubbish Ranger Dean’s five most common finds:

  • Tissues, wipes, serviettes
  • Alcohol cans and bottles
  • Cigarette butts
  • Coffee cups
  • Food packaging – chips and lollies

And five most annoying finds:

  • Dirty nappies, mainly in car parks in summer after having been thrown under cars
  • ‘Nangs’ – nitrous oxide bulbs
  • Food left on tables and barbecues
  • Corners off lolly and chip packets
  • Small Items – bread ties, tags, rubbish shredded by mowing

Tristan Ross

Man in white tshirt sits on a low wall with a guitar When Anglesea musician Tristan Ross was anxiously wondering what he was going to do at the start of the pandemic, he resolved to share his shows for free.

His offer of a livestream performance to his healthy Facebook following immediately struck a sweet chord with lives in lockdown, and something more than an audience was born.

Watch the videos on Tristan's Facebook page

It became a community which thrived on his regular shows, not just for the songs but for connections that came with them.

“It sort of grew and everyone was looking forward to it every week, and it wasn’t about the music anymore,” Tristan says.

“I realised pretty quickly it was more about community. There would be constant banter in the chat. I’d check after a show and there would be 3000 comments or more in a night.”

From Anglesea and across the Surf Coast to the Czech Republic, France and Canada people were together in isolation.

Over months as regulars at Tristan’s virtual gigs they shared their lives, laughs and losses.

Tristan is a full-time solo singer and musician, given to donating his time and talents to causes and institutions.

His big-hearted performance during the pandemic has led to him being named as Surf Coast Shire Council’s latest Local Legend, recognising his positive impact in supporting people and helping them to thrive.

“He gives his time freely whenever asked at events such as the primary school fete, and he also provides sound equipment for local ceremonies, and sings if required,” his nominator Grant Williamson said.

“Since lockdowns began in March 2020 he has live streamed music twice each week free for anyone to watch.

“Through these streams Tristan has connected many people from the Surf Coast and across Victoria, Australia and overseas, lifting people’s spirits and helping isolated people feel connected.”

Despite being at ease in the spotlight on stage, Tristan says he is unsure about being in the spotlight as a Local Legend.

“Reluctantly nominated!” he says.

Tristan – husband of Steph and Dad to twins Blake and Coby, 10, Jai, 8, and Bodhi, 3 – is Werribee born and bred and shifted to Anglesea with his growing family eight years ago.

After leaving school he worked for a decade as a carpenter, then as a scaffolder at refineries in Altona and Geelong.

“I’ve played music my whole life but haven’t done acoustic covers, which is what I do now,” he says.

“I got into that when Steph had the twins because we just needed a bit of extra money.

“Now it’s my full-time job.”

He performs tracks from the 1950s to contemporary at weddings and private functions and at gigs at a select few venues including Anglesea’s Morgan’s Bar and Grill.

Live shows and income evaporated with pandemic restrictions, but the generosity he paid forward in presenting his gigs free online came back to him in tips from his appreciative audience.

“I just said I’m going to do it for love, and everyone’s going ‘oh we want to tip you’,” he says.

“They showed me how to set it up online.

“I was lucky I always had a good 150 to 200 people watching. Probably 15 to 20 people would put in.

“Financially it kept us going, and there were a few other things happened along the way other than money – generosity and people sending gifts, a few incredible things really.

“We were very lucky, I’ll say that.”

Tristan knows of people who met virtually during his shows and have later caught up in person.

He aims to keep the show rolling into the future, though on a less frequent basis, to help people maintain connections.

“It’s more for everyone to catch up and get together, so they don’t forget each other and can get in there and say hello,” he says.

“I know there’s a lot of people still stuck at home, or there would be messages like I’m a single mum, I never get to go out and this is my virtual night out.

“I realised it is quite important to a lot of people.”

Kate Griffin

Kate Griffin.jpg Kate Griffin says caring for her ocean environment is the least she can do in return for the exhilaration she feels surfing its waves.

“The ocean is a massive part of my life, and surfing really dictates my life,” she says.

“I’m in a really lucky, privileged position where I can spend time on a weekend just surfing. It is just an absolute joy out there, pure childish joy … so much happiness.”

“So that’s what motivates me. I feel a need to give back at some point as well doing something that has a positive impact on the environment.”

Kate has walked the talk as a driving force with anti-rubbish organisation A Cleaner Coast, and as joint organiser of the now legendary Surfrider Foundation Torquay paddle-out against plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

She also helped her local team raise $20,000 for remote surfing communities in developing countries by surfing every day during September in SurfAid’s Make A Wave challenge.

Her passion, commitment and leadership qualify her as Surf Coast Shire’s latest Local Legend, recognising her sustained positive impact in helping her environment and community to thrive.

“I’m a little bit surprised,” Kate says of the honour.

“It’s lovely that people think you are doing a great job. Sometimes you need a little boost to kind of get you motivated again, so it is really nice to be acknowledged for things like A Cleaner Coast and Surfrider and what we’re doing down here.

“I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Kate, 31, grew up on the waves at ‘tropical Warrnambool’ before shifting to the Surf Coast eight years ago.

She worked at Jan Juc café institution Swell before starting teaching at Grovedale Secondary College and is in her second year teaching English, literature and media at Surf Coast Secondary College.

Kate is passionate about encouraging people to make a habit of picking up litter as part of everyday routines and is an energetic board member with A Cleaner Coast.

“It’s an environmental organisation which runs local clean-ups in and around the Surf Coast for anyone, and we’ve done a few clean-ups which have been super successful,” she says.

“It’s all about having fun and educating the community. We try to make it really fun and have things like bands and things playing afterwards

“We’ve had about 10 events during the past three years, but couldn’t do much last year because of that thing that’s going on.”

The organisation ran one successful virtual clean-up during lockdown, which attracted international participants, and with restrictions easing is now limbering up to resume in-person events.

Kate says she still experiences goosebumps thinking about Torquay’s major paddle-out in 2019 protesting the ultimately unsuccessful plans of Norwegian company Equinor to drill in the Bight.

She remembers having set everything up on the day with co-organiser Damien Cole as they contemplated maybe one or two hundred people coming along.

“Then there were just droves of people walking down to Cosy Corner. It was incredible and something I’ll never forget,” she says.

“We had nearly 3000 people there, so that just blows my mind.

“It’s something that when you’re feeling a bit disheartened with the world or with the leadership of the country you look back on and reflect that – no, there are really great people around here and all throughout Australia doing amazing things standing up for the environment and communities affected by these crazy proposals.”

Alex Marshall, Darren Noyes Brown, Maurice Cole, Jeremy Richardson and Sean Doherty also helped organise the Torquay paddle-outs.

Kate and Damien helped organise a similar paddle-out for Newcastle, NSW, and Surfrider followed up with other events from Byron Bay to Tasmania and South Australia.

Kate says one endorsement of the Torquay event meant more than most – from Uncle Bunna Lawrie, Senior Elder of the Mirning People whose traditional lands border the Bight.

“Uncle Bunna did an acknowledgement of Country and he’s been part of the Fight for the Bight team for 15 years,” Kate says.

“He was really proud of the community down here, and he was really thankful we were able to stand alongside him and help protect his Country.

“That’s something that has stuck with me, and that friendship we’ve kept since then.”

Merrin Wake

Merrin Wake.jpgMerrin Wake’s work in mental health and complex trauma is informed by lived experience and driven by a particular motivation.

“Coming from a childhood that was quite chaotic… what drives me is a wish to make sure that people who don’t have voices in the usual places are heard,” Merrin says.

“I want to make sure that things aren’t done to them, but are done with them.”

“That is probably my main motivator.”

Merrin is a professional in the field but also shares her knowledge and boundless energy through extensive volunteer work, particularly supporting LGBTIQ+ people.

She founded SurfCoast for Equality and is a board member of LGTBIQ+ community organisation Speak, is a peer with transgender advocacy and support group Transcend Australia, and a consultant for Loud Fence supporting survivors of child sexual abuse.

She is also a facilitator of the Hear To Listen Facebook group supporting people who support others with mental illness or who have died by suicide, is a board member of For the Love of Bryce charity supporting kids with life-limiting illness and in palliative care, and is a the co-ordinator of social media phenomenon The Kindness Pandemic, recently named the most inspiring Facebook page in the world.

Her unwavering care and tireless community contributions amply qualify her as Surf Coast Shire’s latest Local Legend, recognising her sustained positive impact on people’s lives.

“Merrin is a change-maker for people who are discriminated against or struggle with past trauma,” her nominator Celia Bolton said.

“She is outspoken in a constructive and respectful way and provides spaces for people to be heard in our community.”

Merrin is Mum to Imi, 20, Kiah, 15 and Jay, 13.

She describes her husband Gavin as ‘very much the flag bearer of Team Merrin’.

“He really is, he’s a pretty remarkable human being who motivates me.

“We’ve kind of always shared the load.”

Merrin has worked in the health sector for almost 30 years, starting in paediatric nursing before moving to adolescent and mental health.

“Then for the past 10 years I’ve been working with the trans, gender diverse and non-binary community, and more broadly the LGTBIQ+ community,” Merrin says.

“I worked at Barwon Health for 18 years and then moved into the role I’m in now, with Queerspace at Drummond Street Services, based in Geelong.

“I founded a couple of organisations and run a private organisation called The Aware Project, which is around consultancy and supporting families and individuals with family violence and mental health issues.

“Probably a couple of days of the week I’m doing volunteer stuff made up of evenings, night times, kind of all hours really depending on where the need is.”

She might be helping people to navigate complex trauma – exposure to multiple traumatic events – or delivering hampers to families in need, or helping people to negotiate bureaucratic red tape to find the right services.

“My mantra is meeting people where they’re at, not where I assume they should be or need to be, but actually where they’re at,” she says.

Merrin has lived experience as a survivor of institutional child abuse, and as a mother of a transgender child.

“I was part of giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse and was honoured to sit alongside many survivors who I have learnt so much from. The healing I have had and continue to get from other people’s stories is quite profound.”