Garry Connelly was unaware of the lasting impact he had made on the Coolah community until he was acknowledged in the 2017 Australia Day Honours List on Thursday, 26 January.
Through his varying roles as business owner, volunteer and councillor, Mr Connelly has been instrumental in the
development of the Coolah township during the past four decades.
His efforts have now been recognised, with Mr Connelly set to receive a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in Sydney in the coming weeks.
“You don’t realise what you have actually done until many, many years later when someone puts it all down on a piece of paper,” Mr Connelly said.
“In my case, it was over 43 years in Coolah, and to get the recognition is a very subtle sort of thing - it sort of creeps up on you.
“You get involved with this and you get a few successes, then you get involved in that and all of sudden you are starting to kick a few goals, so you go onwards from there.”
Although Mr Connelly was surprised by his OAM, he said it was nice to receive recognition for his work in the Coolah community.
After relocating to Mudgee six months ago, Mr Connelly said he was indebted to Eleanor Cook and her team for the nomination.
“When my wife and I arrived in Coolah from the city, we were in our twenties with a couple of little babies. We didn’t know anyone, so it was a bit lonely, but we stuck with it,” he said.
“Then I bought a business - a cordial factory - then we bought a local milk run, supposedly the biggest milk run in the state - the Coolah Shire Milk Run. But the turning point for my family, as well as the town, was in 1978 when we bought the Coles store.
“It was quite a big store, with 30 people working there, and the town was really struggling at that point, there were a lot of empty shops, the seasons hadn’t been too good and the town was really down.”
Teaming up with other business owners, Mr Connelly began opening new departments - electrical, building, newsagency, coffee shop, farm supplies.
“I think that had a tremendous impact on the town.
“When we took over, Coles was doing $680,000 per year and when we sold the business in the 90s we were doing $11.5 million a year.
“That really picked the town up - I like to say we became a mini regional centre, because it encouraged other businesses to the town.”
As well as being an astute businessman and former Warrumbungle Shire Council deputy mayor, Mr Connelly also immersed himself in community groups, starting as secretary of the local footy club.
In 1996, the closure of the local sawmill led to the establishment of the Coolah District Development Group, on which Mr Connelly served as founding chairperson.
“The development group has been so successful, with millions of dollars coming into the town through successful submissions and they are still very active today.
“It has helped give the community a sense of belonging and ownership, as well as a future for the town.”
• Inaugural chair, Coolah District Development Group, 1996-2000. • Deputy mayor, Warrumbungle Shire Council, 2004; and councillor, 1999-2008.
• Founder, Outback Press and Coolah District Diary, 1992. • Co-ordinator, annual Senior Citizens Christmas Lunch, 26 years. • Emcee, Coolah Christmas Carnival, since 1979. • Director and treasurer, Coolah Sporting Club, 1988-2005. • Chair, Coolah Multi-Purpose Services, 2010-2015 and member, since 2009. • Chair, Coolah Hostel, 1988-1994. • Inaugural chair, Coolah Airport Committee, 2002-2015. • Chair, UHF Radio User Group, since 1991. • Chair, Three Rivers Radio Station, since 2009. • Member, Warrumbungle Aerodrome Advisory Committee, current; chair, 2004-2008.
• Member, NSW Rural Fire Service, since 1978. • Compere, Coolah Christmas Carols, Coolah District Hospital, 28 years.
Former Warrumbungle Shire Council deputy mayor, Garry Connelly, pictured with wife, Susan, was named in the 2017 Australia Day Honours list.