A legacy of community service, OAM honouree in Casey and Berwick

Margaret Heslin was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her services to the communities in the City of Casey and Berwick. Picture: SUPPLIED.

By Ethan Benedicto

Being awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia is no trivial matter, but it was never something Margaret Heslin had thought of, much less aimed for.

Heralded for her service to the communities in the City of Casey and in Berwick, Margaret’s life from very early on revolved around giving back and helping others.

However, when she first received her award, she initially thought it was junk mail, and it was only after that her husband, Dennis Heslin, asked her ‘do you realise what you’re receiving?’ that it dawned on her.

When it came together, she said “I was just over the moon”.

“I was honoured, I really felt like one of the privileged ones to get this award because there’s a lot of other people [that] should have this you know,” she said.

Margaret’s involvement in the Rotary Club of Casey saw her as its president in 2016, the former treasurer and a contributor to the Holland Festival on multiple occasions; she was also the president of the Inner Wheel Club of Berwick from 2012-2013.

With strong praise for the goals of Rotary, Margaret said “you know, if you’re a member of a Rotary club, you can go anywhere in the world and there’s always going to be someone there to welcome you”.

One of the more memorable initiatives that she endeavoured on for Berwick and Casey was putting together an all-abilities ball that had an emphasis on inclusion for those with disabilities and higher needs.

“Now this was for young adults that couldn’t do anything like this, they couldn’t dress up, and I was part of the organisers.

“I got so much out of seeing these young people and their parents thinking how wonderful it was that people thought to go and do all this for them,” she said.

The demand for the ball was immense, with Margaret recalling that “we had to have two because there were that many of them”.

“We had dance practice and lessons every week, we had someone come in and teach these young people these routines.

“One particular man, he was in a wheelchair and it was lovely, you know, to see this young fella dancing around the floor in his wheelchair.

“These were children from within the City of Casey, so they came from all different parts of the municipality and it was wonderful,” Margaret said.

Margaret was born 76 years ago in the small satellite town of East Kilbride, just 15 miles east of Glasgow, Scotland; it was 61 years ago that she and her family decided to migrate to Australia.

Eventually, she met and married Dennis Heslin and they spent most of their married life in Warragul.

It was there that Dennis got involved with the Rotary Club of Warragul, and since the pair were never far apart, it wasn’t long until Margaret was spending time there herself.

“When we moved to Warragul, Dennis joined the Rotary and of course, I sort of went along with him, and for projects that he was involved with, I helped out where I could.

“That’s when he became president of the Rotary Club of Warragul, [and] when I decided, well, we should have an Inner Wheel Club,” Margaret said.

While she initially got involved through her husband, it was with those first few steps that her love for helping others brewed, a factor of that being their role with Cord Blood research.

Margaret has contributed overseas, through Rotary International, which she has been a member of since 1988.

It was her time in Indonesia between 1994-1995, and her contribution towards establishing maternity clinics, when she recounted that “we helped build these clinics and it was saving all these lives, the babies that couldn’t be saved because they didn’t have proper facilities”.

Having gone through multiple positions of leadership, which includes being the chair of Inner Wheel District A62 between 2005-2006, it was the mentality of you never know until you try that pushed her through.

Margaret recalled that she just “felt I can do this” when it came to certain roles, such as being the treasurer for the Rotary Club of Casey.

“I sort of said – because my husband’s got a law degree – I don’t need a law degree.

“I can do this without that and I felt quite proud of myself that I was able to do it, and I [also] learned a lot out of it,” Margaret said.

A key part of Margaret’s experience involved friendship, and finding out that wherever she went it involved either the Rotary or the Inner Wheel Club.

Speaking to those who are looking to contribute towards their own community, she said “you get a lot of friendship out of it”.

“You make a lot of friends, and it is rewarding; you know you get involved with different things and you don’t need to be experienced in a lot of these, you just go along.

“People will help you, assist you, and you make lots of lovely friends; it’s a terrific way of getting out and giving back to the community, [and it’s] either to get into Inner Wheel or Rotary,” Margaret said.

Margaret and Dennis resided in Berwick for 10 years and have since retired to Yarrawonga six years ago where Margaret became a charter member of the Rotary Club of Central Murray Sunrise.

“During my service with the Inner Wheel and Rotary, I have been privileged to have been involved in the Cord Blood project and our work in the provision of maternity clinics in Indonesia and so many others.

“Over the past decades, we have been exposed to so many fine community volunteers; at a personal level it is an honour to be the recipient of this award, but it is also a recognition of the work undertaken by Inner Wheel and rotary members throughout the country – these service organisations are the backbone of community life,” Margaret said.

Margaret and Dennis have three children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; the couple are still active members of the Rotary Club of Central Murray Sunrise, with meetings held every second Wednesday of the month.