Benalla Treasures

Among Benalla’s residents are a group of older people who could be referred to as Benalla’s Treasures.

They have contributed to the fabric of our community in a variety of ways over a long period of time, making our community a richer place. 

We want to celebrate these people by sharing their individual stories and photos.



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Aunty Patsy Bollard has been part of the Benalla community since 1977 when she moved to Benalla to work in the Health Department. Patsy grew up in Taree, went to University in Armidale and then worked in Canberra for a number of years.

Benalla has appealed to Patsy because it is a very caring community. Patsy has enjoyed the walks available in Benalla, particularly around the lake and also enjoys the art gallery and the library. She has become involved with the Uniting Church in Benalla. Patsy has played a leading role in the Benalla Aboriginal Advisory Group. Together with Chris Thorne they have had a design input into the Aboriginal Garden located near the Benalla Lake, which is available for everyone in Benalla to enjoy. Patsy’s advice to Aboriginal people is “Never be ashamed of who you are:.

Changes that have happened during the time that Patsy has been in Benalla include seeing the Mural built, the ’93 flood and the unfortunate loss of shops/businesses in Benalla. Patsy’s community involvement includes being a member of the Rural Australians for Refugees and making marmalade for the church and other charities to sell. Her cooking ability also includes make orange macadamia shortbread and crab apple jelly. Patsy has an excellent soprano voice and has been part of U3A singing activities for many years. She is very proud of her children and family, and is often collected from Benalla by the family and taken for various celebrations to Canberra.

Benalla has certainly benefited from your input over the years Patsy. Well done.



Barbara Cochrane

Barbara Cochrane was born in Benalla in 1941 and has been a resident in Benalla ever since. Married to Noel Cochrane, they have two adult married daughters and several grandchildren. Barbara was a joint partner in Noel’s business as a Building Contractor for approximately 36 years.

Barbara has been involved in voluntary Community Services within the Benalla and District Community over the past 45 years.

Barbara was President of the Ladies Committee at the Benalla Lawn Tennis Club and coached sub-juniors on Saturday morning for 20 years. Barbara was awarded a Life Membership in 1985. Barbara was club Singles Champion for 17 years and has been continually involved with its committee and fund raising over the years.

Barbara’s Community involvement included being a committee member and fund raising over several years for the Benalla Indoor Recreation Centre, the Benalla Aquatic Centre and the Benalla Drill Hall Committee. Barbara also assisted in obtaining grants for improvements to the Town Hall. Barbara was also on the Benalla Streetscape Committee and assisted in the fundraising, in conjunction with Rotary to develop this area. Barbara assisted in obtaining a medium strip near the gardens and, in conjunction with Rotary, was involved with the Benalla Rose Gardens. For many years, she assisted in Rotary Club Projects at the Benalla Railway Station.

In the 1990s, Barbara supported Noel with a Rotary Civics Project program. They spent 2 weeks on a building project in Papua New Guinea, completing a shower/toilet block from scratch, erecting roof trusses, they boxed and poured steps, also prepared foundations and erected main columns for a Rotunda, all in high humidity.

Barbara and Noel participated in a Student Exchange program in 1991. Later, they assisted in financing and arranging for local Benalla and District young people to attend the Lord Mayor’s Portsea Children’s Camp and assisted as Camp Leaders for 2 years. Barbara was awarded the Rotary “Paul Harris Fellow Award” at Benalla on 11th January 2007 for years of voluntary service.

Barbara was also a member of the Benalla Soroptimists Group and was President for a year. As Secretary of the group, she instigated the Australian Gown of the Year at Benalla. Over a period of seven years, it raised approximately $50,000. Funds provided assistance to local charities and an ongoing Scholarship for girls in year 12. The Soroptimists and other groups maintained a steady campaign to get Benalla Rose City signage in place. This group, with Barbara leading the way, organised Melbourne Cup Day luncheons/fashion parades over the years, all proving successful fundraisers for Charity.

Barbara was also on the Benalla Rose Festival Committee and, together with Rotary, they worked on the organisation and success of the project. Barbara was also a member of Keep Australia Beautiful and Tidy Towns Committees for several years. During this time Benalla won the award two years consecutively.

Over the years Noel and Barbara have provided assistance in building and renovation construction that has benefitted the Community, giving their services as volunteers.

Barbara, together with her husband Noel, were recipients of the Order of Australia Award (OAM) in 2016.




Deborah Smith

Deb was born in London in 1953 but spent a large part of her childhood growing up in Sri Lanka with her parents. During this time,
they hosted many Australians who were travelling through Sri Lanka on their way to the United Kingdom and developed an interest
in the people and the country. They moved back to England in 1964 and Deb commenced boarding school.

Before commencing University in York, completing a degree in English Literature she worked in a post office over Christmas,
a bottle department and a local library for a year. After graduating she spent 6 months as an administration officer and personal carer.

Her nursing career commenced in 1976 at St Thomas’s where, after completing her training, she ran a ward of the hospital and then went on to become a Geriatric Assessment nurse where they looked after medical issues relating to holistic care of older patients.

Deb spent 5 years in Edinburgh completing her Midwifery qualification and working before moving to Sydney in 1986. Her godmother was an Australian and had always provided her with letters, photos and information on the country which she found to be very helpful in settling into her new life. In 1989 Deb moved to Melbourne, having met Nick, who was sailing in the 1988 Sydney to Hobart yacht race. In Melbourne Deb worked in community and women’s health.

Due to health reasons, in 2004 Nick had to retire and they moved to Swanpool, where they are living the dream!

Regional health issues and services were very important to Deb and she found productive work in this sector She first worked at North East Health, as a project officer with a WorkSafe Prevention of Violence against Health Workers program. Next was a position working as Community Health Nurse with a rural outreach worker in the Violet Town area where they would visit local farmers to discuss health issues and regularly would visit local saleyards and offer to take blood pressures and provide relevant information on health services.  They would also visit Violet Town markets to promote healthy lifestyles.

Centrelink and the Department of Agriculture had a drought relief program which Deb promoted and coordinated. Eventually, Deb took on the role of Community Health Nurse with Benalla Health, with whom she worked till she retired in 2020. Women’s health was very important to Deb and she ran a program where a group of ladies would be taken to Shepparton for breast screening and the day would also include social interaction with coffee breaks and discussions. She met with politician Bill Sykes to discuss having a mobile breast screening bus available to visit Benalla residents, and this service is ongoing.

Deb was part of an innovative program in Goorambat and other outlying areas called Pit Stop where they identified parts of a car to parts of the human body to encourage more men to look at health issues. Another health issue which does not have a lot of promotion was Hemochromatosis, and Deb became involved with and ran information awareness sessions, in partnership with an inspiring local community member.

From 2006-2018 Deb ran relationship education courses for students in partnership with the Department of Education.  Other groups she has supported are Carers, Parkinsons Peer Support Group and Arthritis Peer Support Group, all in partnership with community members and peer leaders. The members of these groups had lived experience and Deb sought out available grants to promote and keep the groups moving forward.

Deb is a valued member of the Swanpool Cinema Group, Landcare and is a volunteer once a week at the Visitors Centre in Benalla and a volunteer with the Mother Goose Program in Mansfield. Her most recent role will be as a member of the Social Inclusion Action Group where her valuable experience and connection with the Benalla and surrounding communities will be significant.

Over the years bureaucracy and fragmented services have been challenging but she has felt rewarded by making a difference in communities and the opportunity of meeting fantastic people that have crossed her path as colleagues, patients, community members and others.

Her message is to always be yourself and open to others strengths and ideas which together will lead to a better future.



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Doris has lived in Benalla for 25 years. Prior to living in Benalla, Doris lived in Melbourne and then travelled around many parts of Australia in a bus for 7 years, having a “hippy” lifestyle until her daughter, who had diabetes, needed to live in
more stable accommodation.

Doris and her family were offered housing in Benalla West which they accepted in the late 90’s. Originally Doris was born in Italy in a refugee camp, where she and her mother lived until Doris was three, when they were sponsored to migrate to Australia. Doris’s parents are Slovenian. Doris only remembers being on a ship coming to Australia, she does not remember much about the hardships faced by her mother living in the refugee camp. However, she does remember entertaining people on the ship with her singing and dancing on the journey to Australia. When the family first arrived in Australia they went to Sydney, then Rockhampton, before settling in Kew where Doris’s parents still live.

Doris loves Benalla. The first thing she noticed about living in Benalla when she moved here in the late 90’s was how friendly and helpful the people were, and how well supported the community is with various services and activities. Having not lived in a city for a while since leaving Melbourne Doris also appreciated the quiet rural tranquility and felt she was warmly welcomed into the community, never feeling like an outsider as she had in other locations. Benalla is a pretty town and a great place to raise children and is central with a great train link to Melbourne.

Since moving here Doris is a great advocate for the Benalla West community, she was shocked to hear people refer to Benalla West as the Bronx and has worked hard to try and break down barriers between Benalla West residents and other members of the Benalla community. She feels it is so important not to judge people, especially based on where they live, as no-one can really understand how quickly people’s circumstances can change. Doris likes to mention that she lives in Benalla West despite having grown up in Kew one of Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs.

Doris is a great fan of many facilities in Benalla such as the Botanical Gardens, lake  local cemeteries, (Doris loves exploring old graveyards), Art Gallery, Winton, BPACC, and many outlying rural towns with their silo art and iconic features. She also enjoys the Benalla Festival, Seniors Festival, Wall to Wall, Lakeside markets and many other events Benalla and surrounds has to offer. Benalla has so much to offer for a town of its size and we shouldn’t continually try and compare ourselves to larger towns such as Wangaratta and Shepparton. Doris has noticed changes in the shopping precinct in Benalla and appreciates the rise in more cosmopolitan style cafes opening up. She notes that there has also been an increase in traffic, with it taking longer to get across the bridge in peak hour traffic, and more people from other cultures moving in, offering greater diversity in our community.

A highlight for Doris was the opening of the Aquatic Centre as Doris loves to swim and is a regular at the Benalla pool. She is looking forward to the new cinema opening in the CBD. Doris has been on a number of groups over her time in Benalla including being on the Waminda Community House Board and an active volunteer at the house. Doris was also the one and only community representative on the Advancing Country Towns Steering Committee (which mainly had Managers/CEOs and Govt dept reps in attendance). Doris was also an original member of the Community Plan committee, which she continues to be involved with, and is a member of the Age Friendly Benalla Reference Group and a volunteer at the Age Well in Benalla Info Hub. Doris also helped set up a singles meet and greet group a number of years ago, with many of the participants still keeping in touch.

In past years Doris assisted with the welcome bus that used to run in Benalla as well as the pilot bus tours organised for new residents in 2018. Doris loves to participate in social activities and often attends Trivia nights and would love to support other entertainment options in Benalla such as live bands, open mic nights and dances.

After completing several courses at GOTAFE finishing with a Diploma in Community Services Doris assisted with the Foodshare program in Benalla. Doris would like to highlight to younger people in Benalla that although they may wish to explore bigger and brighter places always remember that Benalla is a wonderful place to return to. This return of young people brings people back with fresh ideas to our community.

She also stresses the importance of contributing to your community and how much better life is when we all work together. “There is no point in criticising if you are not prepared to help solve problems and be proactive”.



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When Doug Williams came to Baddaginnie 20 years ago, he brought with him a history of serving the community that he had lived in.

Doug’s working life revolved around flying. He was a licenced Aircraft Engineer (LAME) and became an aeronautical draftsman for ANA/Ansett airlines and a flying instructor at Whittlesea Executive Airlines/Stillwell Learjet before joining RMIT Technical and Further Education.  Initially Doug was a lecturer at RMIT and worked his way up through the department until he was Head of Department Aerospace Technology when he retired in 1996. He was also an ATC Cadet before becoming an RAAF National Serviceman and RAAF Reservist for 36 years.

Being involved with the RAAF introduced Doug to the RSL.  In Benalla, Doug served the Benalla Sub-Branch both as Secretary and Treasurer. He was also Treasurer of Benalla/Euroa RSL and helped in a large way with the Violet Town branch of Legacy.

In Baddaginnie, he was involved with the Baddaginnie Community Development Association activities including the formation of the opportunity shop where his wife Jan was deeply involved. Doug also was involved with the Baddaginnie Primary School, Neighbourhood Watch and the CFA.

When Doug and Jan have visitors to Benalla, they often show them Benalla’s magnificent parklands which include the Art Gallery, the Monash Bridge and Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop statue. He also shows them the former RAAF No 11 Elementary Flying School based at Benalla Aerodrome. This made an important contribution to Australia’s war effort.  The migrant hostel which made a post war contribution to developing our nation is also on his list.

Doug thinks that Benalla has played an important overall contribution to primary industry, commerce, communications and technology.

As a mentor for the current generation Doug has three ideas that he imparts to them. Firstly, he advises young people to make every use of the opportunity that your parents, your school and your peers offer you, as these opportunities could lead to jobs. Secondly Doug says do not give up easily. If you at first you don’t succeed, be prepared to convince yourself that out of failure is often the path to success. And thirdly Doug says be considerate to all people, regardless of race or faith. Be respectful and truthful and both you and your associates will benefit.

Great words of advice! 



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When Dr Brian Greed was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) on Australia Day 1995, the citation was made “In recognition of service to the community and to local government, particularly the Benalla Water Board”. Brian was elected to the Benalla City Council in an extraordinary election in 1980, and was re-elected in 1980, 83, 86, 89, 92, until the Council’s restructure.

He was Mayor of the Benalla City Council for 3 terms 1986 – 89. Other Committees Brian was on during his time in the Benalla City Council were as Chairman Town Planning Committee 1980 – 85; Member Finance Committee 1985 – 90 (Chairman 86 – 89); Chairman Benalla and District Rural residential Study 1982 and the Airport Advisory Committee 1982 – 1994. Brian’s involvement with the Benalla Water Board spanned three decades. He was elected to the Benalla Waterworks Trust and Benalla Sewerage Authority (later Benalla Water Board) in1974 and became Chairman in 1985 until the restructure in Dec. 94.

On a broader scale Brian was elected to the Executive of Victorian Water and Sewerage Authorities Association (later Water Authorities Association of Victoria) in 1986 – 94. He became President in 1990–91, and was on the Victorian. Roadsides Conservation Committee in 1989–92. Brian was also appointed to the State Government’s Water Industry Consultative Committee (Peak body) in1990– 94. After the water industry restructure, he was appointed Chairman Ovens Water 1995 –98, and then Chairman of the amalgamated North-East Water in 1998–2001. A suitable honor was the naming of the new treatment plant for Benalla “The Brian Greed Water Treatment Plant” by Minister of Water Resources & Deputy Premier Patrick McNamara MP, in 1999.

These remarkable achievements were only part of Brian’s contribution to the Benalla Community. Arriving in Benalla as a locum dentist for three months in 1955, Brian’s stay in Benalla was extended when the original dentist Ian Westwood died a few days after Brian had arrived. There followed 42 years of dentistry in Benalla. Brian settled well into the Benalla community, and together with his late wife June raised three children and became very involved in the community.

Brian joined the Rotary Club of Benalla in 1957 and became President 1965–66, followed by being appointed to the District committee Rotary Foundation 1967–1968. In 2004-06 he participated in the District Rotary International Friendship Exchange during which period he visited Mississippi, Newfoundland, Brazil, and India on Rotary exchange. Brian was awarded the “Paul Harris Medal” for service to Rotary and the community in 1988. For this article Brian was asked what changes / events have you seen that you consider significant in our local history? His answer was:

• Construction of the swimming pool by Apex 1955

• Construction of the lake to replace the bullrush infested Broken River.

• Establishment of the Art Gallery

• Construction of the Senior Citizens’ Building

• Bypassing the former Hume Highway through Benalla

• CBD streetscape improvements 1988

• Completion of the controversial Ceramic Mural Garden

• Improvement of the Benalla water supply and establishment of the “Brian Greed Water Treatment works” facility.

• Municipal restructure 1994, and its doubtful success for Benalla.

Restructure of the Water Industry was much more successful, resulting in major benefits for all towns.

Brian was a member Benalla Art Gallery Advisory Council 1980–94 and was Chairman in 1983–94. He was re-appointed for the period 2002–05. He was also a member of the Benalla and District Memorial Hospital Committee of Management from 1976 to 1980. Other organizations that Brian has been involved with include the Benalla Camera Club, Benalla Film society, Benalla Light Opera Company and the Gliding Club of Victoria. Brian is also a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a Justice of the Peace. Some of Brian’s other achievements include building a RV-4 2-seater all-metal aeroplane and being a licensed private pilot with 2000 hours of power and 250 hours gliding experience. What an impressive resume for one person who has lived in Benalla for 66 years. Congratulations Brian!

His words of wisdom for the community are: Be sure that the people you elect to Council have a knowledge of the Local Government Act and have sufficient skills in economics and business management to control a very large operation.



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Geraldine McCorkell, together with husband Gary and her family moved to Benalla in 1974, and has lived continuously in Benalla since then. Geraldine is the mother of 5 boys, and was involved with St Joseph’s and FCJ mother’s clubs when her boys were at the local schools. Geraldine also worked for the Diocese of Bendigo for 25 years, initially in a part time capacity. Geraldine always held the philosophy that education was assisted with books.

After retirement Geraldine decided to volunteer at the Benalla Library, and during her period stacking shelves also found time to conduct Rhyme Time which has been a focus for pre kindergarten children. At this time Geraldine also started taking books around to people who were housebound. As part of a volunteer fundraising for the library, A Friends of the Library Group started to sell books at the library and also at street stalls and other venues such as markets. Geraldine was part of the group who lobbied intensely for the relocation of the library from the RSL buildings to its current home. This covered many years of meetings, delegations and promotions. About 8 years ago The Friends of the Benalla Library set up a book shop near Hide’s Bakery which is now known as the RedB4 Bookshop. This is run by 45 volunteers 5 days a week and has been extremely successful in fund raising for the library by selling donated secondhand books.

From 2008 Geraldine became heavily involved in developing U3A Benalla. In 2008 she joined the Committee and started taking minutes which was a skill she had developed during her working career. As the membership of U3A Benalla grew Geraldine was part of the group of people who lobbied to find more suitable premises than the original small room at the high school which was being used. Geraldine was President of U3A Benalla from 2011 to 2013, and during this period was guest speaker at many functions promoting U3A Benalla. Geraldine remained on the Committee of U3A Benalla from 2013 and in 2017 became Secretary of U3A Benalla, a position which she holds today.

In 2019 Geraldine became a member of Age Friendly Benalla. More recently she has been a keen promoter of the Information Hub at the Library run on a Thursday morning which provides information to older people of Benalla about what opportunities are available to them. Geraldine’s excellent management skills have resulted in maintaining and expanding the membership base of the groups she has participated in.

Well done Geraldine. Thank you for a very worthwhile contribution to the Benalla Community over many years.



Ian Gill

Ian Gill was born in 1937 and lived with his parents in Strathmore, where his formative years of early education occurred at Essendon Primary School. Later, as a teenager, he attended Essendon High School, where he met his future wife, Phyllis Gill Fisher, both aged sixteen, during mixed singing choir classes, under the tutelage of a gifted teacher, Fanny Watten. Recognising Phyllis’s talent, Fanny used Phyllis to pitch the parts, singing classical tunes such as “Panis Angelicus”.

Ian was an accomplished athlete in high school, playing hockey for the Victorian Schoolboy’s team, also participating in running events at Victorian State School level.

He then attended Dookie Agricultural College, graduating with an Honours degree in Agricultural Science Studies. Following graduation, he farmed fat lambs and rice at Benerembah, near Griffith.

Returning to Melbourne for teacher training, he was appointed to Balmoral Consolidated School teaching agriculture and science in 1960. Phyllis and Ian married in the January. Later, two sons, Jeff and Matthew came along.

His teaching abilities were duly noted and he was invited to lecture classes of training teachers in Teachers Colleges at Frankston, Melbourne and also Toorak, during the years spanning 1965 to 1972.

In 1969 Ian introduced Planetarium sessions for primary children, a special year for all concerned.

Ian returned to studies at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Geology. Here he also developed a deep interest in politics.

With Phyllis, he became a director of the Australian Nomads Resource Association (ANRF) working with the Gurindji and the Desert Nomads from Strelley station, near Port Hedland in the Pilbara. They offered their consultancy talents to a West Australian group of Aboriginal clans people who wished to develop an educational centre which catered to the needs of their people.

The Elders wanted an educational centre which was run by a Board of Aboriginal leaders, where all the teachers working within this centre were to be Aboriginal, as were the students. The courses of study were to be devised to maintain their culture and language and take into account the geography and geology of the land that the people lived on.

Ian chaired the meeting that established the school which was developed by Mt Lawler Teacher College. This year makes 50 years of the school’s operation.

The venture proved so successful that it continues today, operating on the original model. (How prophetic was this model, given the current Voice Referendum?)

He and Phyllis always had an affinity with the land. From Melbourne he and Phyllis decided to move to the North East Victoria countryside, with Ian taking up the position of Deputy Principal at Mansfield Primary School in 1973.

Ever concerned with the needs of his pupils, Ian applied for Grants Funding to secure the very first Community Bus to be used in schools. Many of his school students had never seen the sea and the Australian coastline, he explained. Given that our country is also the planet’s largest island, he believed that they should have the opportunity to learn first-hand about the Geography by visiting the seaside towns.

During their time at Mansfield, Ian, Phyllis and the ANRF continued their consultancy work.

Ian was appointed Regional Teacher Education Officer at the new North East Victoria Regional Office of Education, based in Benalla.

The Karmel report put funds into the hands of teachers after the Whitlam years. Rather than teachers having to travel to Melbourne, and be absent from home in seeking to upgrade their skills, this allowed teachers to educate the region’s teachers. With the advent of Computer Technology becoming a necessity for classroom use and teaching, the regional delivery of knowledge was a valuable asset.

In 1979, Ian formed the Educational sociological research Association (EDRA) which invited the American psychiatrist William Glasser M.D. to visit Australia. Glasser had developed principles of teaching and learning referred to as “Reality Theory”. It proposed a more humane model for student management and learning. Along with Piaget’s theories, Glasser’s ideas were embedded into the Victorian teacher training programs, resulting in a kinder, child centred approach to learning. Several Reality Theory centres still exist up the East Coast.

Ian selected an early retirement from this position in 1993, keen to start a new career as a wool grower, in conjunction with his wife, Phyllis. By now, the Gills had five grandchildren. Utilising the first initial of each grandchild’s name, they formed, and trade marked the business known as “Jemala”.

In 1996, the Gills established a shedded sheep wool growing business in Benalla. They were the first to test the fibre diameter of all sheep placed in the shed, and the first to establish a written code of conduct for the care of the sheep.

In 2001 the Gill family produced the world’s finest bale of wool, measuring 12.9 micron, which led to an association with Lora Piana in Italy, the company driving the luxury wool market at the time.

The quality of knitting and finishing, enabled by the use of this, one of a kind in the world, Magliera Gemma 45 gauge knitting machine, produced Jemala garments that were appreciated by an international luxury market, including Queen Elizabeth 11. The Queen accepted the gift of three twin sets and a shawl. Other fashion connoisseurs of Jemala garments also include Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Mila Jovovich, along with all the Heads of Government and their spouses who attended the APEC Conference in Sydney in 2007.

The Gill family had the honour of one of their fleeces being chosen for display at the “Woolmark” pavilion at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Continuous research by Jemala led to the development of a silk and wool blend fabric trademarked as “Warmsilk”. This fabric has the look of silk, but wicks so that it does not cling to the body in humid weather. When conditions are cool, it provides warmth, which silk will not do. Access to a 2.8 metre wide loom allows designers to cut “Warmsilk” on the bias, affording greater drape.

The tightening of the Chinese market and the Ukrainian Invasion, thus the loss of the Russian Oligarch luxury market, brought about the decision to close the Jemala business after 27 years, however the science behind the ultra-fine wool production remains as a success.

Humbly, Ian says that he has been lucky in life, that he has been in the right place, at the right time. His record of earnest endeavour, however, indicates that he is a true Benalla Treasure leaving behind a fine Legacy for the education of students and teachers in our State, and others. His achievements, with his wife and family, through their Jemala business leave Benalla and District with an international appreciation of Ian Gill’s principles of Best Practice application.


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Joyce Borschmann has lived in Benalla for 53 of her 92 years. Born in Echuca, she trained as a speech and drama teacher, teaching in a number of country Victorian schools as well as a year in England. She taught at Swanpool and all three Benalla state schools with a few years as a Language Development Consultant.

Apart from teaching Joyce has been involved in several local community organisations and projects.  She was a member of the Arts Council and its President, inviting well known groups such as the Melbourne Chorale and the King’s Singers to perform here. The Benalla Museum, which is one of the best in Australia, was another interest. She was a committee member and volunteer there for 13 years.

Due to her interest in speech and drama Joyce joined the Benalla Drama Company in the 1970s. As a member of the community education group Forum, she held evening drama workshops and brought keynote speakers to the town.

Joyce is very proud of the Life Membership of U3A Benalla she was awarded for starting the Singing for Fun Group in 2006 with 12 members. This group quickly grew to over 50 members and acquired its own piano and equipment. Joyce is still one of 40 members who sing at The Hub in Cooinda Village.

During the 1980s Joyce and her late husband Bob built a mud brick house at Lima South, with a local builder, family, and numerous friends. They made the bricks, cut down trees from their bush for poles in the house. Many interested locals contacted them for advice on building with mud bricks. They developed a large sustainable garden which was part of the Victorian Open Gardens scheme for a number of years.

Since 1970, the changes to Benalla that Joyce considers most significant are Lake Benalla and the walking track around it, the Art Gallery, and the beautiful mural. In her opinion U3A greatly contributes to Benalla being an excellent town for retirees.

Currently Joyce participates in a weekly exercise group that began 30 years ago with four friends. She looks forward to Saturday morning coffee where she and her friends discuss political issues including climate change and the treatment of refugees. Her advice to everyone is keep your sense of humor and keep singing.

Well done, Joyce. You have made a great contribution to the cultural side of Benalla, and we all enjoy your company.



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Lennie Griffiths, who has lived in Benalla for all of his 81 years, runs the successful LG Boxing Club Benalla from the railway goods shed which is adjacent to the Benalla Railway Station.

Lennie started a gym in his father’s dairy shed in 1987 but closed this in 2001 due to problems with public liability insurance. After a short time, the Benalla Rural City Council leased the railway goods shed from V-line, and Lennie sub leases the premises from the Council.

Around 50 people use the LG Boxing Club per week which includes young boys in prep up to people preparing for a fight. The youngsters need to be accompanied by a parent or grandparent and start arriving after 3pm three days a week for their work out. This starts with a run down to a fence about 150 metres away, and then back to the goods shed which has gym equipment such as exercise bikes and a rowing machine as well as a full-size boxing ring. Lennie remembers one evening when 70 people were using the facility.

Lennie tells a story of the fact that he and the late Lionel Rose fought on the same program in Festival Hall one evening. Lionel won his bout, but Lennie was not so fortunate.

There have been several success stories to emerge from the LG Boxing Club. Local lad Tom Newton won a Silver medal in the Australian titles, whilst Joel Eastwood won the Regional Masters Welterweight title in 2022. Paul Christie won a Victorian and Australian super middleweight championship in 2022 also.

Starting off was difficult for Lennie. He had to form a club and become an incorporated body. Lennie says Tracey Beaton who is the Secretary of the LG Boxing Club, was a great help with the paperwork.

The club charges $60 per year for adults and $10 per year for juniors. It is a not-for-profit club with some large expenses. Boxing gloves are $150 per pair, speed balls $130 each and a head guard about $200. All participants also need a dentist made mouth guard.

When visiting fighters come to Benalla to train at Lennie’s facility, Lennie often suggests that they follow the silo art trail to see some interesting sights around the district.

Lennie’s other passion is the Benalla Fire Brigade which he has been involved with for 63 years. He was Captain of the Fire Brigade for 18 years. During the 1980s and 1990s, Lennie and his wife Betty travelled to fire brigade competitions all over Victoria.

Lennie thinks young people should set goals and work toward those goals.

Lennie has a motto on the wall: Boxing is not a game, it’s a way of life 24/7. If you can’t commit, don’t get in.



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Margaret Walshe has lived in Benalla for 40 years. Her working life in Benalla was employment with the previously known Regional Department of Health and Community Services. This service was based in Benalla but covered the North East and Goulburn regions of Victoria. The position also entailed reporting back to senior health officials in Melbourne. In the early 1990s Margaret was responsible for setting up services with local Health Departments and local Government Services. Today we have Benalla Community Health Service which is the result of an amalgamation of services to benefit the client.

Moving into retirement Margaret found her nursing knowledge invaluable when the floods struck Benalla in 1993. Familiar with Regional Displan (Disaster Plan) she recognised the need to register all evacuees who came into the relief centre using notebooks and pencils provided by the Benalla Police. She tells a delightful story of bread being dropped from a helicopter and the Red Cross ladies making basic sandwiches of unbuttered bread with a slice of cheese enjoyed by the hungry residents who had left their homes during the night.

In 2002 Margaret and the late Helen Mitchell, who was an early President of U3A Benalla, held a U3A Benalla Health and Wellbeing in Later Life Seminar at St Joseph’s Hall in Benalla where 120 people attended. This was the basis for setting up U3A Lifeball, a sport designed to give appropriate exercise to older people, Singing for Fun; Easy Walks and Mid Week Walks These programs were an outcome of this seminar and continue today.

Margaret served on the U3A Benalla Committee for 10 years. Margaret was a member of the Benalla Health Board of Management for 7 years after her retirement. No doubt the Board benefitted from her wide nursing experience. She found this position fulfilling working with fellow members of the Board.

In retirement Margaret enjoys the many and varied U3A Benalla programs; visits to the Benalla Art Gallery; walks around the lake and a regular exercise program. Her philosophy is to get involved in the community, don’t give up and keep the mind and body active.

Thank you Margaret for a huge contribution to Benalla and district.



Norma Grubb OAM

Norma was born in 1932 in Wangaratta and brought up in Beechworth. Her education included five years of teacher training at Melbourne University, Melbourne Teachers College, and Larnook Teachers College, achieving the Diploma, Domestic Arts and the Trained Secondary Teacher’s Certificate. In 1954, Norma was appointed as a teacher at Benalla High School. In 1956 Norma was promoted to Leongatha High School where she taught and was, for a time, Senior Mistress.

As a child, Norma enjoyed many sporting achievements including becoming Athletics Junior Champion and High School Netball Captain. She played netball for the Larnook team and was a member of the Melbourne Teacher’s College softball team.

Norma married Peter Grubb in 1957 and settled in Benalla. Norma and Peter have two daughters and three grandsons.

Returning to teaching at Benalla High School, Norma taught Textiles, Fashion Design and Home Economics to many generations of students and was Head of the Textiles Department for 24 years. She also taught evening school for the Council of Adult Education (1954-2000) including Dressmaking, Cake Decorating, Spinning, Embroidery and Smocking.

Norma was a dedicated teacher, working tirelessly helping students, especially with the Gifted Children’s program. Students excelled under her tutorship, winning prizes at the Benalla Show, the Royal Melbourne Show and in the Secondary School Fashion Design Competition. In her final year of teaching, 40 out of 45 entries in the Schools Section of the Melbourne show were awarded certificates. Norma enthusiastically supported the school’s fundraising effort, by coordinating the publication and sale of recipe books compiled by her students. Norma was a keen supporter of the Benalla Rose Festival and headed the Benalla High Schools’ float entry in the Benalla Rose Festival for 10 years.

Norma assumed the role of Managing Director of the family business, Miller’s Department Store, after the death of her husband, Peter, in 2006.  The business has operated for over 130 years in Benalla and still remains in the family. Miller’s was awarded the Small Business of the Year Award in 2010 and received a Special Recognition Award for 120 years of Business and Serving the Community in 2011.

She has a strong interest in cultural and creative arts. In 1955 she joined the local Camera Club, the Benalla Film Society, and the Light Opera Society. In 1957, she joined the Committee of the Benalla Arts Group and continued this until 1965. She was also secretary of one of the Benalla Music Listeners’ Groups run through Adult Education, Melbourne for nine years.

Norma was a member of CWA for over 20 years and was Secretary of the Benalla branch for many of these years. She was Treasurer of the Benalla Floral Art Group, a member of the Benalla Hospital Auxiliary and was a Victorian Red Cross Emergency Catering Team Leader in Benalla. She was active in the bush fire relief and catering in 2008, 2009 and 2010. She is a Life Member of the Benalla Historical Society, the Friends of Benalla Library and the Benalla Art Gallery.

She joined Benalla Business and Professional Women’s Club in 1972, served on the Committee and wrote and hand-delivered their newsletter until the group ceased in 1995. Norma also served on the Benalla City Australia Day Committee since its inauguration in 1970 through to 2016.

After the 1993 floods, Norma collected 1,700 signatures in seven days in a petition demanding action to prevent future flooding. Norma was also the only woman on the Benalla Flood Plain Management Commission.

As a life member of the Benalla & District Historical Society, Norma has been associated with special costume exhibitions and costume conservation.

Norma organised twelve Flower Festivals for the Holy Trinity Anglican Church Benalla, served on the Parish Council and was Treasurer of the Ladies Group for over 20 years. She coordinated the embroidery and fabrication by a team of local women of the magnificent altar frontals that depict the four seasons of the church.

Norma is a talented creative artist and has won many awards at the Benalla Show, the Royal Melbourne Show and is a member of the Embroiderers Guild of Victoria.

Norma’s involvement in the Community is recognised with multiple awards. These include:

  • The Benalla Rotary Award for Vocational Service – Pride of Workmanship 1987-1988.
  • Together with husband Peter, in 1994 Norma received a Benalla Australia Day Achievement Award for continuing in business after such devastation in the floods. Their two businesses and home were flooded in the 1993 floods.
  • The Benalla Rural City’s Australia Day Achievement Award in 2006.
  • Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 2014.
  • Australian Museum and Galleries Volunteer of the Year, 2019.



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When Ray O’Shannessy received his Order of Australia Medal in 2013 it was for service to the Benalla community. Ray has worked for a number of organisations in Benalla and is an Honorary Gold Medallion member of the All Blacks Football Club in recognition of his assistance with the formation of the All Blacks Cooperative. He has been Chairman of the Benalla Cemetery Trust from 1995 to 2019.  Another important position he has held has been Chairman of St Joseph’s Parish Finance Committee from 1988 to 2003.   

Ray was also instrumental in the formation of Ballandella, which has now been absorbed by Yooralla, and the construction of their Day Training Centre and the residential premises. Ray also is proud of his association with the Salvation Army Breakfast Club which spanned 13 years.

In his business life Ray worked with Victorian Producers Co-Op in Benalla (1950-1955), St Arnaud (1955-58), Wodonga (1958-1961), Melbourne Head Office (1961-1963) and again in Benalla (1963-1967).  In 1967 Ray changed jobs, and, after intensive study entered the partnership of Smith O’Shannessy as a Chartered Accountant. Ray was a Chartered Accountant in Benalla for over 30 years.

He was secretary and a syndicate member of the River Gums Estate which developed 150 residential blocks adjacent to Samaria Road. Continuing this theme, Ray was joint secretary and administrator of the Benalla Co-operative Housing Society Group which financed 525 homes in Benalla. 

Ray married Bernadette in 1967 and together they have raised four wonderful children in Benalla. Bernadette has been actively involved in many committees associated with Ride Avenue Kindergarten, St Joseph’s Primary School, FCJ College in Benalla and Galen College in Wangaratta. Bernadette received the Diocese of Sandhurst Community Service Award for her work at Galen College.

Bernadette has delivered meals in Benalla as part of the Meals on Wheels service to the community for 51 years and was a Benalla Council Aged Care Services driver for over 20 years.  She has also been a Counsellor and Welfare Officer for St Vinnie’s in Benalla for many years as well as being heavily involved with the Benalla Ladies Golf Club. Bernadette has been recognised by Rotary for her service to the community by being named as a Paul Harris Fellow.

Ray regrets that he has seen the destruction of many historic buildings in Benalla. These include the railway station dining rooms, the old Post Office, The Bank of New South Wales building, the ANZ bank building and the Benalla Hotel which was on the corner of Nunn and Bridge Street.

However, he also has appreciated the introduction of Lake Benalla, the Benalla Art Gallery and the Civic Centre (now the library), Cooinda Retirement Village and the Ballandella Day Training Centre.

Benalla as a community have benefitted in many ways from Ray’s accountancy skills. He has been Chairman of Directors of the Benalla Credit union as well as a Director for several years. He was Treasurer of the Benalla Rose Festival Committee in 1969, as well as Secretary and Treasurer of the Ballandella Committee of Management for several years.

Ray is a Life Member of the Benalla Bowls club having played lawn bowls in Benalla for over 60 years. He has also held several positions at the Benalla Bowls club which include twenty plus years on the Benalla Bowls club finance committee and was Finance Director for 4 years at the Benalla Bowls Club Board of Directors. He was also Secretary of the Benalla Bowls club from 2006-10.

As a ninety-year-old Ray currently enjoys the Singing for Fun group at U3A Benalla and also the Lakeside Probus Club. Ray has been part of the U3A Benalla Finance Committee from 2006 to the present time, as well as U3A Benalla Treasurer from 2006-2009 and Assistant Treasurer in 2010-11.

Ray likes to tell his grandchildren that there is no substitute for hard work. Also, that you will find some good in everyone you meet.

Well done, Ray and Bernadette. You both have made a great contribution to the community of Benalla.  



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Rex Nankervis was born in 1933 and became interested in first aid and firefighting due to demonstrations given on street corners during World War II. Rex joined the Caulfield division of the St John Ambulance brigade as a Cadet at 10 years of age and became involved with the Association for the rest of his life. 

Rex was promoted to Divisional Officer, Divisional Superintendent, Corps Officer and was made a member of the order of St. John in 1974 having conducted first aid classes in Melbourne, Tallangatta, Benalla, Wangaratta, St James and Stewarton. During this time, he also acted as a volunteer ambulance officer and committee member of the North East Ambulance Service while living in Tallangatta and Benalla. 

Rex attended Brighton Technical School, and later became apprenticed as an electrician before going on to study Industrial Management at RMIT. He worked as an Estimator before moving into management where he managed a manufacturing firm for several years. He then decided to conduct his own business and went to Tallangatta where a lot of electrical extension work was in progress.

At Tallangatta he joined Apex, became its President and went on to become District Governor. In Tallangatta he was also involved with the ambulance service, which was manned by volunteers, as well as being involved with building the kindergarten and serving on school committees.

Rex married Margaret in 1956 and together they raised four children. Shortly after he joined the AMP Society, which brought him to Benalla. Being a lawn bowler, he served as Secretary, Match Committee Chairman, Selector and a Director of the Board for many years. When the club decided to take in poker machines and the rebuilding of the club, he was involved with the planning and execution of that project. He also served as Secretary of the Ovens and Murray Board and was made a life member of the Benalla Bowls Club in 2008. Rex still plays bowls.

As part of his business Rex contracted to the Victorian Electoral Commission and was the Returning Officer for the Electoral District of Benalla for some 30 years. This required him to hire staff and polling places, train staff, requisition the necessary materials, distribute it to the necessary locations, organise its collection, conduct the poll and announce the election of the successful candidate. The three censuses he conducted were similar in operation except they covered a greater area from Wallan to the Murray.

From 1983 Rex served on the Benalla Cemetery Trust as Secretary/Manager and Board Member for 33 years, only retiring after the sudden loss of his wife Margaret in 2017.   Margaret who had always worked with him, both in business and in his community service.

In 1994 Rex was awarded the Benalla Citizen of the Year for services to Benalla city.

Rex was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2003 and was grateful for the Benalla Council community car which took him to Melbourne for treatments. Finding there was little support for people who have bowel surgery, Rex set up a support group for others who may require assistance. Rex was instrumental in having a stomal therapist in the region, and people from as far as Myrtleford, Shepparton, Mansfield and Wangaratta now have access to a full time stomal therapist.  

In 2013 Rex was recognised for his community service with an Order of Australia Medal.

Currently Rex is a member of the Benalla Australia Day Advisory Committee, the Age Friendly Benalla Committee, and the Benalla Rose City Probus Club where he has served a year as its President.

Thank you, Rex, for your great community service. 



Rupe Cheetham

Rupe Cheetham was brought up in Ivanhoe in Melbourne. On leaving school his first job was in a chocolate factory before he started at the Mulwala Explosives factory quality control laboratory. Here he rotated through the acid lab and the solvent lab before moving to the explosive’s lab.

Whilst in Yarrawonga, he joined the Yarrawonga Ski Club and became secretary. During Easter in 1954 the Yarrawonga Ski Club conducted the Australian Water Ski Championships on Lake Mulwala. In winter Rupe travelled to Albury with a mate to play hockey for the Young Anglicans. During that competition Rupe’s team won the grand final, and Rupe had the distinction of hitting the winning goal. In the following year he played hockey for the “Country Men” with a team of players who travelled hundreds of miles to play hockey.

1955 saw Rupe move to Benalla to work for the Country Roads Board, managing their Regional Soils Laboratory in Mair Street in the old Mechanics Institute which is now the Costume Museum. The job entailed testing all the materials used in constructing and maintenance of roads and bridges in North East Victoria. The job also included the design of road pavements and ready-mix concrete design for bridges.

In 1957 Rupe wasn’t able to play hockey in Albury so took up coaching the local Benalla girl’s hockey team, and also completed his first hockey umpires’ course. The Benalla team played in the Wangaratta competition and won the grand final that year.

Rupe also joined the Benalla Camera Club at that time, and became the projectionist for the 35mm coloured slide presentations. It was here that he met Keith Brown, another keen photographer and met Keith’s cousin Gwen Brown who became his wife.

The move to Benalla meant he was much closer to the ski fields and in 1958 successfully called a meeting to form the Benalla Ski Club and was elected its inaugural president. Today the club boasts a four story, 50 bed, ski lodge at Mt. Buller.

In 1961 Rupe and Gwen moved to New Guinea where Rupe managed the Port Moresby Commonwealth Department of Works laboratory carrying out testing for roads, airports, dams and major buildings over the whole of Papua New Guinea. Whilst in P & NG Rupe represented P & NG hockey team against Australian teams winning two premierships, one whilst captain. Rupe also took up Judo in P & NG, becoming secretary of the Port Moresby club, and seeing the membership expand from 10 to 80 while he was there.

After a period in Tasmania, Rupe and Gwen moved back to Benalla. In 1972 Rupe was elected the first secretary of the Benalla Little Athletics Club. Their first track and field events were on the Showgrounds, with over 150 children participating each Saturday morning in a range of athletic activities which included running, high and long jumping, shotput and discus. Later the Little Athletics moved to Churchill Park. Benalla competed each year against clubs from North East Victoria, and selected children who competed in Melbourne at the State championships. Rupe became the North East Regional Competition Director and was Manager of the Victorian team at the Australian Championships in Sydney in 1976.

In 1987 Rupe was selected for the Victorian Country over 40 Veteran hockey team. That year the Australian Veteran Championships were held in Hobart, and Rupe and Gwen took their car over on the ferry and caught up with Tasmanian friends.

Over the next 25 years he represented Victoria in progressive age groups up to the over 70s in 150 games, plus participated in 50 international games.

Rupe retired from work in 1994 and joined the Benalla Probus Club and the Benalla Family History Group. Rupe’s association with the Family History group continued for 29 years, during which time he was President of the group for three years.

In 2000 Rupe was chosen to carry the Olympic torch just north of Benalla. He was accompanied by a junior runner, who was his granddaughter, Rebecca. Another highlight that year was being presented with the Australian Sports Medal by the Australian Governor General Sir William Deane.

In 2002 Rupe joined U3A and has participated in several activities including Life ball at the Benalla Indoor Recreation Centre. After attending an umpire course, and when Rupe and Gwen were travelling around Australia, Rupe became a Roving Ambassador for Life ball; and promoted the game in 40 different locations covering Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia.

 Rupe instigated Astronomy Benalla and later joined the Albury Wodonga Astronomy club and learnt much about the night sky. Rupe has presented talks to schools and youth groups about astronomy and also run a monthly morning astronomy session on ABC Shepparton for 9 years informing listeners of what, where and when to see stellar events.

Congratulations Rupe on a huge contribution to hockey, little athletics, life ball and astronomy in Benalla.    



Shirley Robinson.jpg

Shirley Robertson’s passion outside her family has been her garden. Not only has she relaxed in her own garden and enjoyed watching the gliders and birds, but she has also opened her magnificent garden three times to raise money for the Benalla Hospital Auxiliary. Shirley has been supporting local hospitals since she was 15.

In 1952 she played in a women’s football team in Birchip to raise funds for the local hospital in Birchip. Since being in Benalla Shirley has been an active member of the Benalla Hospital Auxiliary for more than 20 years and has been chair of the Auxiliary for 15 years.

Shirley’s involvement in the Benalla Community has also included over 25 years being a member of the Brail Auxiliary, with two years as President. She has also been involved with the Soroptimists for 20 years, Lakeside Probus, Jaycettes, Benalla 31 Primary School (as President and with the school parent association), Spastic Society fundraising group, Business and Professional Women’s group and the Library committee.

Shirley has also helped gather recipes for a number of local recipe books. This community involvement with a variety of community groups no doubt contributed to her being awarded the OAM in 2010, and the Citizen of the Year in 2014. Having lived in Benalla for over 50 years, Shirley has many friends and connections here. Being a keen gardener Shirley enjoys the Benalla Botanic Gardens as well as the Art Gallery, the library, the Museum and the mural. She proudly told us that the only writing on the mural is in Braille.

During Shirley’s time in Benalla, she has been involved in many projects, including several that have struggled against community criticism, with some even going to court. These projects have included the art gallery, swimming pool, glasshouse, museum extension (to house the miniature house), library and even an attempt a number of years ago to sell off a number of paintings from the Art Gallery collection. People in Benalla have often been against significant projects, so nothing much has changed. Shirley believes that people should live in the town, not on the town. And that they should be involved in the community and not expect everything for nothing.

An amazing contribution to Benalla. Thank you, Shirley.



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Stewart Coutts was born in 1944 in Melbourne.  As a teacher, Stewart worked at Clarke Street Primary, and later, Benalla West for many years. During this time Stewart became an active member of the Benalla Garden Club and was awarded a life membership in 2002. He served as President and Secretary of the Club during this time and worked on many other tasks within the Club.   

Stewart supplied many plants, bulbs and produce from his own garden, at each monthly meeting, for fundraising purposes. These funds enabled the Benalla Garden Club to support and enhance projects for the Benalla Rural City Council local projects.

Stewart was a very strong supporter of the Benalla and District Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, fundraising for equipment for our hospital for over 20 years.  He provided hundreds of bulbs, packaged, labelled and priced, as well as hundreds of potted plants for the hospital stalls, netting thousands of dollars for patient care.

The Red Cross Shop has also reaped the benefit of his generosity of potted plants, vegetables and bulbs, every week for 12 years.  A truly magnificent effort. Stewart’s generosity has also assisted and supported the Riding for the Disabled in their fundraising ventures. At the Cooinda Aged Care and Retirement Village Benalla, Stewart has assisted with the vegetable garden. He has supplied planning and gardening advice to local school children who help there. Not only do the children grow in knowledge, but the residents can harvest the bountiful produce of the children’s earnest endeavour.

Stewart has provided years of work and volunteer service to many organisations within the Benalla community, all of which have raised many thousands of dollars, over time, to benefit the Benalla and district community. Stewart was well known at the Benalla Garden Club for his quizzes that were put together to help make bus trips go faster when attending open gardens, tours, and visits to nurseries. His quizzes also lightened the atmosphere at the annual Garden Club Christmas parties. Stewart participated in the Open Gardens Day, welcoming the community to his home and garden. He sold plants and bulbs each year, helping the Garden Club run their Open Gardens Day in conjunction with the Benalla Festival. 

A treasure truly blossomed. 

Steward was awarded the “Benalla Achiever of the Year” at the Australia Day Awards in 2013 and became a recipient of the Order of Australia Medal for services to the Benalla community in 2017.



Benalla Treasures in the Ensign

Ensign-Edition-Feb-2022.pdf(PDF, 494KB)

Ensign-Edition-Mar-2023.pdf(PDF, 899KB)

Ensign-Edition-Oct-2023.pdf(PDF, 802KB)