National award brings honour to Blyth

The honour that a Queen’s Birthday brings to individuals is equally as impressive for their hometown, the Blyth community shares.

Last month their much-loved resident Hannah Wandel, who continues to call Mid North her home, was presented with an Order of Australia Medal (OAM).

At 32, she is quite possibly one of a few young South Australians to so far achieve the recognition.

Hannah, an advocate for regional Australia, whose work has led her to empower young, rural women, was awarded for her service to women’s affairs, and the community.

While she currently hails from Canberra, her legacy of works and roots remains strong in the region.

Blyth resident Janet Zweck said while the announcement of Hannah’s award came as a surprise to the township of between 300-350, she added it also “came as no surprise” due to having witnessed her determination to succeed as a child.

“Once we heard, the good news just spread,” the Blyth newsletter reporter shared.

Both the Wandel and the Zweck families connected years ago, especially when their children attended Blyth Primary School in the 1980/90s.

As Janet recalls, Hannah spent a majority of her primary school years as an only female among a year level of boys, in a school of about 60 students.

“Hannah has always been a high-achiever,” Janet said. Yet added that mostly growing up amongst the boys, not only gave Hannah good mates yet an opportunity to test her talents.

“She was good at sports and quite smart and you could see that from a young age,” Janet said.

For parents Denby and Graeme, their third daughter’s successes are the result of hard work and determination.

“Growing up, like most families here, we instilled strong values which Hannah and her two sisters continue to hold today,” Denby said.

“This and the fact Hannah was always so easy going and easily made friends wherever she went, like sports events such as netball, has helped her where she is today.”

“She has incredible social skills which I believe has helped her to achieve so much.”

While all Wandel girls headed to the city to complete their final years of high school, Denby said the couple always made sure their daughters’ connections in the country remained strong.

“They also knew they had work to do and Hannah would always be out either helping with the sheep or spraying the weeds.”

Hannah’s achievements, as a young person, included travelling overseas on a university exchange solo and completing a law degree.

While Denby said Hannah’s life is much cemented in city life, the country girl remains.

In October she returns to the region to wed her fiancé Tom Wheaton, a celebration the family and close friends look forward to, especially after the ceremony was postponed last year due to COVID-19’s reach.

A month since the award was announced, the township says the honour means much more than a medal.

“We all agree it is so good to see such a young person achieve this type of success,” Janet Zweck added.

She is further heartened by the fact Hannah has remained true to her roots, having founded and chaired the national non-profit organisation Country to Canberra.

The initiative enables her to encourage Australian rural women, including those dotted throughout the Mid North to pursue leadership roles.

As her website describes, her work has included travelling 32,000km to reach more than 3500 girls in 80 bush communities to drive change.

Currently, Hannah is a senior executive within the Commonwealth public service at the National Drought and Flood Agency.