By Eleanor Wilson
Hallam’s Marjorie Smith has been recognised for her service to the community of Dandenong with a medal of the Order of Australia as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honour awards.
Like many award recipients, the 90-year-old’s involvement in the community comes down to a can-do attitude.
“I’ve always thought if you are able to do something, you should do it,” Mrs Smith said.
Her willingness to help started early in life, when she moved to Dandenong from Benalla with her husband and young family in 1959.
“I loved [being a parent] and had no intention of going back to work [as a teacher], but they were so very short of teachers, there were classes of 60 to 70 students,” Mrs Smith recalled.
“One day my husband came home, he was teaching at Dandenong North Primary School, and he said ‘you will just have to come and help’ and so I did.
“I still had two young children at home, and so one came to the classroom with me and the other went to class with my husband.”
Mrs Smith continued as both a primary and kindergarten teacher until 1982, marking the beginning of a dedicated life of service to the Dandenong community.
She recalled her involvement with Girl Guides Victoria, from the ’60s to the 90s, as a particularly enjoyable experience.
“When I went to high school, the Girl Guides used to come on Anzac Day in this lovely uniform and I always thought ‘you know I’d love to be part of that’,” she said.
“So when my girls were getting to be of that age, I thought it would be good for them to get involved, but there were so many girls that waiting to become Girl Guides [in Dandenong] that the only way to get in was to become a guide leader.”
Luckily, a new district in Dandenong North was established and, naturally, Mrs Smith began a long standing relationship with the Guides.
While her daughters participated in the Girl Guides for a while, Mrs Smith developed a three decade relationship with the group, as a guide leader from 1962-1972, before moving to become a region commissioner for Girl Guides throughout Dandenong until 1979, and a former state trainer, outdoor activities advisor and camp site care taker at the Police Paddocks venue.
“Its a great movement for girls…its a good training ground, they learn a lot of skills and it is also set up in the manner that it trains people for leadership,” she said.
A parishioner at Dandenong North Uniting Church for over 60 years, Mrs Smith has contributed as a treasurer and committee member, Sunday School teacher and, for 22 years, was the church’s Sunday organ player.
“I had played the piano, but never the organ,” Mrs Smith said.
“But my husband died in 1994 and I think the [organ] was sent to me to keep me busy, and so I played until they closed the church in 2017.”
After the death of her husband, Mrs Smith also sought support in the Dandenong Legacy Widows Club, where she was appointed treasurer and president between 1998 and 2003.\
She has also been a long standing volunteer with he Red Cross’ door knock service, Meals on Wheels and disability service Wallara Australia, a resource close to her heart.
“Our second daughter has a disability and she has attended Wallara throughout her life, so I worked for them when I retired from the kindergarten,” she said.
“Back in those days we had to raise a lot of money because we didn’t get much government help for people with disabilities.”
Mrs Smith is no stranger to community recognition, announced as Senior Citizen of the Year by the City of Greater Dandenong in 1993 and registered by the council as a Living Treasure in 2005, given her contribution to the growth of several community groups in the municipality.
Yet she maintains being award an OAM is “very humbling”, stressing it is an honour she feels should be shared with the many other volunteers she has worked with over the years.
“There’s always a group of people behind you, I don’t do all of this on my own,” she said.