Paula Starkey and Rikki Toi of Coraki have reluctantly accepted recognition for their volunteering work, with Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis adding their names to the “hidden treasures” honour roll.
Paula Starkey and Rikki Toi of Coraki have reluctantly accepted recognition for their volunteering work, with Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis adding their names to the “hidden treasures” honour roll. Jamie Brown

Volunteers for the love of it

CORAKI women Paula Starkey and Rikki Toi have reluctantly accepted praise for their willingness to volunteer.

Last week Clarence Nationals MP Chris Gulaptis hosted an afternoon tea to congratulate six women from the Clarence and Richmond Valleys, all acknowledged as hidden treasures on the 2015 Rural Women’s Hidden Treasures Honour Roll.

“They told us that if we didn’t got to the afternoon tea in Grafton that they’d come to us,” said Mrs Starkey, a long-time volunteer on the Coraki hospital auxiliary.

“So we went to them hoping we wouldn’t be noticed,” she said.

Ms Toi, who is volunteer secretary at the Coraki Rural Transaction Centre, said : “I don’t know why they even picked me.

“I’ve only been doing this for a few years,” she said.

Long term volunteers

But of course, both women have volunteered in different capacities for a long while.

Mrs Starkey is also with the CWA and is a director on the CWA preschool at Coraki and Ms Toi is a volunteer with the SES.

Volunteering was an important part of society, both women said, noting that without people who worked for nothing our country would fall apart.

They said there were great rewards for the volunteer, and socialising was one of them.

Socialising a great reward

“You work for nothing. Just love,” said Ms Toi, a former catwalk model from Adelaide who made top eight in a ’60s Miss Australia competition.

She also earned a living as a fashion journalist on the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

But after three decades rearing a family in the Bungawalbyn bush she felt she had lost contact with the Coraki community. Volunteering brought her in touch with that.

“Working in the transaction centre is wonderful,” she said.

“It’s interesting and fun. you meet lovely people.”

History in the walls

Mrs Starkey retired to Coraki after decades in New Zealand and Brisbane to live in the house where her husband, John Gwyn, was born and raised.

The building features in Coraki’s history, too, originally built for the editor of the Coraki Herald, a publication that was owned by the Benaud family, of which the late cricket great Richie Benaud descended.

For Mrs Starkey volunteering in Coraki completely connected her to her community.

Maintaining the fabric of the hospital auxiliary proved critical when the long campaign to re-open the closed facility failed to convince state government.

Some volunteers left the auxiliary but those who remained created a lobbying group that had helped to ensure that Coraki at least got a community health service, which is now expected to open in 2017.

“The auxiliary needed a long term vision,” Mrs Starkey said.

“If it had closed NSW Health could have easily walked away, but we hung in there. We do it because we care. I suppose it’s an extension of mothering,” she said.



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