POWER 40 FULL LIST: Gympie region’s most influential of 2020
#40 BRUCE DEVEREAUX
BEING one of Gympie's newest councillors is part of the reason Bruce Devereaux slips into the last spot on the Power 40, but it is not all of it.
Over the past decade Mr Devereuax has built himself a burgeoning social media empire thanks to his escapades detailed in his "daddy" blog Big Family, Little Income.
The father of seven has gathered a 47,000-strong following on Facebook; no mean feat in an era where digital voices can affect the biggest changes.
The BFLI blog has also served as a platform which launched him into radio spots and media spots, and allowed him to step into fundraising efforts for causes ranging from the fight against cancer to drought.
In March, Mr Devereaux claimed Gympie's Division 4 seat with 58 per cent of the vote after preferences.
His communications skills and willingness to engage with the public find him regularly explaining council decisions online, and taking the time to discuss and debate respectfully with members of the public. We see his influence as only growing.
#39 SCOTT BECKETT
COMING in at No 39 on the 2020 list of the Gympie region's most powerful and influential people is the man in charge of more than 300 employees and 30 full-time contractors at Laminex, formerly known as the Carter Holt Harvey timber processing facility.
The facility is expected to double its original size - and increase its workforce - once it rolls out a fourth shift early next year, despite the challenges of COVID slowing down the process.
Laminex Australia's Manufacturing Operations Manager for Queensland, Scott Beckett, grew up on the east coast of Canada where he studied chemistry, a diploma of engineering and a pulp and paper degree at university.
He now lives in Gympie and has become an active member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Gympie Economic Recovery Subgroup.
He worked in the pulp and paper industry for 13 years before finishing off his masters in business in 2003. Three years later he worked in the cement manufacturing business for 10 years.
It was a phone call from a recruiter that prompted Mr Beckett and his wife to move 13,804km from his hometown to Sydney to work as a maintenance engineer and procurement manager for Orora packaging in 2016.
"I got a call from them a few years back but we turned it down because my son was 16 and didn't want to move and I didn't want to force them," he said.
"I lived in Sydney for two years and then my wife and I travelled for four-and-a-half-months around Australia before landing here in Gympie on February 28 (2019)."
Mr Beckett said lifestyle and location were some of the reasons behind the move to Gympie.
"We love the area. We came up to Noosa for a five-day holiday and we just loved it. I remember when we were flying back down from Maroochydore I said 'it wasn't going to be the last time I come back," he said.
"Literally two weeks later Laminex called and said Gympie. Honestly I had never even heard of Gympie but I did find out later we had driven through here in 2015. We found it was close to Noosa, Hervey Bay and Fraser Island and thought it was a great idea."
Mr Beckett's key to success is maintaining a healthy lifestyle by going for a run in the morning.
He runs marathons and usually places in the top 10 per cent. Last year he ran the Noosa Half Marathon and Melbourne Marathon. COVID has cancelled the events he planned to compete in this year.
"I'm a very driven individual, driven to be successful for myself and for the people I am working with."
Mr Beckett has applied for Australian citizenship and hopes to become a fully fledged Aussie next year.
Earlier this year, Laminex revealed its Monkland particleboard production facility would "move from a three-shift to four-shift operation as of January 2021", less than two years since taking ownership of the plant last April.
A fourth shift will see the plant employ 80 people, up from the 41 it started with after taking over from previous owner Carter Holt Harvey, which closed the site in early 2019.
The company has spent $2 million upgrading the plant's infrastructure through improvements to roads and buildings, and new equipment.
State Development and Manufacturing Minister Cameron Dick said in February Laminex's Toolara facility would receive $559,000 to conduct a feasibility study for an energy cogeneration plant at its Gympie region fibreboard manufacturing facilities.
#38 ROSIE FITZGERALD
DETERMINED Kilkivan businesswoman Rosie Fitzgerald is pulling no stops in her quest to bring aged care housing to one of the region's largest rural districts.
As president of the newly-formed group Kilkivan & District Community Care Association, Ms Fitzgerald is Number 38 on The Gympie Times 2020 list of most influential people.
Ms Fitzgerald, driven by her own parents aged care needs in the region, is gaining serious backing in her plan to bring an aged care facility to the district.
At a March meeting in Kilkivan, the Association announced a $10,000 donation from local enterprise Wangella Farm to help "fast-track progress" of the project.
Following that, Gympie Regional Council voted unanimously to support the project pending further developments, while Ms Fitzgerald helped thrust the issue into the national debate by starring in a powerful episode of Landline this year.
Ms Fitzgerald has since used her connections to enlist the help of QUT post-grad marketing students who will examine the strategic steps required to get the project off the ground.
She is also well-known in the region for her previous work in the Kilkivan Great Horse Ride, which draws more than 1000 riders annually.
Ms Fitzgerald owns Kilkivan Country Bed and Breakfast built in 1911 by David Lacey Jones, the grandson of the founder of the David Jones department stores, who went on to become the first Shire Clerk of the then Kilkivan Shire Council.
#37 THE TEMPLETON FAMILY
THE Templeton family has been growing ginger since the 1940s, and in 70 years and three generations, they have overcome war, drought and disease to become one of the world's finest ginger producers.
Second generation farmer John Templeton, his son Shane and daughter Kylie are now the directors of Templeton Farming Enterprises, operating ginger farms in the Mary Valley, Eumundi and Maryborough, producing around 2500 tonnes.
For decades they have worked to grow the ginger farm, from their humble beginnings at a co-operative in Buderim to now being stocked in shelves across Australia and overseas.
The family have also diversified into cattle and cane farming.
"I've been in the area for 20 years now, farming with my dad and sister," Shane said.
"My wife (Julie) and son (Zac) also work here, it's very much a family business."
Shane said a new purchase - the famed Bollier Homestead for a cool $11 million - had expanded their Mary Valley farms to more than 1200 hectares, with 20 employees, but during peak season (August to September) they could have up to 50 employees.
Templeton Farming Enterprises was awarded 2020 National Farm Biosecurity Producer of the Year, for their work in combating a deadly root rot called pythium.
Leading the way in biosecurity measures, John, Shane and Kylie implemented extensive safeguards to eradicate the disease from crops and manage the risks associated with feral animals, weeds and diseases, to keep producing world class ginger.
#36 STEVE HOOPER
DEBUTING on the Power 40 list at #36 is Mary Valley Chamber of Commerce president and Imbil Railway Hotel owner Steven Hooper.
As president of the Mary Valley Chamber of Commerce, Mr Hooper is passionate about and promotes local small businesses in the region.
He and the chamber advocate for their 29 members at all levels of government, and have built an inclusive and "vibrant" network of Mary Valley businesses, helping the Valley recover from the devastation wrought by the failed Traveston dam which sent property values plunging.
Publishing a monthly newsletter, Mr Hooper and the chamber offer advertising for members, local business news updates and promote the Mary Valley as an ideal region to conduct business.
Mr Hooper also owns an iconic piece of the region's history, and one of it's largest tourist attractions, the Imbil Railway Hotel.
First built in 1914, the hotel has a proud past and claims to be the oldest building in the town.
Taking its name from the Mary Valley railway link, which was extended to Brooloo in 1915 prompting trade, prosperity and growth for Imbil, the hotel is cemented in Gympie history.
Under Mr Hooper's ownership the hotel continues to grow and remains a town and tourist favourite, known for its friendly country charm.
#35 NIGEL WORTHINGTON
RAINBOW Beach Commerce and Tourism Association president Nigel Worthington comes in at #35 of the 2020 list of the Gympie region's 40 most influential people.
Mr Worthington has never been afraid to take action or speak out when he thought it was needed.
As a businessman, and president of the organisation representing almost all (about 50) Rainbow Beach businesses, he has helped the Cooloola Coast not only ride out the COVID-19 pandemic, but turn 2020 into a great success story.
The Association has had two big wins this year: knowing the challenge ahead, it commissioned advertising to promote the region the Queensland tourism market, and it turned an approach from the producers of television show Creek to Coast into a visitor bonanza.
After a full episode on the Cooloola Coast in July, and a follow-up episode in September, Rainbow Beach accommodation businesses have been at full capacity or near full capacity since before the school holidays, defying the grim possibilities the ongoing border closure could have brought.
Instead, Rainbow Beach is bursting at the seams with visitors - many of them for the first time - from the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Gold Coast and western Downs; anywhere within the four-hour drive market.
Business is so good, the advertising campaign is on hold.
In addition, last year, when Mr Worthington was treasurer of the Rainbow Beach Commerce and Tourism organisation and a representative on the Teewah and Cooloola Working Group, he came out strongly against a proposal put to the State Government to slash the number of campers at Teewah Beach.
Earlier this year, he criticised the State Government's lack of clarity on Queensland's post-pandemic recovery for putting the region "on the back foot".
#34 RON OWEN
RETURNING to Gympie's most influential list after slipping out of the final rankings last year, outspoken firearms advocate Ron Owen still ranks as one of the leading local voices both economically and politically - whether you agree with his views or not.
The founder and owner of Gympie business Owen guns, Mr Owen has built his life off the back of undying passions for firearms and the rights of law-abiding firearm owners across the country.
According to the Owen guns website the business "began in 1974 in Victoria's Mountain Country, moving to Gympie Queensland in 1980", and has been dedicated to giving the "best advice and the best price for the best quality to their customers" in the 46 years since.
Owen guns boasts a showroom adorned with 450 plus firearms, as well as an impressive gun museum opened in 2017, which features firearms dating as far back as the 1870s.
Always a prolific writer, past estimates had him sending more than 10,000 emails out every week on top of his efforts with the hugely popular reads Lock, Stock and Barrel and The Owen guns Bulletin, which published its 172nd edition in September.
He has never been shy about voicing his political opinions, having this year slammed the Queensland Government's decision to classify gun dealers like him as "non-essential" under coronavirus control regulations.
His voice turns heads at election time, too.
Ahead of the Gympie Regional Council election in March, he implored all "those who intend to be councillors and mayors (to) make it known publicly, to all voters, how they intend to represent the firearm owners in our region, how are they going to support these shooters who have suffered 28 years of government betrayal".
Tireless he has also been in his fight to make a Gympie shooting range a reality.
His campaign made this a major piece for the Gympie region in the last round of state elections (it was an electoral promise put forth by One Nation and the LNP), and he has also pitched the idea of a European-style underground range in an ongoing effort to get Gympie Regional Council's feet moving on the issue.
That range may not have come to fruition yet, but whether it's for that or any of his other causes, you can always count on Ron Owen to keep fighting for his community.
#33 RUTH MODIN
MAKING her triumphant return to the Gympie region's list of lists after a two-year absence, the "unofficial mayor of Rainbow Beach" businesswoman Ruth Modin is heading towards 40 years as a fearless campaigner for the progress of the Gympie region's coastal gem.
Mrs Modin has been a leading voice for Rainbow Beach businesses since the 1980s, when she moved to the region with late husband Milton from Alberta, Canada.
It was in Milton's memory that Mrs Modin orchestrated one of the family's best and most famous achievements, the enduring Rainbow Beach Family Fishing Classic - an event that typically draws hundreds of entrants and thousands of onlookers to the coast.
A long-time owner of the local newsagent, early morning convenience store and cafe, yet another example of Mrs Modin's inspirational character came when her business not only survived but bounced back strongly from a devastating October 2016 fire that burned down the cafe and the store.
The phoenix that rose from the ashes of that "very, very difficult time" took the form of Mrs Modin's final Rainbow Beach venture, The Deck at Sea Salt - a tapas bar, restaurant and beer garden all in one.
The Deck at Sea Salt has built an impressive reputation since its opening in 2018, routinely attracting visitors in droves and boasting almost 2000 likes on Facebook.
She had cause for celebration earlier this year after the long-awaited removal of "ugly" and potentially dangerous power poles from the main street, a cause she had championed for eight years.
If all that wasn't enough, Mrs Modin was awarded the first ever life membership of the Rainbow Beach Commerce and Tourism Association for her outstanding work as committee president between 1986 and 1996.
It has been largely thanks to Mrs Modin's enduring efforts that Rainbow Beach has earned its reputation as one of Queensland's best tourist destinations.
#32 TINO FA'ASUAMALEAUI
ONE of the youngest members among this year's movers and shakers, the 197cm, 107kg hulk from Widgee has enjoyed a blockbuster 2020 season for Melbourne Storm, well and truly announcing himself on the NRL stage and fast becoming one of the most exciting prospects for the game's next generation.
Since making his NRL debut late last year, the talented second rower has appeared in Craig Bellamy's side in all but one game this season, scoring seven tries and taking his career games tally to 26.
The 20-year-old's season of dreams will culminate with an appearance in this weekend's NRL Grand Final, when the Storm take on the Penrith Panthers for premiership glory.
His bulldozing, bullocking style of play has also caused persistent rumours to swirl about a possible State of Origin debut for Queensland after the league decider.
And Tino is no stranger to representative football, with caps already earned in Queensland Under-20 and Australian Under-23 set-ups.
Following all that, the wunderkind is set to take his talents north on a three-year deal with the Gold Coast Titans starting in season 2021, which is understood to be worth a little under $2 million.
It's still very early days, but Tino's fantastic career at top level so far already ranks him among the top sporting talents and biggest influences ever to emerge from the Gold City.
#31 STEVEN ELLIOTT
A CONTENDER for the most inspiring story to appear on this year's list, trailblazing Gympie basketballer Steven Elliott is the perfect example of what can happen when you never give up on your dreams.
A natural athlete all his life with plenty of talent in rugby and running, Elliott has never let the diagnosis of a debilitating neurological condition at the age of 13 stop him on his path to sporting glory.
The talented point guard saw perhaps his greatest achievement yet come to fruition in July, when he was selected to the Australia Rollers squad for the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
The 25-year-old previously represented his country at the 2018 world championships in Hamburg, where he and his fellow Australians picked up a bronze medal.
The long-time USC High Performance Student Athlete program member and Queensland Spinning Bullets representative has a little while to go before he learns more about his dreams of becoming a Paralympian.
He has also been an advocate for progress in the community, and was on hand to celebrate the opening of the Mary Valley Rattler's all access carriage just last month.
#30 WARREN POLLEY
WARREN Polley makes his first appearance on Gympie's list of the most influential, after he defeated deputy mayor Bob Leitch to win the Division 7 seat on Gympie Regional Council by 24 votes at this year's council election.
Mr Polley's straightforward "say it like it is" attitude garnered him support in the community, and he now represents the more than 5000 residents of Southside.
A true businessman, Mr Polley is forthright with his views on council spending, and is not afraid to ask the tough questions in council.
Mr Polley is also on the Gympie Chamber of Commerce, and is the director of Polleys Coaches, with decades of experience in the tourism, transport and travel industries, and running a large staff.
Since taking over the family business in 2009, Mr Polley has continued to grow Polleys, and it now has a fleet of 57 buses, 40 of which do school runs for more than 3000 of the region's students daily.
Mr Polley said he was passionate about connecting people with their futures through transport, and as a councillor believes exploring and developing new options, seeking new pathways, forging new partnerships and maintaining authentic relationships are the keys to spearhead growth.
Mr Polley said he believes in the "entrepreneurial" people of Gympie, and as a councillor will facilitate them to bring new businesses and ideas to the region.
#29 DEAN COMERFORD
COMING in at Number 29, down eight places from last year's Power 30, is Pastor Dean Comerford.
For 11 years Pastor Comerford was the Senior Pastor at Gympie Community Church, however earlier this month, he decided to embark on a new journey, opening a ministry with his wife Tania.
The Community Church has grown to become one of Gympie's larger churches, caring for several hundred people on a week by week basis. When churches were forced to close in March due to the Coronavirus outbreak, Pastor Comerford, along with several other Gympie pastors, set about building an online broadcast studio, which saw five Gympie churches working as one to broadcast daily content and weekly services to their people via Gympie.Church Online.
Seeing churches work together in unity has been the driving force behind Pastor Comerford's work beyond his own congregation.
He has been the secretary to the Gympie Minister's Network for nearly eleven years and this has allowed him to get involved in many initiatives around the region.
Some of those initiatives involve combined services and prayer meetings, supporting religious instruction and chaplaincy in schools, helping with the Mayoral Prayer Breakfast, and championing organisations like 91.5fm, Hope Reins, Lifehouse Gympie, and others.
Although Mr Comerford has finished his role as a church pastor, he is still fully committed to being involved in those initiatives that see churches working together in the region. He is continuing to support churches, both locally and around SEQ with supervision, leadership coaching and speaking.
Mr Comerford oversees Gympie's Christmas in the Park (which has sadly been cancelled due to COVID), and as chairman has enjoyed organising the beloved community event which hosts more than 5000 people a year.
#28 ANTHONY LANSKEY
AS PRINCIPAL of Gympie State High School, Anthony Lanskey has an integral role in educating and supporting Gympie's next generation.
Mr Lanskey brings 30 years of experience to his role as the head of GSHS, and since 2015 has overseen the education of thousands of students, and the employment of hundreds of staff.
Mr Lanskey believes it is important not to underestimate the ability of students and young people, and encourage students to embrace excellence.
Along with his role at GSHS, Mr Lanskey also became an active part of helping grow education through the Gympie State Schools Administration alliance, an organisation comprised of other principals across the region.
However his influence and support for Gympie's youth extends beyond his role as principal, and he has been president of Australia Secondary Schools Rugby League for almost six years.
Working his way down the Queensland coast throughout his life, from far north Queensland to Bundaberg and then to Gympie, Mr Lanskey has nurtured a passion for youth rugby league across the state.
In his time as president and in other positions, including chairman of the Wide Bay School Sports Board, he helped to grow the sport from Gympie to Kingaroy and Bundaberg, amounting to more than 20 years of involvement in regional rugby league.
Last November, Mr Lanskey helped put Gympie in the national spotlight, after Vow and Declare won the Melbourne Cup and became a national champion.
Mr Lanskey part-owns the horse along with his sons, friend Bob Leitch and others, and is now a part of Gympie - and Australian - history.
#27 JACKSON DODD
EDUCATORS play a crucial role in the development of children and teenagers, and Jackson Dodd has helped shape hundreds of young minds in the region.
Mr Dodd has had an extensive career in education spanning almost 30 years, and now he oversees more than 120 staff members and 1300 students as principal of James Nash State High School.
Assuming his position as principal in January 2018, from Darrin Edwards, Mr Dodd plays an important role in educating the Gympie region's next generation, with students enrolled from throughout the region, Kilkivan, Amamoor, Gympie and Glenwood.
Data from 2019 showed only 18.9 per cent of Australian university students were in regional areas but Mr Dodd and James Nash SHS encourage students to aim high, offering guidance and entry ways to tertiary education.
Under Mr Dodd's leadership more and more students are choosing to go to TAFE or university and earlier this year, Mr Dodd was proud to announce 40 Year 12 students had enrolled in university courses through the USC Headstart Program.
"We've seen close to 40 of our senior students start the HeadStart program in 2020, with almost half of our students achieving a Distinction or higher grade," Mr Dodd said.
"This is testament to the fact that high school students can and will achieve highly in tertiary studies when given the opportunity."
This can only be a positive for the region as studies show many rural and regional students return to their home towns after higher education, bringing back new skills and resources.
#26 MATTHEW SAMPLE
THIS prominent Mary Valley figure has turned his sporting passion into a business and created Australia's only privately owned purpose-built endurance facility near Imbil.
Matthew Sample, an endurance riding champion, opened the gates of Stirling's Crossing Equestrian Complex in 2016 with the Equestrian Australia Endurance Championships as its inaugural event.
Three short years later the facility was attracting riding royalty when it hosted Australia's most prestigious endurance event, the 54th Tom Quilty Gold Cup last year.
The 160km ride is the premier event on Australia's endurance calendar and the largest in the southern hemisphere, attracting scores of national and international competitors.
Mr Sample won the Tom Quilty Gold Cup himself in 2009, and together with his father Bob and brother Brook, has taken home more than 30 buckles for completing the gruelling ride.
Last year's Tom Quilty Gold Cup tripled the population of Imbil when up to 3000 people including competitors and their support crew travelled from around the country to attend.
The economic impact on the region was estimated to be at least $2 million; the nature of the event enticing visitors to spend in and explore the Mary Valley and Gympie regions.
With the blueprints ready for expansion to become one of the country's most diverse and premium equestrian facilities, there will be no slowing down Mr Sample's pull of quality events to the region that will continue to boost tourism.
#25 GREGG DAVEY
FOR six years Senior Sergeant Gregg Davey has been the officer-in-charge of Gympie Police.
The good-natured former chief detective took on the role in 2014, and has been making the Gympie community a safer place to live ever since.
Mr Davey first joined the Police Academy in Brisbane in 1986, was sworn in as Constable in 1987, and has been posted all around Queensland during his career, seeing the best and worst police work has to offer.
Mr Davey's role as OIC was to ensure the station performed to a high standard, and making the community a safer place to live.
"The first thing I do every morning is to review the previous 24 hour (72 hours on a Monday) offence stats, traffic outputs an domestic and family violence reports," he said.
"My primary responsibilities are for general duties/uniform functions within the Gympie Division - we have an approved staff strength with the uniform numbers fluctuating with the presence of First Year Constables assigned for training.
"My responsibilities include the overall management of the station which has a 24-hour watch house.
"The station also houses areas for the CIB, CPIU, Prosecutions, Scenes of Crime, Intelligence Unit and Communications staff."
This year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Queensland, Mr Davey led his officers as they took a zero-tolerance stance in the fight against spreading the virus.
He said every crew - general road police, CIB, plain clothes and uniformed officers - was tasked with checking on compliance with COVID-19 restrictions, and they concentrated on monitoring, education and advice, which kept the community safe and prosecutions to a minimum.
#24 KATHY LITTLE WALKER
KNOWN for her determination to dig out and expose the truth of Gympie council matters, Kathy Little Walker's presence in the local government landscape shows no signs of slowing, and she comes in at #24 of the people of influence in this region in 2020.
As creator and chief moderator of the Gympie Regional Forum Positively Factual Facebook page, which has more than 3400 followers, the Gympie-born Mrs Walker was and continues to be an avid and vocal scrutineer of all things council.
Mrs Walker spent four years fighting for change at the local government level following the sacking of GRC planning officer Jill Promnitz and the clearing of GRC head of planning Mike Hartley, after he was hit with criminal fraud charges in 2014.
With the Forum following still growing, Mrs Walker undoubtedly has had an impact on council coverage and some may argue on the outcome of the local government election, where five councillors (including mayor Mick Curran) were not returned.
Through the Forum page, Mrs Walker has forged links with the Queensland Local Government Reform Alliance (which held its AGM in Gympie in 2017) and council candidates for other regions, including Jannean Dean and Gary Duffy.
#23 JUSTIN LIPPIATT
COMING in at #23 of Gympie's 40 most powerful and influential people of 2020 is businessman, father and husband Justin Lippiatt.
Mr Lippiatt has 25 years' experience in retail, financial, NFP, education and more recently the manufacturing and transport sectors.
He is an active church goer and board member of the Gympie Chamber of Commerce, and CEO of Polleys Buses and Pinetech Manufacturing Pty Ltd, where he has created an empowered team culture resulting in a business turnaround including the COVID-19 period.
Passionate about business and the prospects for regional youth, he is the driving force behind the fledgling Grow Unlimited Strategy, Gympie Angels Investment Group and a Chamber of Commerce initiative to nurture and mentor local youth through a Young Tycoons program.
Mr Lippiatt recently completed his Master of International Business to add to his Master of Business Administration and Graduate Diploma in Management.
#22 TOM & LYN GRADY
THIS humble couple would be the last people giddied by being on a list of Gympie's most influential - but their passion for their community and keen business sense means their presence and influence in the Gympie region gets things done, which is why they have come in at #22 of this year's list.
Tom and Lyn Grady both hail from the Gympie region and have been growing their name and brand for 40 years, since they opened Tom Grady Real Estate in Monkland St in 1980, where they sold houses, farms and ran machinery auctions.
Six years later, the Gradys added to their success when they bought Gene Barker Livestock - selling up to 40,000 head of livestock per year for many years alongside their real estate business.
Later, they included rural merchandise in their expanding business in a store in Mary St.
They now operate two top Combined Rural Traders stores on Tozer and Nash Sts, with 15 employees.
One of their passions - the Gympie District Show (which could not go ahead this year because of COVID restrictions) would not be as big or bright or may not even have a future if it wasn't for the Gradys generous sponsorship.
It's an event that draws up to 40,000 visitors each year.
The Gradys sponsor the spectacular fireworks shows that run each night and the competitions that go with them, as well as sponsoring every section, and feeding visiting farmers each morning.
They also sponsor the Kilkivan Great Horse Ride.
#21 TONY STEWART
RAINBOW Beach businessman, fisherman, drought runner and community stalwart Tony Stewart has come in at #21 in the Gympie region's 40 Most Influential People of 2020.
The 73-year-old and Rainbow Beach resident, who worked in the fishing industry for more than 20 years, was named Gympie Citizen of the Year in 2018 and is still an active board member of the Rainbow Beach Commerce and Tourism Association, whose membership exceeds 50 businesses and accounts for almost every business in Rainbow Beach.
He was nominated in 2018 for a News Corp Pride of Australia Award for his tireless work helping the farming families of western Queensland and northern New South Wales hit hard by drought.
His efforts in promoting, co-ordinating and shipping truckloads of support through the Rainbow Beach Droughtrunners have been incredible and had a powerful effect not just on drought affected families for the past five years, but Rainbow Beach itself, and the broader Gympie region. These continue today.
The Droughtrunners have also run huge fundraising events such as balls, and hosted children from drought affected communities for holidays on the Cooloola Coast, involving multiple stakeholders, through the Bush to Beach project.
Mr Stewart's efforts through the Commerce and Tourism Association - which has helped the Rainbow Beach business community not only ride out the COVID-19 storm but brought in thousands of visitors and a tourism boom - and the Droughtrunners, earns him his spot on the 2020 list of the most influential.
#20 RENITA HENRY-MAY
GYMPIE blogger, teacher and mother-of-two Renita Henry-May has made her debut on Gympie's Power 40 list this year at Number 20.
The creative and passionate businesswoman is the brains behind Foodie Mumma Ren -
a blogging brand based on recipes and a love of food with an associated website and strong Facebook following of 15,000 people from all over the world.
Foodie Mumma Ren was a finalist for the national 2020 AusMumpreneur Awards in the Author and People's Choice Leadership categories.
The awards, presented by The Women's Business School, recognise outstanding women who successfully balance motherhood and business in a way that suits their life and family.
As a mother of two, a wife of a FIFO electrician and a Japanese and food technology teacher by day, Renita created Foodie Mumma Ren as a way to share her love and passion for all things food.
Connecting with her fans allows Renita to connect with people from all over the world who share her passion, she said.
She takes the life-is-too-short approach to things and encourages others to the same.
"It can be challenging to be a successful business woman while raising a family and Renita gives this advice for others thinking about starting their own enterprise.
"Follow your dreams and your passion."
#19 KIM BOYTER
IN THE words of Gympie Regional Mayor Glen Hartwig, you wouldn't find a more passionate person than Kim Boyter in the Goomeri community.
A deserving new arrival among this year's rankings of the region's most influential people, the tireless volunteer and vocal community advocate is the driving force behind the iconic Goomeri Pumpkin Festival.
While the festival was among an endless list of big-ticket events cancelled by COVID-19 this year, Kim was instrumental in drawing a record crowd of about 18,000 people to the town in 2019.
And that impressive feat was on the back of the festival being awarded Gympie Regional Council's Community Event of the Year on Australia Day last year, and the Gympie Chamber of Commerce Tourism Award at the Gympie Business Awards.
As co-ordinator Kim has her sights set on a bigger and better festival in 2021, with the countdown to May 31 well and truly underway.
"I pretty much devote my life to it, I probably give it 20 hours a week voluntarily to maintaining our annual events calendar, it's not just the once a year festival," Kim said.
"It's all about community building, resilience and building harmony to get that volunteer base up that we need. If we don't have volunteers we have no festival."
Through her work with the festival Kim also has a lot to do with other not-for-profit organisations like the local SES, Goomeri Lions and the Goomeri Project, where "they always have something on the go".
Perhaps her crowning achievement this year was earning one of two Gympie Senior Citizen of the Year awards in August, recognising her outstanding dedication towards progress for Goomeri fuelled by a love of its "wide open spaces" and "family-based values".
"I'm still trying to work out how that happened, but I'll take that accolade," she said.
"It's nice to know people in the community recognise the work I do and value it, so I'm really appreciative of that support and without it I wouldn't be able to do what I do."
#18 SUE MANTON
A QUIET achiever who prefers to avoid the spotlight, Little Haven Palliative Care CEO and Board Manager Sue Manton is a mainstay on the list of the Gympie region's most influential people for good reason.
Sue often attributes a great deal of Little Haven's success to her hardworking team of staff and volunteers, but her influence remains undeniable after nearly 20 years as the public face of the organisation.
She succeeded in the impossible, securing Federal Government funding of $750,000 last year with some help from Wide Bay MP Llew O'Brien, and securing the organisation's future and it ability to care for those who need it most.
She joined the management committee in 1998 before taking on the Business Manager position in 2001, overseeing Little Haven grow from supporting 40 palliative care patients a year to more than 225 a year during her tenure so far.
She has also served as Palliative Care Qld State Council Secretary, has presented at State Conferences and various other forums and has addressed the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Human Services and End of Life Care.
While coronavirus has presented significant challenges for Little Haven this year, Sue worked with Brisbane-based small business Mee Loft Parachute Parts and Rigging to co-ordinate specialised personal protective equipment for nurses to wear while caring for 88 terminally ill patients in the Gympie region back in April.
#17 MARLENE OWEN
YOU would be hard pressed to find anyone as passionate about their community as Marlene Owen is about Gympie, or as comfortable telling it just like it is.
The tireless volunteer has spent decades dedicating what would otherwise have been her own time to the betterment of the region and its people, through a plethora of community causes united in their aims to help and inspire.
Not only is she the founding member of Supporting Chemotherapy in Cooloola since 2006, Marlene is also well known for her work with Bush to Beach, Cooloola Gold Lions Club, the Gympie Music Muster, the Gympie Show, Little Haven Palliative Care, the Rainbow Beach Droughtrunners and her extensive work with the homeless.
In January it was announced Marlene would be awarded and Order of Australia medal. In 2017 she was Gympie Citizen of the Year.
"I do what I do because I want to. There are a pile of volunteers who deserve this just as much. All volunteers do a wonderful job, but if this raises the profile of the work we do, I'm very keen to accept it." Marlene said.
On top of everything else, Marlene has successfully helped run Gympie Bearing Supplies alongside husband Gordon for more than 30 years.
#16 TERRY NOLAN
ONE of the most famous family names in the Gympie region, the Nolans have been stalwarts of the local business community since patriarch Pat began a small family butcher shop 62 years ago.
Spearheading what has grown into the region's biggest private employer - with about 500 employees - alongside brothers Michael and Tony, Nolan Meats co-director Terry Nolan reached rare heights in August when he was named the state's eighth #eatqld Champion.
Mr Nolan was honoured with the Queensland Government title for his and his family's 60 years' service to the beef industry and Gympie community.
"Nolan Meats is a 100 per cent Australian, family-owned company founded as a small retail butchery business in Gympie in 1958," Ag Minister Mark Furner said at the time.
Terry was delighted with the award, but also quick to share the spotlight with his deserving brothers.
"I am one small part in our family business that was formed by my father Pat and late mother Marie and the load is now shared with my brothers Michael and Tony," Mr Nolan said.
With a focus on "producing quality grain-fed beef for the delivery to retailers, further processors, wholesalers and international markets", the Nolans' top-quality beef products distribute around Australia and export overseas to Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Middle East, Africa, Taiwan, USA and other markets.
The Nolans have also continued to sponsor the Muster Cup, which is the biggest race day on Gympie Turf Club's calendar, as well as the Gympie Show Society.
#15 AUNTY LILLIAN BURKE
MAINTAINING her spot in the Gympie region's Top 15 most influential people this year is an essential local voice for reconciliation and unity, Aboriginal Elder Aunty Lillian Burke.
A Senior Fellow of the University of the Sunshine Coast, Aunty Lillian has established herself as a prominent educator on not only the past injustices committed against Indigenous peoples, but positive social change for future generations.
Using the knowledge and wisdom passed on to her from her adopted grandmother, she devotes hours every day up to six days a week to helping Aboriginal people in the near-Gympie area understand their culture and identity.
Aunty Lillian was among the top four nominees for Queensland's Senior Australian of the Year in 2019, and she was described as a tireless and inspirational champion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Her university Fellowship further recognises her work encouraging young Aboriginal people to take on a university education.
She became part of the stolen generation when authorities intervened "for her own good" and refused to allow her contact with her adopted nana. But her body of work since has primarily focused on repairing that damage and passing on the knowledge, so young Aboriginal people can feel their own connection to culture and the confidence that goes with knowing who you are and where you come from.
While COVID-19 wreaked havoc this year, Aunty Lillian played a key role in commemorating NAIDOC week with a special flag raising ceremony in July, focusing on the theme "Always was, always will be" and the importance of acknowledgment, reconciliation and education.
She has participated in 100 boards, committees and consultancy groups. She is president of Cooloola Aboriginal Services and Gympie State High School adopted elder and mentor, and takes a leading role Gympie's annual NAIDOC celebrations, Sorry Day and other significant events.
She has helped Aboriginal rangers on Fraser Island to develop a cultural heritage database, part of her work with the island's Indigenous Advisory Committee. She is an Elder of the Butchulla language group and has connections to the Kabi Kabi people of Gympie region.
Postponed NAIDOC events are scheduled to run next month and you can be sure Aunty Lillian will be front and centre, championing her passions with as much enthusiasm as ever.
#14 SCOTT KOVACEVIC
THE Gympie Times' political specialist has been a driving force behind the disclosure of some of Gympie Regional Council's most tightly guarded secrets.
Over the past two years Mr Kovacevic's efforts to push for greater transparency and accountability from the council have had significant results.
In 2019, he secured the public release of the long hidden report into the region's water and sewerage infrastructure, which was behind a controversial overhaul of the service in late 2016.
He also pried free the council's internal staff survey results from the past decade, documents which painted a grim picture of trust, honesty and accountability inside the organisation.
Each was a key factor in the outcome of the last council election, where more than half of the sitting members were replaced.
Mr Kovacevic's work has revealed the true extent of the dilapidation of the Rattler's tracks as repairs were done; this gave the region more of a picture about what caused the train's multimillion-dollar blowouts and delays than anything the council itself publicly released at the time.
As a piece of advice for politicians and other community leaders, he says it's easier to convince people of your argument if you have one and if you communicate it to people, talking, consulting, keeping people informed - general accountability.
"The nature of people is you can probably convince them if your argument is strong. If people feel they are part of the process, they are more likely to accept a decision."
#13 JODY & BRENDAN ALLEN
THERE is no stopping this power couple who charged into Gympie's power hall of fame as a duo for the first time last year.
After taking up a prominent position on Gympie's Chamber of Commerce Brendan Allen joined wife Jody Allen, whose face has dominated the list of Gympie's most influential for years.
Together the dynamo husband and wife team operate parenting website Stay at Home Mum from their home in Pie Creek and it brings in some serious subscriber numbers.
The website clicked over 5 million users during the height of COVID lockdown and has spawned a social media empire embraced by mums around the country with more than 535 000 Facebook followers.
Australia has not been able to get enough of the relatable mummy blogger and the parenting brand reached new heights when Jody began appearing on network TV with stints on Today Tonight, A Current Affair and The Today Show.
While Jody is the face of SAHM - that grew from a blog Jody started about running a family home on a budget - Brendan lends his brains to behind-the scenes.
He also plays a major role in the Allen's second business Tenacious Digital, that launched in 2018 with SAHM's Nic Millard.
It offers website building and education mentoring for those wanting to learn the ropes of online promotion and has landed clients all over the country including Canberra based wedding supplier LaSposa and local member Tony Perrett.
Brendan is also passionate about business close to home and plays a vocal role as a board member of the Gympie Chamber of Commerce that recently hosted Gympie's State Election candidate forum.
Jody continues to push her name onto bookshelves around the country, with her fifth book - Earn at Home Mum - almost ready to be released. One of her previous titles - The $50 Weekly Shop is a multiple bestseller.
And as a first this year, Jody is launching a new national podcast - Heinous True Crime - a passion of hers.
#12 BILLY MITCHELL
HE'S the new owner of one of Gympie's most lucrative pieces of CBD real estate and his plans for it show how he's managed to skyrocket into such an enviable position.
As the principal of Century 21 Platinum Agents in Gympie and the Cooloola Coast, Billy Micthell is the new owner of the former Commercial Hotel building - most recently known as The Decks.
He plans to bring the iconic Gympie hotel back to its former glory, all while retaining the popular business attached to it - the cafe now known as The Korner.
He's made space for new restaurant The Bunker Restaurant and Bar (by Beauty and the Beard Eats and Events) and is looking at rentable accommodation or offices upstairs.
But the acquisition is just the latest in an unstoppable business journey for Mr Mitchell who started out in hospitality - with Billy's - before deciding about eight years ago to "give real estate a crack".
Within a few years he had bought an office with a rent roll in Tin Can Bay and rebranded to Century 21 before securing another office in Gympie, launching Century 21 Platinum Agents.
He now manages a solid team of more than 30 employees including agents, administrators, and property managers and the Gympie headquarters hosts about 100 auctions a year.
Last year, his success reached dizzying heights when he brought home a double gong in the world of real estate.
He was named in the top 2 per cent of agents worldwide in Century 21, which placed him in the top 2000 agents out of more than 110,000 agents worldwide.
He was also ranked as number 22 in Australia's best deal makers in real estate in a national list of top-performing agents, and fourth in Queensland with a success rate on closing his deals at 96.94 per cent.
Mr Mitchell's sponsorship gets behind many Gympie region sports, including lawn bowls, football, speedway and horse racing.
#11 CAITLYN SHADBOLT
WHILE COVID restrictions have been cruel to performers this year, the quiet spell did not slow down Gympie's famous songbird.
Caitlyn Shadbolt, who still calls Gympie home amid rising success, used her creative energy during lockdown to produce her latest single Edge of the Earth.
And the catchy country pop piece, whose accompanying film clip was shot in Gympie and Rainbow Beach, did not disappoint fans.
It was described as a breath of fresh air by her followers.
And it's just a taste of what's to come, with Ms Shadbolt's second album Stages release date just two weeks away.
The 25-year-old shot to fame as a teen when she came fifth on reality TV Show the X-Factor in 2014, which led to an ABC/Universal Music Australia record deal the next year.
Two of her singles Maps Out The Window and Shoot Out The Lights hit number one on the Country iTunes chart, Airplay chart and CMC Video Charts.
She has been nominated for several Golden Guitars and won the CMC New Oz Artist of the Year.
Her reach is far and broad with the pop princess featuring in numerous news and music articles and amassing 34,000 followers on Facebook and 32,000 on Instagram who she keeps entertained weekly.
During non COVID times, she performs around the nation, always bringing a vibrant and homely energy that keeps her fans coming back.
Caitlyn's other half, Matt Smith, lead guitarist for Aussie pop rock band Thirsty Merc, also lives in the region and was instrumental in organising the Big Summer Blow Out concert at Rainbow Beach in February.
The concert drew thousands of spectators who lapped up the star-studded line up of Aussie music greats Daryl Braithwaite, Dragon, Wendy Matthews and Caitlyn herself.
#10 SHARON O'BRIEN
AS the saying goes, power to the people.
But for Sharon O'Brien power is the people; or more specifically it is her passion for their welfare that has pushed her into her first appearance in Gympie's most powerful list at Number 10.
The lifelong Gympie resident has been a key force through Little Haven Palliative Care and the region's Salvation Army, two organisations on a big roll over the past few years.
She has been a huge influence in the life of husband and Wide Bay Federal MP Llew O'Brien; he frequently credits her support to helping him through hard times and challenges.
Sharon has been on Little Haven's board for three years and has helped the popular service gain significant and crucial funding from the Federal Government in recent years.
She also played a role in the growth of the Salvation Army's Red Shield appeal, helping transform it from a door knock appeal to a successful breakfast fundraiser.
And these latest successes are but the tip of the influential iceberg.
Mrs O'Brien became involved in politics and the future of the region when the ill-fated Traveston dam was announced and played an integral role in State MP Tony Perrett winning the Gympie state seat in 2015, serving as his campaign manager.
#9 ANDREW "AUSSIE" CORBET
KEEPING his spot inside the Top 10 of this year's most influential is undoubtedly one of the Gympie region's sharpest and hard working business minds, Andrew "Aussie" Corbet.
The leader of Gympie-based, family-owned transport giant Corbet's Group, Aussie has steered them from strength to strength in his time on top, overseeing a transformation from sawmill and engineering business to what is now one of Australia's largest multi-industry companies - operating in transport, land clearing, water processing, storage, equipment hire and landscape supplies.
"A culture of continuous innovations and improvement runs deep in our organisation as the key to sustainable growth," Aussie says on the Corbets website.
"We have grown our organisation by providing a tireless approach to innovative transport and plant and equipment solutions for the construction, industrial, mining, infrastructure, commercial, trade and residential markets."
Last December, the group's Traveston development became the latest keystone in its commercial growth, with plans to leverage its new concrete batching plant and quarry into a direct sales market.
The Traveston venture brought their total staff in the Gympie region to about 150.
In May, he was a vocal advocate for keeping jobs local on the Gympie Bypass construction, with Corbet's Group asking Gympie Regional Council permission to deliver the 500,000 tonnes of material needed for the project each year of its expected five years.
"The more work we can get locally here … it's a no-brainer," he said in reference to the havoc caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also paved the way for a green light to run 33m road trains in June of 2018, making Corbet's the first company in Queensland to be given approval for the A-double trucks capable of hauling up to 79 tonnes.
Aussie has always credited the continuing success of Corbet's Group to his loyal staff.
"We wouldn't have got anywhere unless we had good people. That's really the key."
His presence as a leader of the Gympie business world will remain vital for the region's progress for a long time to come.
#8 SHANE GRAY
IF you can overhaul a region's public service, how much power do you have?
The answer is plenty, and the reason why Gympie's new CEO Shane Gray makes his Power 40 debut at number 8.
Shane has been given control of - and responsibility for - a council which routinely rolls out annual budgets of more than $100 million.
He also has accountability for millions of dollars of infrastructure, including water and sewerage, thousands of kilometres of roads, and almost 500 staff.
Not that he is any stranger to such a task: Mr Gray served as CEO of Murgon Shire Council from 2001-2004, and then Nanango for the following three years.
He was then tasked with guiding the newly amalgamated South Burnett Regional Council in 2008 as its acting CEO.
Mr Gray then took up a role dealing with risk co-ordinator for the Australian branch of British-based multinational Jardine Lloyd Thompson and Local Government Mutual Services before taking the helm of Gympie's council after the election.
At the councillors' direction he has set his sights on overhauling the organisation's transparency and services, changes clearly called for by the outcome of this year's local government election.
#7 CHRIS CALLAGHAN
COMING in at Number 7 is Gympie magistrate Chris Callaghan, who moves up nine spots from last year's #16 ranking.
Since taking over as the Gympie magistrate in 2018, Mr Callaghan has presided over thousands of criminal cases from across the region.
With an extensive history in private practice as a criminal defence lawyer, he was admitted in 1980 to practice as a solicitor on the Sunshine Coast.
He went to the Bar in Brisbane in 1991 until 1995, and was a solicitor/advocate primarily in the criminal courts until his appointment as a magistrate in 2007.
Mr Callaghan joined Gympie as the President of the Magistrates Association, and as magistrates regional co-ordinator he keeps the wheels of justice turning across a huge regional area
Mr Callaghan has been running the show from Hervey Bay and Maryborough to Caloundra and west to Kingaroy, administering a system that handles 3500 matters a year, or about 70 cases a week.
Mr Callaghan, always fair and transparent in his decisions, has been vocal about his role in protecting our community and the sometimes-tough rules of mandatory sentencing.
Sentencing is not a "one size fits all" he told The Gympie Times shortly after taking on the role.
Some penalties, including jail and even mandatory loss of a driver's licence, can have devastating consequences.
"It's different in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, where people can take public transport. But how is a farm worker going to get to work without a licence?
"Someone moves house, doesn't get their mail and misses a payment on their SPER account, they can lose their licence."
And in the regions, he says that often means they lose their jobs, hurting the whole community.
#6 SHELLEY STRACHAN
GYMPIE Times editor Shelley Strachan has come in at #6 of the 40 most influential people of the region in 2020.
It has been a year of seismic challenges and changes for many local businesses and people, and none more so than The Gympie Times, which ceased production of its print product after 152 years to concentrate 100 per cent on being the best regional news brand in the rapidly expanding world of digital news.
The digital product has gone gangbusters under Ms Strachan's leadership, growing exponentially in terms of readership, subscribers, reach and engagement. More than 36,000 unique visitors read The Gympie Times online each week, and its Facebook page has close to 21,000 followers, with single posts reaching up to 160,000 people.
Telling the stories that shape the Gympie region and fully informing its readers on all local issues meant The Gympie Times played a pivotal role in the outcome of the March 2020 local government election. This came on the heels of the game-changing influence it had on freeing up the money to build the $1 billion Gympie Bypass. The Gympie Times' years-long campaign to bring completion of the Bypass forward not only succeeded - work has now started - but it has saved at least 50 lives and created hundreds of new jobs just when the community needed them most. The Bruce Highway campaign also won the GT the News Corp national Achievements in Regional Journalism award.
This year's COVID-19 crisis has meant it has been more important than ever to stay informed through a reliable source of local knowledge and news. Ms Strachan has prided herself on local knowledge and the balanced, accurate reporting of her team, and has worked hard to ensure their standard of community journalism is the best in the country.
Last year, The Gympie Times was a finalist for the sixth year in a row for the News Media News Brand of the Year, an award it won four times since 2014.
Ms Strachan is a local, and is a passionate advocate for the region and a respected daily editor in the vast News Corp stable.
Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave your comment online at gympietimes.com.au.
#5 TONY GOODMAN
GYMPIE business leader Tony Goodman continues his surge up the region's list of most powerful, moving from number 9 last year and into the top 5.
The Chamber of Commerce president has overseen the resurgence of the group since he took the helm in 2018, attracting several heavy weight analysts and experts to oft-packed COC breakfasts including speaking engagements by demographer Bernard Salt and political and business analyst Neil Glentworth.
Mr Goodman's advocacy for the region's business community also pushed the council to commit to an overhaul of its planning department to become more "user friendly" in the wake of ongoing criticism.
His power stretches further than that, though.
Mr Goodman has been influential in bringing people back into Mary St with the quarterly Mary St events to celebrate key events in the region every year.
Crowds of more than 5000 have been recorded in the street since the events began.
Mr Goodman has a background in business development with his role with the real estate industry of Queensland. He also owned two successful real estate agencies in Caboolture before moving to the Gympie region in 2004. As a Gympie businessman Tony is passionate about promoting Mary St to locals and visitors alike, and to growing the region's economy.
#4 DEB FRECKLINGTON
STATE Opposition leader Deb Frecklington enters this year's list at number 4 and with the chance to shoot must higher as she fights for the most powerful job in Queensland.
The Nanago MP, Gympie's closest neighbour to the west and incorporating part of the Gympie Regional Council area, took over the role of the state's alternative voice in 2017, a position she has now held for longer than any party leader since at least 2008.
Her background extends beyond the long arm of politics.
She graduated university with a Bachelor of Business before selling advertising for Roma's Western Star newspaper.
A law degree then followed, chased by the management of large-scale production farming properties in Queensland and New South Wales.
The mother of three then moved to Kingaroy where she ran her own law firm and her interest in politics flourished, particularly in relation to the disconnect in government services like the courts, hospitals and police.
After October 31, of course, she could be Premier of Queensland.
#3 GLEN HARTWIG
GLEN Hartwig's election as Gympie's new mayor lit a rocket under his place on The Gympie Times list, sending him surging from number 19 to number 3.
Mr Hartwig was elected with more than half of the first preference vote on the back of a platform for greater transparency and overhauling the culture within the council.
The ex-police officer and Gympie businessman was outspoken about the ultimately flawed restoration process for the Rattler, flagging the blown-out final cost six months before the council confirmed it.
His criticism of the council's spending habits was also prescient; these flaws were laid bare in a scathing independent report from one of Australia's top accountancy firms, CHP Australia.
The circumstances surrounding the departure of former head council engineer and now-councillor Bob Fredman in 2016, and the controversial overhaul of Gympie's water services have been an ongoing concern for him.
During his time as councillor for Division 2 Mr Hartwig helped establish the new Curra Hall, the Curra MX Bike Park, an upgrade to Anderleigh Rd and improvements to Gunalda's heart through the Our Towns program.
#2 TONY PERRETT
THE Queensland opposition spokesman for agricultural industry development, fisheries and forestry enters this year's list with the prospect of becoming part of an incumbent government for the first time should he be reelected and the LNP victorious in Queensland.
In his time holding Gympie's state seat Mr Perrett has been a vocal fighter for farmers and the agricultural industries on the State's controversial vegetation and fisheries management policies and proposed Great Barrier Reef regulations.
His five-year fight to bring USC to an empty building at Gympie's TAFE also came to a head in the new year, with a lease for the building finally signed, sealed and delivered.
His long-campaigned for upgrades to the Coondoo Creek bridge are on the verge of becoming a finished reality, too.
#1 LLEW O'BRIEN
A LOT can happen in a year.
In the 365-or-so days since Wide Bay MP Llew O'Brien claimed the top spot in Gympie's Power 40, his influence within the country's corridors of power has only gotten stronger.
In February Mr O'Brien moved a leadership spill against Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, with Barnaby Joyce as the challenger.
And so dropped the dominos: Mr Joyce lost, Llew quit the Nationals party room (but remained aligned with the LNP and supportive of the Federal Government) and - in an extraordinary sequence of events driven by the Labor Party's attempt to torpedo the LNP's endorsed candidate - he was voted into the deputy Speaker's job when he was unexpectedly nominated for the role.
And all of this before COVID-19 turned the world on it head.
Now in his fifth year at the Wide Bay helm, Mr O'Brien's biggest vision for the region - construction of the $1 billion Gympie Bypass - has officially begun.
It is the latest in a string of projects to be delivered in his term, including the creation of Gympie Headspace and support for Little Haven Palliative Care and MRI at Gympie Radiology.
These are on top of a list that also includes him successfully pressuring the Federal Government into holding a Royal Commission into the banking industry, and he was a major player when the LNP's National Energy Guarantee imploded, ultimately toppling Malcolm Turnbull in favour of Scott Morrison, who then won re-election when many pundits believed Labor had the upper hand.
Upgraded sports facilities like the tennis courts at Kandanga, an extension to Cooinda Aged Care Centre and improvements to Gympie's Showgrounds were all signed for delivery in the past year.
Road safety improvements like the Bypass have been a focus of Mr O'Brien's since his days as a police officer in the region.
From roads to mental health and domestic violence, he has been a first-hand witness to the social issues tearing at the fabric of the Gympie region society.
And he never stops crediting his wife Sharon for not only helping him through those hard times, but helping him tackle the challenges that lie ahead in getting the Gympie region where he wants it to be.
This list is a subjective talking point, not a scientific guide. We welcome feedback from the public. It is about the 40 most powerful and/or influential people in the Gympie region.
How strong and broad is their influence?
A special committee of community leaders from various walks of life have voted on who should be on this list and in what order.
Is there someone you think should be on the list?
Email your contenders to email@example.com or comment below and tell us why.