Mabel Quakawoot is the 2021 Citizen of the Year. Mackay Australia Day Awards Gala Dinner. Picture: Tara Miko
Mabel Quakawoot is the 2021 Citizen of the Year. Mackay Australia Day Awards Gala Dinner. Picture: Tara Miko

Mackay top 2021 citizen’s next mission for our city

Mackay’s 2021 Citizen of the Year is as comfortable in the spotlight as bare feet on boiling bitumen.

Because Mabel Quakawoot doesn’t do things for “show”.

She does them because they’re right, and plans to fight on for her next passion – getting Mackay a soup kitchen.

“I like to do things quietly and make sure those people feel comfortable,” she says.

“When you help people, they don’t want other people to know that you’re helping them, so I go about that quietly and that’s how I work.

“I don’t tell people that I do this or do that but Greg (Williamson) knew that I was in the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force.”

Mrs Quakawoot agrees there’s not much Mackay’s mayor doesn’t know about his constituents and that includes herself.

More Australia Day 2021 stories:

FULL LIST: Every 2021 winner in Mackay Australia Day awards

Veteran’s tireless mission for his mates earns top honour

Cr Williamson listed Mrs Quakawoot’s impressive list of achievements at the Australia Day awards gala dinner at the MECC Monday night, also her 84th birthday.

“I was overwhelmed,” Mrs Quakawoot said.

“I’m South Sea Islander as well as Aboriginal – my grandfather on my father’s side married an Aboriginal woman from Gladstone and I worked down there to get our land back down there.”

Three tribes joined together to form what she said was one of the richest Aboriginal corporations in Australia with $80 million available to help support the next generation follow in her footsteps of community achievements.

“We have a good lawyer and good money managing fellow, and they see all the opportunities and they grab it,” Mrs Quakawoot said.

“We also put adults through university, we give children a chance to go; we put them through the best schools – lawyers, doctors …

“But I didn’t do it for a big thing like this, I did it because I wanted people to have a fabulous life like I have.

“I had fantastic parents. I was the eldest of nine and we didn’t know which one mum and dad loved the most.

“That’s how we grew up.”

Mabel YowYeh Quakawoot is a proud Bailai Elder.
Mabel YowYeh Quakawoot is a proud Bailai Elder.

That family link is important to Mrs Quakawoot who, two years ago, organised her brother’s 80th birthday and got the whole family together: her brothers and sisters, their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

All up, about 90 people.

“I know everyone’s birthday. I remember every one of my brothers and sisters’ birthdays, I remember their eldest children’s’ birthdays but I don’t know after that because they bred like flies and I didn’t,” she said with a genuine laugh.

More Australia Day stories:

Mackay OAM recipient learnt ‘to care’ from WWII veteran dad

GALLERY: Massive crowd celebrates Mackay’s best citizens

Humble Bowen ambo makes Australia Day Honours List

Humbled by her Citizen of the Year award, Mrs Quakawoot said her successful ‘cups of tea at the courthouse’ program had inspired her next project.

She wants a soup kitchen that can help people in need keep their dignity but give them comfort when they need it.

Mabel Quakawoot addresses the crowd at the Walk for Water.
Mabel Quakawoot addresses the crowd at the Walk for Water.

“I would love to start a soup kitchen,” she said.

“The soup kitchen is something that I want the whole community to come together and I would like to do it like I did the cups of tea at the courthouse.

“All the churches, all the big businesses and everything, come together and we work a plan out.

“We find a building that is not detrimental to the people who are wanting to come to the soup kitchen.

“We don’t want them on show, we want them to come up and they feel comfortable.”

And beware those who stand in her way. Mrs Quakawoot has been chipping away at the plan for the past two years and has her sights set on a building that meets the criteria of what she’s looking for.

“I’ve picked out a place that I want but someone told me they’ve got a big fence in front of it and it would cost money,” she said.

Subscriber benefits:

How to activate your free Courier-Mail subscription

Your dose of Harry Bruce cartoons

Five ways to get more from your digital subscription

“I said, ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’, because we’ve got to get a few people together.

“We are going to get this soup kitchen; I would love this soup kitchen because there are so many people out there who would love to have a hot cup of soup on a cold winter’s night.”