Guyra celebrates Australia Day and honours Lamb and Potato Festival founder Frank Presnell

CELEBRATIONS: Armidale Regional Council mayor Simon Murray, Australia Day ambassador Liz Deep-Jones, and Guyra citizen of the year Sue Adams. Picture: Nicholas Fuller
CELEBRATIONS: Armidale Regional Council mayor Simon Murray, Australia Day ambassador Liz Deep-Jones, and Guyra citizen of the year Sue Adams. Picture: Nicholas Fuller

Australia Day this year fell on the second-last day of Guyra's Lamb and Potato Festival - and Australia Day ambassador Liz Deep-Jones was thrilled to be there for both.

"I'm honoured to be here, and I am excited about being in Guyra," Ms Deep-Jones said. "I've never been here before, but I'm here for the Lamb and Potato Festival! My parents are from Lebanon, and our main meat is lamb. So I'm looking forward to trying your lamb and potato pies."

Ms Deep-Jones is Armidale Regional Council's first Australia Day ambassador for both Armidale and Guyra.

She is a high-profile journalist, author, and football fan who presented SBS Television's nightly sports news program for 15 years.

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Australia Day ambassador Liz Deep-Jones.

Australia Day ambassador Liz Deep-Jones.

"Coming from the city, I like to visit country and rural areas to get a better understanding of farming life and what it's like in the country and rural areas," Ms Deep-Jones said. "Mum and I are always impressed - and we do get quite jealous about the wonderful community spirit that you have."

Guyra, Ms Deep-Jones said, had a difficult year with the drought; the whole country had also suffered with the bush fires.

"It's been devastating to see our fellow Aussies doing it tough. Some people have lost their homes; we've lost a lot of land through the fires; and some of our native species are threatened.

"It's been heart-wrenching and and heart-breaking for us to see what's going on across the country," Ms Deep-Jones said. "It's a testing time, but as great Aussies and with our true Aussie spirit, we bounce back, and we're very resilient. These are the times we come together and help each other out."

After Ms Deep-Jones's address, Guyra's citizen of the year Sue Adams, sportsperson Fletcher Richardson, and Brian Irving raised the flags - all helped by John Credland, recipient of the contribution to sport and recreation award.

The Presnell family then unveiled a plaque on the Guyra sheep statue in honour of the Lamb and Potato Festival founder Frank Presnell, who died last year.

The Presnell family - Owen, John, Barry, and Frances - unveil the plaque in honour of their late father, Frank.

The Presnell family - Owen, John, Barry, and Frances - unveil the plaque in honour of their late father, Frank.

"What an amazing man he was!" organiser Julie Gittoes said. "He was just amazing for the festival and for our Guyra community. He just did so much, and he deserved every award that he was ever given."

The committee, Ms Gittoes said, had wondered whether to continue the Festival during the severe drought. "But we had to keep it going for Frank," she said. "We would not like to let that era go."

On behalf of the committee, Ms Gittoes thanked every organisation that helped in the food gazebo.

"Every year I think it's the busiest. This year, it's even busier! Even with pouring rain, we had people lined up out to the edge of the road with umbrellas and boots... I couldn't do it by myself. I have a team of organisations that come in each day - two shifts with at least 20 people in each shift - and they helped me. From the bottom of my heart: thank you! It's not enough, but that's all I can say."

Lamb and Potato Festival organiser Julie Gittoes; society president Steve Mepham in background.

Lamb and Potato Festival organiser Julie Gittoes; society president Steve Mepham in background.

Ms Gittoes presented Bertha and Geoff Reeves with life membership of the Festival.

"These two treasures have been along my side every day," she said.

Bertha made 118 potato bakes, and peeled and diced more than 300 kg of potatoes, while Geoff cuts all the meat and cabbages. They have worked at the festival almost every year since it started.

Famous ABC radio presenter Ian McNamara was also in town early on Sunday morning to host his Australia All Over broadcast from Guyra.