Award for 40-year Hills SES veteran Neil Gall

Awarded: Neil Gall’s volunteerism has extended for more than 40 years to adding Christmas cheer to the neighbourhood. Picture: Simon Bennett

Awarded: Neil Gall’s volunteerism has extended for more than 40 years to adding Christmas cheer to the neighbourhood. Picture: Simon Bennett

He's known to multiple generations as Santa, and this week Neil Gall received a nod from council for his volunteer work.

The Baulkham Hills resident received a Community Contribution Achiever Award at last week’s Orange Blossom Festival.

It follows his 40th anniversary celebration with the SES earlier this year.

Mr Gall, now in his 70s, was one of just 15 Hills SES members when he first volunteered. Since then, he says, “it has become a lot more professional.”

That said, they still call on him for support and guidance. Formerly a communications officer, he now does PR for what is a much larger organisation of more than 100.

Among his proudest achievements was when he was called to Newcastle to help during earthquake disaster relief in 1989.

“I work in disability services, and in that work I always have to be calm,” he said. “So I find it easy to stay calm in disasters. I just don’t get stressed.

“If anyone asked me if they should join the SES I’d say definitely – they offer great training and camaraderie.”

Mr Gall’s volunteerism has extended for more than 40 years to adding Christmas cheer to the neighbourhood. For more than a few generations of children living in The Hills, he has been Santa.

It began as an initiative to generate more Christmas spirit in the North Rocks area. Getting a few mates to help, he drove around the neighbourhood one evening dressed as Santa on the back of a truck, handing out lollies and asking children what they wanted for Christmas.

These days, he and two friends share the job annually. His own route takes in parts of Rouse Hill and Kellyville, usually a few days before December 25.

“Seeing the smiles on the faces of the kids is why I do it – there’s nothing like it,” he said.

“And on the adults faces too – I’ve had adults come back with their children just to see Santa pay his visit.

“As long as I’m fit to do it, I’ll keep doing it.”

Only one aspect is different. “I’m not allowed on the back of the truck anymore,” he said. “It was quite a sight that year, seeing the police make Santa pull over and tell him to put his seat-belt on.”

Recognised: The 11 Community Contribution Award recipients on stage with The Hills mayor Yvonne Keane at the Orange Blossom Festival.

Recognised: The 11 Community Contribution Award recipients on stage with The Hills mayor Yvonne Keane at the Orange Blossom Festival.

A total of 11 community contribution awards were handed out by The Hills Council.

“To have eleven awards handed out is a testament to the strength of this area and the dedication these individuals and groups have in adding and shaping our spectacular region,” mayor Yvonne Keane said.

“I congratulate all the award recipients and wish them the very best of success as they continue to provide essential services to our vibrant community.’

The Sydney Hills Awards for Community Contribution aims to encourage, acknowledge and reward valuable contributions and outstanding achievements made by individuals and services.

Awards were judged by an independent judging panel appointed by the council and nominations were assessed using a framework that evaluated the entry on its strength of community impact.

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