Blowfly Cricket Club founder Mark Rushton, of Sydney’s Mt Colah, has been crowned the 2015 NSW Volunteer of the Year for giving autistic children the opportunity to play competitive sport.

The NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards are run by The Centre for Volunteering – the State’s peak body for volunteering – to highlight the contribution 2.1 million volunteers make in NSW.

Centre for Volunteering CEO Gemma Rygate said Mark Ruston topped the 7,000 nominees because of the widespread impact of his volunteering which had improved the wellbeing of autistic children, their families, and created a new way to play club cricket.

“Mark created the Blowfly Cricket Club in 2011 after a friend lamented that his profoundly autistic son would never experience the joy of competitive weekend sport,” Ms Rygate said.

“Thanks to Mark’s vision and hard work, every Saturday, 20 children with autism, Aspergers and cerebral palsy play cricket at a park in Hornsby with their families cheering from the sidelines.

“Small meltdowns and unusual bowling actions are no big deal because in creating the team, it created a strong support network among the families who all have special needs children.

“The effect has been profound – largely non-verbal kids talk more, their motor skills have improved, and the children enjoy the physical, emotional and social benefits of sport.”

Mark’s dream was for his team to play at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). In 2012, they lived the dream and ran onto the SCG at the Australia v India game in front of 40,000 spectators.

The Winners of the 2015 NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards are:

Award Category Winner
Overall Winner

2015 NSW Volunteer of the Year

Mark Rushton from Mount Colah, Blowfly Cricket Club for autistic children
Student Volunteer of the Year Tegan Butts from Newcastle, St John Ambulance NSW
Youth Volunteer of the Year

(up to 24 years)

Joshua Osborne from Armidale. Armidale Dumaresq SES
Adult Volunteer of the Year

(25 – 64 years)

Mark Rushton from Mount Colah, Blowfly Cricket Club
Senior Volunteer of the Year

(65+ years)

Eleanor Blows from Broken Hill, Far West Local Health District
Volunteer Team of the Year Sailors with disABILITIES, Sydney
Excellence in Volunteer Management Managers of the DigiVol team, The Australian Museum, Sydney
Corporate Volunteer of the Year (Individual) Melissa Booth from Surgical Specialties, Frenchs Forest
Corporate Volunteer Team of the Year The Atlassian Foundation, Sydney
Lifetime Achievement Award The Holocaust Survivor Volunteer Guides, Sydney Jewish Museum

(full winner profiles can be downloaded below)

NSW Minister for Multiculturalism Mr John Ajaka, who is responsible for volunteering, said the awards were an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the great achievements of outstanding people in our communities.

“The NSW Government is proud to be a founding partner and principal sponsor for these awards because it recognises the importance of volunteering to individuals and communities across NSW.

“Volunteers in NSW provide more than 240 million hours of support each year, conservatively valued at $5 billion. This incredible effort cannot be understated. I congratulate the winners and nominees and I applaud the wonderful example of volunteering they represent,” Mr Ajaka said.

ClubsNSW CEO Anthony Ball said the industry was proud to sponsor the Awards Program in order to help recognise volunteers across the state.

“With almost 50,000 volunteers engaged in our industry, clubs across NSW know how vital and valuable volunteers are to their activities and operations,” he said.

“We appreciate the inspirational role volunteers play in our communities to help others. These Awards are an opportunity to put a spotlight on our volunteers and say thank you.

“Mark’s contribution to our society through giving children with disabilities the opportunity to do what so many others take for granted is inspiring and extremely worthy of recognition.”

Almost 7,000 individual volunteers were nominated for the 2015 NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards. They were recognised at 21 regional ceremonies, where the winners went into the running for the overall State Awards, announced in Sydney

The NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards are generously supported by principal partners the NSW Department of Family and Community Services, and ClubsNSW, the industry body which represents the state’s 1400 not-for-profit clubs, as well as Bupa Aged Care.

Download the full media release – NSW Volunteer of the Year 2015 Winners