25 January 2023

Suicide prevention boss recognised with Australia Day Award nomination

| Oliver Jacques
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Val Woodland

Val Woodland has served her community in many ways for 50 years. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

As an unmarried man until the age of 46, I always felt I was missing out on one of life’s true joys.

Being able to tell mother-in-law jokes.

Unfortunately, and fortunately, the much-loved matriarch of my new wife’s family doesn’t provide much material for gripes or wisecracks.

Val Woodland, 70, has dedicated her life to helping others. It was no surprise to see her nominated as Griffith’s 2023 Citizen of the Year, an Australia Day Award in which Griffith City Council recognises outstanding community contributions.

For the past 20 years, she has led the Griffith Suicide Prevention helpline. She also has been a social worker, helped establish and run the Griffith Community Centre, dished out free meals for mobile food service Care Van, advocated for more disability support services, raised funds to bring a youth mentoring service to her town and sponsored a Nepali child through school and university.

Even her holidays are often spent doing community service – in two trips to Nepal, she shunned the trekking circuit in favour of building local housing for the charity Habitat for Humanity.

All her work is done quietly without fanfare or publicity, at least on her part.

“Don’t tell anyone about my award nomination,” Val warned her family before the news somehow leaked to Facebook – in a post that went viral and received 148 messages of admiration.

woman with granddaughters

Val Woodland with granddaughters Eden and Raiya Gyles on Anzac Day 15 years ago. Photo: Supplied.

Most of her fans know her for the work she does with Griffith Suicide Prevention and Support Group Inc, a 24-hour telephone crisis line that offers counselling, advice and referral support for people lonely, depressed or affected by suicide. For two decades, she has been providing comfort to those at their most vulnerable as well as training and mentoring new crisis line operators.

“I really think it would be good if people reached out more when they’re not feeling OK. There’s always help available … there are a lot of services out there,” Val said.

READ ALSO Didgeridoo ace nominated as Griffith Young Citizen of the Year 2023

Her generosity is also valued by her own family – she’s spent 49 consecutive years raising and looking after babies and children, without respite. While most mums get a few years’ break in between raising their own kids and nanna duties, Val had no such luxury.

“My youngest child was just 13 years old when I became a grandmother, so it never stopped,” she said. In half a century, barely a week has passed when she didn’t have to either babysit, change a nappy, make lunches, or provide unpaid Uber-like services.

“I hope to at least get a gap year before I become a great-grandma,” she said.

Luckily, she hasn’t had to do it alone. In 2022, she celebrated 50 years of marriage to retired winery engineer Peter Woodland, whom she met at a Hanwood Club dance in the early 1970s.

“He keeps the home fires burning while I’m out and about, like every good man should,” Val said.

man and woman

Peter and Val Woodland in their heyday. Photo: Supplied.

Peter called it “50 years of marital bliss” while his wife was standing next to him.

Although she turns 71 this year, she has no plans to slow down or do things differently. The grandma of six has only one wish.

“Could you please stop talking about me so I can get back to work,” she said.

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