Sarah Greenwood-Smith says the award-recognition of Brown Hill's local newsletter is a wider reflection of a community looking to build strong connections.
The Brown Hill Community Newsletter won two of the nine state awards at the Community Newspaper Association of Victoria conference held recently.
Ms Greenwood-Smith says the main objective of the newsletter, currently produced by a committee of three, is to connect people.
"The Brown Hill community has a strong basis of connection already," Ms Greenwood-Smith says.
"The newsletter facilitates, glues, reinforces those connections."
Delivered by a team of around 25 volunteer locals six times a year, each edition runs anywhere from 16 to 24 pages. Over 1700 households and businesses across the Brown Hill receive the newsletter, which is sometimes so full of local stories and information it becomes difficult to fit into a letterbox, says Greenwood-Smith.
"We have to limit the size to a maximum of 24 pages, which is fine because it allows us to keep a backlog of stories for the next time," Ms Greenwood-Smith says.
She says her team of volunteers delivering the newsletter are one of the main sources of content for each edition, talking to residents as the go around their routes.
The newsletter was the idea of a former Wimmera farmer, Ian Westerland, now deceased.
"He lived in Hemsley Park (Retirement Village) but felt very connected to the Brown Hill community," says Ms Greenwood-Smith.
"Apparently he'd been telling the Progress Association they'd needed a newsletter for years; that we needed a way for people to know what was going on. He was the heart and soul behind the idea, he just didn't have the facilities."
The Brown Hill community has a long history of fighting to maintain its identity, from arguing for the continued existence of its swimming pool 17 years ago to restoring the local hall in recent times.
These campaigns are sustained by the existence of a broad collective of strong and active community groups, says Ms Greenwood-Smith.
"There's the Brown Hill Progress Association; there's the Brown Hill Lions and Lionesses clubs, the Brown Hill Uniting Church; the Brown Hill Kindergarten and Caledonian Primary School and now Woodmans Hill Secondary College.
"There were already strong connections but now through the newsletter and the Brown Hill Community Festival, which celebrates the community and brings us all together; and then there are these hubs - the swimming pool, with learn-to-swim programs, Australia Day, Toys At The Pool Day; right next-door is the refurbished hall which, now it's finished, will get even more use.
"And next door to that is the beautiful Brown Hill Reserve and cricket oval. So there's this central community hub, and the playground; and running along the back of it is the Yarrowee River trail, which is just stunning. And the Parkrun group are looking to start a run on that trail, which goes all the way through Brown Hill. So the partnership and the newsletter have brought all these groups together."
The newsletter is an initiative of the Brown Hill Progress Association, with seed funding provided from the Making Brown Hill Partnership (Engaging Communities Program) in 2016, facilitated by the City of Ballarat.
It won awards for best community and best editorial content and commentary over two editions in the past year, with judge, journalist Jeanette Severs, saying by the time she had finished reading the newsletter she felt she would like to live in the community.
"I hadn't heard of Brown Hill before I read this newsletter, but... I could picture myself saying hello to neighbours as I walked to the local pool, watching the local playgroup come tumbling into the street after another fun morning and taking a regular walk down Scott's Parade to see what Faye and Rob had growing in their garden bed," Ms Severs wrote of the paper.
"I found myself drawn to memorial pieces, even though I hadn't known the departed, as they gave a strong sense of community connection and volunteering. The standout article for me in this edition was Rod Soar's account of his life since a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. This very personal piece gave insight and gentle guidance in a down-to-earth way."
Sarah Greenwood-Smith says she enjoys writing about how great it is to be connected to neighbours; about sharing plums from each other's backyards, about reasons to chat to neighbours.
"That came in handy when one neighbour's water pipe burst late at night and we called on our 'village' to help out," she says.
"Living in a connected community such as Brown Hill makes it easier to know the people around you and to feel less isolated."