Karen is always willing to help

Karen Nawratzki has dedicated decades to volunteering, and wants to encourage others to find a few hours to give back. Picture: GRACE CRICHTON

We are all given the same number of hours in a day, it’s what you do with them that counts.

One person who makes the most of the hours she is given is Karen Nawratzki.

A dedicated volunteer, public servant, and all-round bundle of positive energy, Karen has always given of herself freely.

“My mum always said ‘give back’,” she said.

“It does make you feel that you’ve done something for the community, and I think that’s what it’s all about.

“I know a lot of people are busy, life’s busy in itself, but I figure I can put a couple of hours aside for volunteer work every week.”

It was her many years as a Justice of the Peace and volunteering with Scouts which earned her the accolade of Lockyer Valley’s Citizen of the Year for 2024.

“I’m proud of what I do,” Karen said.

“I love being a JP and I love Scouting.

“If someone needs me, I’m there for them.”

Karen became a JP while working for the Federal Government more than 40 years ago.

“In those days, we’re talking 43 years ago, you didn’t have to sit for a test or anything,” she said.

“You had to be nominated by a couple members of the public who knew you, family friends or acquaintances… and then I was sworn in by the Attorney General.

“I was 21.

“I think it’s because I worked for the Federal Government at the time too, so everyone was always looking for a JP and we haven’t got a JP, so we have to go to the courts.

“I used to work a lot for the police, I used to go and sign statements and things like that.”

It was something which always appealed to her.

“I always wanted to be a JP for some reason, ‘cause I think well, that’s giving back,” she said.

During her career as a public servant she worked in several departments, including education, finance, and employment.

“The day I took my redundancy, 20 years later, there was a budget that night and the budget closed them all down,” she said.

“And I took a redundancy – very, very lucky.”

While living in Oakey, her career took a turn into the police service.

“The sergeant of police came down one day and said, ‘do you want a job?’” she said.

Working part time, she agreed to the sergeant’s offer, kicking off her new career.

“I did 20 years in the police service and just retired about three years ago,” she said.

“Being a JP came in handy there, but there were a lot of things I couldn’t sign as a JP.”

Life and work took her around the place, living in Ipswich, at the coast for a while, which is when she had her son, a short stint in Atherton on job transfer, before Oakey and finally Placid Hills.

“When I was in Gatton I used to help the court magistrate,” she said.

“If he needed to hold court before the judges came, because we’re classified as country, he would ask me and him and I would make a magistrate so that would mean we could hold DV court and stuff like that.”

During COVID she was positioned at Marburg Police Station and was given projects from headquarters she could work on from home.

“I loved working for the police,” she said.

“I weighed it up, you know I’ve only got a short time left on this earth I really don’t want to be working, I want to spend my money.”

It was while in Oakey that she reconnected with her other great volunteering passion.

Scouts has been a major part of Karen’s life.

“Scouting’s in my blood I suppose,” she said.

“I started in Scouting when I was 18.

“I did six years as a Rover Scout.”

She was a Brownie and a Girl Guide before that, and when she reached the upper age limit of 25 she left Scouts, but she wouldn’t stay away forever, enrolling her son in the Oakey Scout group.

“I knew what Scouting was like and that’s why I really wanted to get my boy into it,” she said.

“They’re learning how to camp, they’re learning how to cook, they’re learning how to do ropes, they’re learning how to manage how to set up camp, why they do it, why your tent’s there and why it’s not over here.

“That’s something they don’t learn at school.

“My son learned how to cook through Scouts.”

When Karen’s neighbour set her up on a blind date, she arranged to meet him and ‘see what happens’, and the pair hit it off.

“I met Neville and we moved to Gatton,” Karen said.

“We’ve been married 20 years this year.”

It wasn’t long before she became part of the Scouting community in Gatton.

The Scout leader at the time moved on and asked if Karen would like to become a leader.

“I was there every night anyhow,” she said.

“There was just three of them and we got along really well.

“We did lots of camping and doing things and stuff like that.

“It just sort of grew from there.”

As the club grew, Karen looked after all the sections, Joeys, Cubs, Scouts, and Venturers, eventually getting more parents to come on board as leaders.

The group leader at the time sadly passed away in a car accident, and Karen was promoted to her position.

“I got a letter two days later saying, ‘you’re now group leader’,” she said.

“I was one of the few people who was qualified for the job.”

Now, she holds the position of District Commissioner.

“I look after Gatton, Laidley, which is not grading at the moment, Glenore Grove, Lowood, and Esk,” she said.

“We have a campsite at Atkinsons and we look after that.”

Teaching kids, helping them learn, and watching them grow is rewarding in itself.

“It’s good teaching kids something new and they’ve never done it before,” Karen said.

“It might take a few times to do it but then when they get the hang of it you can see it.

“You can see the little light bulb above their head.”

After many years, and many kids coming through the ranks, some of Karen’s charges now have kids of their own.

As adults, they will still call her by her Scout name.

“Some of my kids are married with lots of kids now, and they’ll walk along the street and see you: ‘oh g’day Echidna!’

“They’ve never called me my real name, it’s always Echidna and that’s how it’s always been.

“It makes you feel good that they do remember you.

“It’s lovely watching them develop and going through the ranks.

“I’ve got one who started as a Joey, he’s a Venturer now, he will likely go into Rovers, and who knows, maybe leadership.

“He’s developed so much along the way and it’s so wonderful to see.

“And that’s what you feel really good about.”

It’s the satisfaction from giving back that she wishes more people would take part in.

“I’d like everyone to think about volunteering,” she said.

“It doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t take that much out of your time.”

Karen has volunteered her JP services at the Gatton Library and court for many years, plus she’s also volunteered on the Local Ambulance Committees in Oakey and Gatton, and recently joined Meals and Wheels.

“I would love people to look at their time management and to volunteer,” she said.

“Volunteer to whoever, especially to the older groups like Lions and Rotary.

“Just to help out just for a couple hours a week.

“I think it would be lovely if everyone could spare some time and do it.”

Particularly for parents, whether it’s Scouts or sports, volunteering can be a way to develop stronger family bonds, set a good example, and start a new tradition.

“Scouting’s great because you can get involved with your kids as well,” Karen said.

“If you’re volunteering, your kids are seeing that.

“Let it become a tradition for your family so it goes on year after year.”

Despite her friends telling her she should ‘slow down’, there is no stopping Karen’s dedication to her community nor her willingness to give more and more of herself.