IT WAS both surprising and humbling for Bendigo's Margot Spalding to hear news she would be awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia.
Mrs Spalding credits an ethos of inclusivity taught by her parents and aunt, with driving attitude throughout her work and community service.
Left an orphan aged 15, Mrs Spalding said she also knew what it was to stand along in the world, so was always looking out for other people.
Mrs Spalding was responsible for founding Believe in Bendigo, established to send a message of inclusion during the anti-mosque protests in 2015.
She said she was ashamed of the hate on show and embarrassed to see Bendigo's Muslim community being bullied.
These feelings combined with concern the city's brand was being trashed, she said.
It led her to invite about 50 community leaders to her home, in fields ranging from education, to sport, to faith.
From that sprang a large-scale movement of welcome for the city's Muslim community, as people latched onto the effort.
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Mrs Spalding said many were already trying to combat the hate, but flummoxed by what to do.
She said within months the sentiment within the city swung to positive. It sparked conversations across Australia and worldwide.
As Believe in Bendigo gained momentum, Mrs Spalding got to know members of Bendigo's Muslim community. These friendships have been kept into the long term, with a group called Interested, Interesting Ladies.
This began when Mrs Spalding invited Muslim women and her friends home for afternoon tea. Mrs Spaldind said it was aimed at anyone interested in diversity, inclusion or welcome, or interesting in any regard.
By early 2020 it had reached about 200 people, when COVID-19 restrictions forced it to pause.
Mrs Spalding was also co-owner of former Bendigo business Jimmy Possum Furniture for more than 20 years.
She was named Telstra Business Woman of the Year in 2006.
Mrs Spalding said the Jimmy Possum business also realised the welcoming attitude, set up to focus on apprenticeships and training people in a trade.
She said its success had allowed herself and her husband to be very generous with the community, supporting organisations such as the OTIS foundation and Ulumbarra Theatre.