EXCLUSIVE

Winds of change blow gently through Nambucca's annual awards ceremony

This year's Nambucca Valley Council National Celebration Day Awards felt a shade different to the ones which came before.

Sure, there were the usual flourishes - the Nambucca District Band in full fanfare, and Barry Noble serenading the crowd, for example.

But it was fairly obvious to anyone who's attended more than one of these nights that the committee had worked hard to make this year's awards ceremony a more inclusive event.

The change was visible even in the name of the event - with the omission of the term 'Australia Day'. In his acceptance speech, Citizen of the Year Dr Danny Ryan reminded us of the duality wrapped up in the notion of January 26, and that it has been officially recognised as a national day of mourning for much longer than it has been a national day of celebration.

For the first time a new award category was included which honoured our Indigenous Citizen of the Year - a title which was deservingly awarded to Aunty Sandra Buchanan who has given decades of her life to ensuring local Indigenous kids get access to a good education, and growing harmony between white and black students at Bowraville Central School.

Aunty Sandra's grandson, Ricky Buchanan, was also there to receive two separate awards - Young Citizen of the Year and the Cultural Achievement Award - for his eye-wateringly long list of achievements and contributions to this community.

And even Barry's rendition of Advance Australia Fair included that one recent lyrical amendment, to promote our goal of oneness, and acknowledge that 'we' are ancient, not young at all.

Each level of government was represented at the ceremony tonight, with Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan, State Member for Oxley Melinda Pavey and Mayor Rhonda Hoban all attending. Ambassador Sophie Smith joined them on stage as dignitaries.

And while each of their speeches was uniquely rousing, a message of unity acted as a thread weaving them all together.

Cr Hoban spoke of our collective resilience, and how the selfless contributions and achievements of ordinary Nambucca Valley citizens had helped us through our darkest days this past year.

Mr Conaghan admitted that while we may not be "a perfect country, we are a lucky one".

He recounted a story of a local man who had to be flown down to Sydney for an emergency transplant, and who without access to free medical intervention, might not be alive today.

"Our history is not perfect, our system is not perfect ... but our system is there to work for everyone, no matter who you are," he said.

While Ms Smith said that what makes her proud to have become a citizen of this country is a unifying national character - a spirit of "never giving up even in the face of so much adversity, and finding the light even in the dark".

But perhaps the most poignant call for unity came through in Uncle Trevor Ballangarry's Welcome to Country address, which focussed not on the past, nor the present, but on our shared future.

Walk softly upon this land of opportunity with respect for our survival...For survival is the most important issue we all face into the future.

Uncle Trevor Ballangarry

The changes to the program tonight might be slight, and they might seem trivial in the grand context of our nation's narrative. But as that great Australian song goes - 'from little things, big things grow'.

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