January 26th – A Day of Healing, Coming Together and Celebrating Local Heroes

By February 1, 2021 In Focus 4 Comments
The Bellingen Shire has sought to make January 26th a day of healing wounds and bringing the community together as one, rather than divide.

Every year across Australia the date January 26th evokes the full gamut of human emotions. For some Australians it is a day of celebration for the (so-called) ‘founding’ of Australia and a day to celebrate the achievements of fellow Australians.  However, for the Australian Indigenous population, it signifies a day of mourning for the loss of their sovereign rights to their land, loss of family and a loss of the right to practice their culture.  This polarisation of ideology has wrought conflict and division.

The Bellingen Shire community has sought to use the day to heal wounds and to bring everyone together.  This year from the Plateau to the seaboard there were a range of ceremonies and celebrations, with one common theme- cohesiveness and an aim that the Bellingen Shire remain a connected, sustainable and creative community.

The Bellingen Shire has sought to make January 26th a day of healing wounds and bringing the community together as one, rather than divide.

Rob (Robbo) Canning with Mayor Cr Dom King

Local Gumbaynggirr Traditional Owner Rob (Robbo) Canning has been actively involved in this pursuit for years.  “As an indigenous Australian, I’ve always had a vision for a ‘United’ Australia Day,” says Rob. This year Robbo organised a ceremony and gathering at Lavenders Bridge.  Everyone from across the Shire was welcomed to a traditional smoking ceremony, didg and song, ochre and a wash in the river.   “I wanted people to be cleansed and healed, to celebrate together as one.” 

“I believe if we are going to do Australia Day, let’s do it right. Let’s start with a morning service to acknowledge the first nation people who lost their lives, culture and identity from the making of this country. Also acknowledge the fauna and animals of this land. I also acknowledge the convict families back in the day in England as they watched their family members being put on the ships taken to a unknown place, never to be seen again. To acknowledge the hurt, to accept the history, to embrace and support each other in respect, is to move forward together as one,” says Rob.

The Bellingen Shire has sought to make January 26th a day of healing wounds and bringing the community together as one, rather than divide.

A true message of unification

In a very different celebration but one that further acknowledged the need to bring the community together, the Urunga Lions Club with the support of Council organised an Awards Ceremony at Lions Park Urunga on the day. Bellingen Shire Mayor, Cr King, said “The Australia Day Awards provide our community with a fantastic opportunity to acknowledge the members of the community who give their time freely throughout our Shire to help others and to recognise those who have demonstrated commitment and generosity, compassion and creativity”.

This year’s award winners were announced across a suite of new categories, which this year were refined to better reflect our community aspirations, challenges and achievements. Despite the challenges posed during the past 12 months, community champions have continued to work tirelessly for the betterment of the whole community.

The individual category winners of our Shire’s 2021 Australia Day Awards are:

Home Grown Heroes Award

The Bellingen Shire has sought to make January 26th a day of healing wounds and bringing the community together as one, rather than divide.

Dr Trevor Cheney accepting the Home Grown Heroes Award

Trevor Cheney was instrumental in setting up the Bellingen Shire Covid-19 Clinic providing our Shire with a dedicated facility to test for the virus, coordinate patient after-care support services and reduce the risk of transmission of the Coronavirus. The clinic, which was originally self-funded by our local medical practices, commenced testing long before any State or Federal Government funded testing clinics were operational.

During this very busy time Trevor has also provided the community with a weekly medical update through our I Love Bello Shire newsletter and website where he provided information about the latest research for vaccines and what was occurring in Australia. Through Trevor’s commitment and action the local community remained informed and up to date.

Arts Award

David Bromley continually contributes to the creative health of Urunga’s community through teaching, art and print making programs for adults and school children. David’s commitment to the relevance of Urunga’s history through his recent public mural work has raised awareness of Urunga’s multicultural past and present, and firmly values the ancient and present traditional ownership of this country by representation in the mural, which has taken nearly 3 years of planning and painting to accomplish.

David continues to exhibit locally and overseas and leads by example as a Bellingen Shire-based artist operating from his home studio.

Karma Award

The Bellingen Shire has sought to make January 26th a day of healing wounds and bringing the community together as one, rather than divide.

Micklo Jarrett accepting the Karma Award

Michael ‘Micklo’ Jarret has continually supported the Bellingen Shire community in delivering cultural awareness and learning programs through storytelling and language. He has the ability to bring the crowd to life, teaching them to sing, and speak the language. No participant ever leaves a gathering without having learnt and felt something very special.

Micklo is qualified at University level to deliver language support through story-telling, songs, and pupil participation. Most importantly, his teachings of cultural education have been embraced by younger and older generations alike, keeping the cultural and aboriginal beliefs alive.

Environment Award

The Bellingen Shire has sought to make January 26th a day of healing wounds and bringing the community together as one, rather than divide.

Ruth Holmes (second from left) with from left Keith Holmes member of Dangarra Landcare, Rod Holmes member of Dorrigo Mountaintop Landcare and Heidi Holmes

Ruth Holmes is one of the founding members of the Dorrigo Mountain Top Landcare Group. Over the years Ruth has been instrumental in many initiatives implemented including the establishment of corridors of native trees across the rural landscape to connect to the Dorrigo National Park, aiding the welfare of the native wildlife that inhabit the plateau.

She has also been involved in fencing riparian zones along the rivers and creeks, and established watering points and the concreting of pathways to reduce bogging of water crossings for livestock, to ensure that the water flowing off the plateau and into the Bellingen water catchment remains clean.

Ruth constantly collects strewn rubbish on the roadsides and is present at all events and working days, taking great pride in helping to maintain the Griffiths Lookout area.

Leading on The Land Award

Gillian Anderson is President of the Bellingen Agricultural Show Society, a role she undertakes on a voluntary basis and with great energy and enthusiasm. Each year Gillian coordinates a large team of volunteers to bring the show together. Gillian’s strong leadership and her dedication demonstrates her commitment to the benefits that such events bring to our community. The Show attracts visitors from across our region and beyond, showcases the wide variety of agricultural enterprises in our Shire and reminds us of our agricultural roots.

Gillian has a remarkable ability to lead and inspire people to come together to collaborate on projects. She truly embodies the essence of community spirit, sustainability and resilience that enables our community to weather the tough times together.

Community Champion Award (Joint Winners)

The Bellingen Shire has sought to make January 26th a day of healing wounds and bringing the community together as one, rather than divide.

Peter Lister accepting the Community Champion Award

Peter Lister is heavily involved in community programming across the Bellingen Shire whether it be Anzac Day celebrations, Father’s Day programs or support based initiatives, or his contribution to the coordination and preparation of the Urunga People’s Day 2019 and 2020 activities, which represents his ability to bring people together. A totally committed man to his community, Peter utilises digital platforms to bring people together.   His garden site allows the buying and swapping of food and plants, while his  unique website covers all aspects of Urunga life, providing noticeboards and places for conversation to take place. Peter’s personality, commitment and enthusiasm towards community and its people is infectious.

Dr Dierdre Little has compassionately served both the Bellingen and Coffs Harbour regions, providing above and beyond the standard care and consideration for her patients. This year Dierdre received an Award on behalf of Lilyrose Pregnancy Support from the NSW Parliament for the best rural & remote Pregnancy Support service beyond our major cities.

This care for her patients has been a hallmark of her commitment to delivering community service whether in the hospital setting or in her GP Practice even providing her personal mobile for patients 24/7. Deirdre’s out of hours phone calls and home visits demonstrate her generosity of spirit to patients and their families.

(Photo credits: Bruce Jacups and Ruth Holmes).


  • Robert Denner says:

    Well done to the Holmes’. True Citizens of Dorrigo!

  • Margot Pleasant says:

    Congratulations to all award recipients. Job well done – our community applauds your generous commitment.

  • Marion Syratt says:

    Marvelous spirit

  • Judith M Allison says:

    Better late than never … my comment I mean …. Congratulations to Rob Canning and other members of our local Indigenous community for their recognition of the need to go forward together, thus their organisation of relevant activities on this day. It is also great that recognition is made of those who were transported across the the seas to a new and strange land, largely against their will. Australia has a unique culture as a result of our history. As Rob says, we need to recognise the hurt of the past, BUT the only way forward is TOGETHER!

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