Our Citizen Of The Year speaks her truth on Australia Day
Hayley Talbot has long been recognised as a leader, an innovator, and a person with a drive to create positive change within the Clarence Valley.
This year alone, among a myriad of projects she helped drive a revitalisation of koala habitat devastated by bushfire with a program that planted 5000 trees and empowered many in the community who had lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
Along with her team, she also hosts a safe space for young women through her Blanc Space business in Yamba, where they provide a safe atmosphere to create, learn and converse openly.
It was for these works she was yesterday awarded the Clarence Valley's Citizen of the Year.
While Ms Talbot said she was grateful to be honoured, she made the brave decision to use the opportunity to speak her truth and express what she described as an incongruous meeting of both celebration and mourning on Australia Day.
"I'm privileged to be standing her today, I'm standing here today because I'm privileged," she said.
"Not because I haven't worked hard to uplift others, and to do better in my community - I have.
"I love the Clarence Valley and its people and I'm grateful to be honoured for my contribution, but in good conscience I have to say, we should be doing this on another day.
"I have Aboriginal friends who I don't want to feel betrayed because by being here I purportedly celebrated Australia on a day they feel excluded from."
Ms Talbot said the decision to speak her mind and to receive the award was one she deliberated over, and admitted nerves beforehand, having heard the crowd boo 2019 Citizen of the Year Susan Howland for expressing her views at the ceremony.
"I was concerned at that, but I thought that if I didn't accept the nomination, and didn't show up, I would lose the opportunity to speak that truth and add to the conversation that needs to be leading the discourse on Australia Day," she said.
"I know that conversations were catalysed among new hearts and minds, that was my goal, and I consider that a vindication of my decision to attend the ceremony and accept the award."
Ms Talbot told the hard truths of our history, including the atrocities perpetrated on the banks of the Clarence, and urged the crowd to consider the voices of those most hurt by the day.
"I can't stand here today wholly with joy in my heart knowing that the neighbours I'm called to love are shattered apart by a day that's considered a day of mourning by many Aboriginal people," she said.
"I can't stand here another white woman in a room of mostly white people pretending that in 2021 we're all equal when we are governed by a system that still say's we're not.
"There's a 'ray' in Australia, and there's an us too, but only if we're brave enough to tell the full story.
"Even though a date change can't change it can we at least try?"
Ms Talbot also used her remarks to amplify the achievements of those in the room, describing their work as tireless and extraordinary.
"Thank you for your selfless service and for making your town in your allotted time a masterpiece," she said.
"Candles light candles, with no fear or insecurity of their beauty being diminished, rather with the faith the glow of one can light up the world.
"Thank you for your light."
She addressed the nine new Australian citizens, who had their citizenship ceremony earlier, and reminded them they could be anyone they wanted.
"This is a reminder that wherever and whoever you are, what you do matters. Conversations count, talk to people, listen and care," she said.
"Know without a shadow of doubt that wherever the bad is, there are good people to meet it.
"Ordinary folk like you and me are common. How inspiring with that?"
Ms Talbot was nominated twice for the honour of Citizen of the Year and was previously nominated in 2019.
Before her speech, she also paid tribute to Clarence Valley stalwart Bruce Green who passed away on Saturday, and gave condolences to his brother Rex, who was also nominated for the Citizen of the Year award.
"I'm sorry for your loss Mr Green," she said. "I was a pony club girl and The Man from Snowy River made me dream."