She is one of the most passionate and energetic advocates who calls the Clarence Valley home.
An astute businesswoman, environmental campaigner and a widely recognised community leader who possesses a fearless attitude to inspire and motivate those around her, she is Hayley Talbot.
And she’s the 2021 Clarence Valley Citizen of the Year.
As Ms Talbot accepted her award at a ceremony held at the Grafton District Services Club on Australia Day, she acknowledged her fellow nominees for their extraordinary work in their individual fields, and welcomed the newest Australian citizens who replied with gracious smiles while holding their newly presented certificates, before taking the opportunity to speak to the audience about the uncomfortable discourse surrounding January 26.
After paying her respects to the traditional owners of the land and extending her condolences to the family of the late Bruce Green, whose brother Rex was nominated for the same award she held in her hands, Ms Talbot said she was thankful to be honoured, but acknowledged the date as being a day of both celebration and mourning.
“I’d like to leave you with some sentiments truth calls me to speak,” she said.
“It’s called ‘we are all part of this story’.
“I’m privileged to be standing here today, I’m standing here today because I am privileged.
“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 many Aboriginal friends who I don’t want to feel betrayed because by being here I purportedly celebrated Australia on an Australia Day they feel excluded from.
“For many Australians, today is a day not ribboned, but chained.
“I drive around town and I see the banners ‘we are all part of the story’ but something about that allegory feels untrue, because the story is still written devoid of true colour, still written in the running writing of the white fella.
“I get it, it’s uncomfortable to talk about and all you want to do is celebrate.
“This somewhat illustrates the reasoning behind the calls to change the date.
“Celebration and mourning are incongruous energies which feels right to separate.
“This is why people are marching today, calling to change the date.”
Ms Talbot said she was unable to stand at the lectern wholly with joy in her heart, knowing the neighbours she is called to love are shattered apart by a day that is considered a day of mourning for many Indigenous people.
Admitting she was nervous before the ceremony, Ms Talbot said she is passionate to advocate for anyone who doesn’t feel included or equal.
She felt accepting her nomination and attending the ceremony presented her with an opportunity to tell her truth and she believes Australia should change the date of Australia Day.
During her speech, she spoke of the hard truths of Australia’s history, including the Stolen Generations, and encouraged the audience to think of the voices of those who are hurt the most by the day.
“I can’t stand here another white woman in a room full of mostly white people pretending that in 2021 we’re all equal, when we are governed by a system that still says we’re not,” she said.
“But there is a ‘ray’ in Australia, and 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?”