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Clarence Valley Citizen of the Year 2019 Susan Howland calls for Australia Day to be moved from January 26. Pic: Josh McMahon

Working together is the key

Josh McMahon |

Clarence Valley Citizen of the Year Susan Howland has used her new platform to call for a change of date for Australia Day.

Ms Howland was recognised with the Australia Day award for her leadership, dedication and commitment to improving mental health services and empowering women in the Clarence Valley.

Upon receiving her award, Ms Howland made her argument for January 26 to no longer be the day we celebrate being Australian.

“I think we should have a separate day. January 26 means nothing – it was setting up a prison colony.”

Ms Howland later added that she believed Australia Day should be held on a date that has “no baggage”, and wasn’t representative of any particular group.

Her Australia Day speech was met with applause, mingled with ongoing murmurs and a mixture of facial expressions both pleased and not.

The Clarence Valley Young Citizen of the Year, Brad Chapman, strongly disagreed with his older fellow award recipient, and argued for January 26 to remain Australia Day.

“We should be a country looking forward while acknowledging what has happened in the past,” Mr Chapman said.

“I’ve had family service overseas and in the military and it’s a big day for them. It’s a day when everyone can say we’re Australian – I’m proud of that.”

Mr Chapman was recognised with his Australia Day award for his passion for Australian military history and dedication to raising awareness of the sacrifices of armed services, including those who lost their lives on the Kokoda trail, which he also walked last year.

Opinions were varied from those in the crowd.

Page MP Kevin Hogan said although the issue was complex, he believed January 26 was inclusive of all Australians. Mayor Jim Simmons was reluctant to give an opinion, but when pressed said he was “happy to go with the flow” in keeping the current date. Community member John Haggar said he ‘definitely’ supported changing the date as January 26 wasn’t inclusive of all Australians, and he suggested the new day be when all Australians were first able to vote.

Order of Australia recipient Patrick Connelly said he strongly believed in retaining January 26 as Australia Day, but he didn’t try to change others’ views out of respect for their opinion.

“I don’t care if you’re black white or brindle – you’re Australian. There’s no barrier as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Other major award winners were Local Heroes Don Frame and George Priddle, and the Community Achievement Award went to the Pelican Playhouse.

Mr Frame was recognised for his contribution to the Copmanhurst Saddlery Museum, which he also helped set up. Mr Priddle has worked tirelessly to maintain the Cowper Bus Memorial Park, and also collects rubbish around Maclean’s streets and donates recyclables refunds to the local Lions group.

The Pelican Playhouse’s award was for its cultural contribution to the community, nurturing the talents of many aspiring local actors.