Aunty Isabel Reid and former fire chief, Shane Fitzsimmons, among those honoured in Monday night’s NSW Australian of the Year awards.
The NSW Australian of the Year awards is an annual inaugural event, celebrating outstanding Aussies who have made meaningful contributions to our society.
During Monday’s ceremony, Wiradjuri Elder and oldest living Stolen Generations survivor, Aunty Isabel Reid, was awarded Senior Australian of the Year. Aunty Isabel was recognised for her incredible advocacy and hard work in the Indigenous community.
“What I do, I do for my community and for all children out there that need the helping hand that I didn’t get, way back then,” she said in her acceptance speech in Sydney.
Born in 1932, Aunty Isabel was taken from her family by government officials whilst walking to school. Her brother and sister were also taken – and her parents didn’t know what had happened to their children. Aunty Isabel was sent to the Cootamundra Domestic Training Home where she became a domestic servant.
Aware that education was her only way out, Aunty Isabel took herself to TAFE to learn how to read and write.
“I didn’t get the opportunity to get a good education, so I thought when I did really ‘come home’, maybe that’s what I’d do,” she described. “I went to TAFE and learnt to read and write and then I entered the school.”
Since then, she has done tremendous work for Indigenous Australia – including being one of the key figures behind the push to get the NSW Government to offer $74 million in reparations to those forcibly removed from their families under the Aborigines Protection Act.
“What I wanted to strive for was the Stolen Generations, which I did, and I’m very proud of that,” she described.
Aunty Isabel has also been recognised in her efforts for Aboriginal women, serving as the inaugural director of the Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation in 2013 and inaugural member and chairwoman of the Stolen Generations Advisory Committee in 2016. She is also still an active member of her community, recently leading a march for the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Wagga Wagga Mayor Greg Conkey said he was “thrilled” that Aunty Isabel was formally recognised for her efforts, according to the ABC.
Congratulations Aunty Isabel Reid Wiradjuri Elder and Stolen Generations survivor on receiving NSW Senior Australian of the Year. Learn more: https://t.co/kVbTuEd60M
In the clip below Aunty Isabel Reid shares her story filmed in 2017 at The Healing Foundation’s BTH20 event. pic.twitter.com/7UIJy8hgOA
— Healing Foundation (@HealingOurWay) November 10, 2020
Also among the winners of last night, former NSW fire commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons was awarded the title of Australian of the Year, honoured for his efforts during the devastating bushfire season.
“In the terrifying bushfire season, Australians were reassured by the exemplary leadership and empathetic presence of then NSW Fire Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons,” National Australia Day chief Karlie Brand said in a statement on Monday.
Fitzsimmons led a state-wide response to the deadly 2019/20 bushfires which included a 74,000 crew of mostly volunteers.
The former commissioner was a pillar of hope for the community during this time, appearing in daily press conferences, collaborating continually with government officials, and providing emotional support to the loved ones of deceased firefighters.
Congratulations to former NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, tonight named the NSW Australian Of The Year. On accepting the award, Shane has paid special tribute to the volunteers who worked to protect homes and lives last fire season. #ausoftheyear #nswrfs pic.twitter.com/hIlqcdFbld
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) November 9, 2020
Fitzsimmons began volunteering for the NSW Rural Fire Service in 1985 before serving full time for the RFS in 1994. He became the commissioner in 2007 where he held the position for 12 years.