Green ants welcome new citizens at Woodburn's Australia Day
"GREEN ants, watch out! Welcome to Australia!" Sam Lin jokingly cautioned his partner and new Australian citizen, Lu Zhang, on the Woodburn oval about 35 kilometres south of Lismore.
Ms Zhang was naturalised an Australian in the Richmond Valley Council official Australia Day celebrations in front of about 300 people from around the shire where she has lived and worked for the past year and a half.
She was born in Szechuan, China but grew up in Beijing, generally known as the most polluted city in the world.
Smog in Beijing is so bad, Ms Zhang said, people often cannot see more than five metres ahead of them in the streets and last month her mother said there was a day when nobody was allowed outside due to health risks from carbon levels in the air.
Mz Zhang came to Australia nine years ago for her university studies in hospitality management, followed by a masters in business, and fell in love with the fresh air, freedom and lifestyle.
"Every day in China is a fight for money," she said "you can enjoy life more here".
After a brief stint in Melbourne, Mr Lin encouraged Ms Zhang to take up a job opportunity in Casino managing a Chinese restaurant.
The pair have made plans to open their own restaurant one day on the Gold Coast but said they have been charmed by the natural beauty of the Richmond Valley.
Richmond Valley Mayor Robert Mustow naturalised Ms Zhang alongside Gary Burridge, born in New Zealand (Mr Burridge declined to comment).
Australia Day Awards
Six members of the community received awards for their dedication to sports, volunteering and civil service.
"I was surprised," said Bill Bartier, Volunteer of the Year after more than 40 years of service including stints for the Casino Rotary Club, St Vincent de Paul, Meals on Wheels and Casino's Tennis and Baseball Clubs.
Mr Bartier, a Life Member of the Casino and District Historical Society, has published four books on the history of health facilities in the Richmond Valley and Bonalbo regions and said locals were welcome to contact him if they wanted to find out more about the history of the area, even it meant researching individual family trees.
"I like to make a positive difference in people's lives," he said.
Young Volunteer of the Year Nicholas Cobrelli Adams shared the same sentiment.
"I can sit down in the studio and reach people, brighten their day, just by playing their request," said the 16-year-old year 12 student who was so determined to get into radio he bought equipment online (his father helped) and set up a home studio.
Nicholas had a radio fascination from an early age, setting up a transmittor at home as a child and volunteering at local community radio stations in his teens.
His weekly request show played pop and rock from the '70s, '80s and '90s - "some nights the phone runs off the hook", he said.
"Music is a bit like a time capsule, you can play a song and it takes you right back."
Some of his regular listeners included a man who needed a kidney transplant and relatives in Italy who listened to the program online.
He has interviewed musicians - in school holidays - from the likes of singer and saxophonist Joe Camilleri to bluegrass country folk band The Hillbilly Goats and said kids who wanted to get into radio could "just go for it".
Other Richmond Valley Australia Day award recipients included:
- Robert Johnstone, Sportsperson of the Year for his contribution to the world of working dog trials.
- Jakob Jolley, Young Sportsperson of the Year for his prowess and community spirit in the boxing realm.
- Aidan Yourell, Young Citizen of the Year for his discipline, commitment and impressive achievements as a swimmer. A volunteer surf life saver, Aidan has been busy training, working and studying his HSC while smashing swimming records.
- Brian O'Farrell, Citizen of the Year for many services to his community including volunteer life saving, raising funds for the Evans Head Aquatic Centre, announcing sports games, running the annual Beef Meets Reef event and helping organise Australia Day events.
Connected to the land
Mayor Robert Mustow gave a personal account of his family connection to the shire and described the beauty of its natural environment from beaches to waterfalls.
Evans Head Elder Herb Roberts stepped in at the last minute to take over MC duties.
Mr Roberts has lived in the area for 55 years and recalled being the only Aboriginal student in his generation to go from kindy to year 6 at Evans Head Public School.
He said Australia Day was Invasion Day to him but he was a community person who didn't want to cause arguments.
"It was very hard to get up there and do it," he said.
His inner turmoil was not obvious on stage where he spoke with eloquence and warmth throughout the ceremony.
"It is on this ancient land we live, work and play," he said.
"We pay our respects our elders past and present and ask that all -" Mr Roberts touched his chest and gestured toward the audience - "our ancestors lead us with their love, guidance and spirituality so that we can all walk this great land together, united as one".