A councillor who is also a popular Didgeridoo player who's been around the world became the first Indigenous man to deliver an official address at Dubbo's Australia Day celebration on Thursday.
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Lewis Burns, a 58-year-old Wiradjuri man, has performed at packed events everywhere to promote the culture of Aboriginal Australians but addressing a special day in his hometown was momentous.
The Dubbo Regional Council has altered the program as a trial this year when traditionally only the mayor and the Australia Day ambassador made the official address.
Mr Burns is one of the council's Indigenous councilors elected for the first time in the local government election in 2021.
A large crowd attentively listened as Mr Burns shared his family's beginnings in Dubbo as "Tubba-Gah people" before speaking out about racism incidences experienced by his people.
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The official portrait of King Charles lll prominently stood on the lawns at Victoria Park where Mr Burns spoke.
Mr Burns said his great, great, great grandmother Fanny Hopkins was the Aboriginal babysitter for the acclaimed literary icon, Banjo Paterson whose family lived at Yeoval, in the central west, in the early 1860s.
Fanny was born in 1842 and died in 1929, and Mr Burns said he was telling his family's story to show proof that Wiradjuri people populated Dubbo even before it was proclaimed a town in 1849.
That's why the town's name came from the Wiradjuri language, Mr Burns said.
"The name Dubbo came from the word 'Tubba' which means red ochre country and 'gah' means people.
"We have a photo of her sitting with Banjo Paterson as a three-year-old, it's interesting to know our history when you do research," Mr Burns said during his speech.
"It's good to know today that we're still living in our country and our people still want to preserve our culture for our country's sake."
As Fanny's descendant handpicked to address the wider community on the 235th year since the British colonisation of Australia formally began in 1788 at Sydney Cove, Mr Burns said he wants to highlight an observation from his community that racist attitudes towards them have reduced.
"The division between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is something we want to change," he said.
"I want to say racism has actually dropped in the last 10 years or so because there are more people of colour in our community.
"With more people of colour living in our towns, people don't know if you're an Aboriginal or not before they serve you or deal with you."
Increased multicultural awareness programs have educated people about different cultures and how to be tolerant and welcoming, Mr Burns said.
"This shows racism is a matter of choice, so we've got to eliminate racism and all we've got to do is say hello to each other."
Mr Burns said stamping out racism has led him to initiate the Spirit of the Planet Festival in Dubbo in 2018, a colourful event participated by the different cultures residing in the region.
"What I saw in that event is that there was no division in the crowd, everybody was enjoying each other's company," Mr Burns said.
"That's what we'd love to see, and because what divides us is getting smaller, we need to do more and quicker.
"We need to understand the Aboriginal people are the original people of this continent, and we may have lost many of our places due to development but our culture is not lost.
"It's refreshing to know our culture is alive and well in Dubbo, and I am proud because this is the place where my grandmother was."
Dubbo mayor Mathew Dickerson praised Mr Burns for taking part in the celebration saying he has been a councilor who stood for a "unity platform" which is why he was chosen to make the important address.
But Mr Burn's address this year is a trial, Mr Dickerson said as the council sought feedback from the community prior to next year's celebration.
"We're starting to make these changes ... we'll make a decision next year once we get all the feedback from the community in both Dubbo and Wellington," Mr Dickerson said.
Council's Australia Day Celebration committee member, Michael Herbert said initial feedback at the celebration in Wellington on Wednesday showed local people favour recognising the contributions of the Indigenous community as "original owners of the land".
"We need to keep that connection between all our people who live here in our region, and we saw that reactions from the people at the celebration in Wellington, it really went well," Mr Herbert said.
Mr Saunders also supported Mr Burns' claims about declining racism incidences in the region where nearly 17 per cent of residents are Indigenous and as Dubbo becomes a melting pot of cultures from various nations.
"It's true to say that based on a few things and it's partly because people are more aware [of Indigenous concerns] and considerate when they think about racism and what has been in the past," he said.
"We all live in this area together and we should all respect each other based on what we can bring to our area, and that includes every single person, like our new citizens today, or whether you're Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
"Or even someone applying for a new visa, we welcome you to become part of our community, it doesn't matter what their background is, everyone is welcome.
"Our multicultural community here shows that you can be successful and living in regional NSW is an example of that."
Local senior, Anne Lark said she had attended Australia Day celebrations on many occasions, and hearing what Mr Burns had to say made her even prouder to be an Australian.
"I've never been so proud as an Australian until today, it's absolutely wonderful," the 75-year-old retiree said.
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