First Nations voice amplified by 2023 Newcastle Citizen of the Year accolade

18 Jan 2023

A passionate advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities has been selected as Newcastle’s 2023 Citizen of the Year.

Nathan Towney was crowned Citizen of the Year at an award ceremony on Wednesday, in recognition of his leadership as The University of Newcastle’s Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Strategy and Leadership.

A Wiradjuri man, Mr Towney was pivotal in the successful launch of Ngarrama in 2022 in partnership with Awabakal Ltd and supported by City of Newcastle, and will oversee the event’s return to King Edward Park on Wednesday 25 January 2023.

The free public vigil – the name of which translates to “to sit, listen and know” – is held on the eve of Australia Day to engage the community in meaningful reconciliation through truth telling and historical acceptance, featuring performances and informative talks from local Aboriginal elders.

Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said Mr Towney’s worthy conferral as Citizen of the Year came at a significant time in the national discourse on Indigenous affairs, ahead of the forthcoming referendum to establish a Voice to Parliament.

“Mr Towney is a dedicated community leader who is passionate about building positive relationships and creating greater awareness and understanding of the path to reconciliation,” Cr Nelmes said.

“A member of City of Newcastle’s Gurakai Aboriginal Advisory Committee, Mr Towney freely and generously gives his time and knowledge and is an exceptionally worthy recipient of the Citizen of the Year title.”

Mr Towney said it was an honour to receive the award, which gave weight to the incredible work being done in the community to shift public perceptions and improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“I’m really proud to be part of this community,” Mr Towney said. “Newcastle has been a place of opportunity for Aboriginal people for many years and there are a lot of people who do amazing work across this region. I feel this personal recognition has been made possible by the foundational work of many people who have advocated for Aboriginal people, history and cultures in Newcastle across generations.”

The 2023 Young Citizen of the Year title was awarded to local entrepreneur Dominic May, who founded CoastXP, a unique coastal sightseeing experience.

As well as actively contributing to the diversity of local tourism offerings and Newcastle’s post-pandemic economic recovery, Mr May was lauded for his rescue efforts when the crew onboard the fishing vessel ELLIE-K issued a mayday call off the Newcastle coast in July.

Mr May and a group of whale watchers arrived on scene with seconds to spare as the vessel was taking on water, rescuing the entire crew including the family dog.

In recognition of its work with all levels of government to tackle coastal erosion, Stockton Community Group Inc. was announced as the 2023 Community Group of the Year.

Led by Co-Presidents Alison Rigby and Melanie Taggart, the volunteer group was congratulated on its efforts to highlight erosion at Stockton Beach and call on the NSW State Government to “step up and act” through organised campaigns such as the Red Line Rally in July.

Stockton Community Group Inc. continues to advocate alongside City of Newcastle for the implementation of actions under the Stockton Coastal Management Plan (CMP), which was certified by the NSW Government in August 2020.