DAY OF CELEBRATION: Dubbo’s Citizen of the Year 2005 Mary Mathews.Laying claim to six decades as a citizen of Dubbo and a lifetime’s worth of community work would have been enough to seal Mary Mathews’ standing in the eyes of her audience yesterday.

But it was when she led the crowd of sun-soaked, flag-bearing families in a chant of “Aussie, Aussie Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi” that she really stirred their patriotic spirit and clinched the popular vote.

This year’s Citizen of the Year combined nostalgia and vision in her speech at Victoria Park during the city’s Australia Day festivities – recalling teen years spent at the Olympic Pool in the 1940s and invoking the Australian of the Year’s message that “you can make a difference”.

Mrs Mathews was one of three Dubbo citizens honoured for their great contribution to the community (see stories inside).

Mary Norine Mathews came to Dubbo 60 years ago next year, when her father worked on the railways.

She was 16 and evoked a dreamy picture of social life that revolved around the pool – the only Olympic-sized one outside of Sydney – the tennis clubs, the Monarch picture theatre and the Royal Theatre for dancing.

Mrs Mathews also credited growing up in this environment with nurturing her sense of social justice: “My family has always been influenced by a strong sense of social responsibility and, I suppose, compassion.”

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This kernel of compassion grew into a lifelong devotion to working with children, the community and those facing crises in their lives.

In presenting the award, MC Mike Ferguson acknowledged Mrs Mathews’ “significant contribution to the fabric of Dubbo and the wider community through her selfless roles and acts of kindness”.

In the past 20 years Mrs Mathews has worked to improve the lives of impoverished children living in orphanages in the Philippines and Fiji and for three months worked in an orphanage at Baggio to rescue children from the streets of Manila.

She was a driving force in Rotary International as a volunteer helping children in Fiji and also worked as a cultural adviser on building and maintenance projects there.

Mrs Mathews was recognised for her generosity to the Fijian people in 1997 when she was awarded the Jean Harris Award by Rotary District 9670 – the only such award ever presented in the District for services to women and children.

She has also been involved with grief counselling through the National Association of Loss and Grief and became a chaplain at Dubbo Base Hospital where she offered the same empathy and practical and emotional support.

In the words of Mr Ferguson, she has a “generous heart” and has “touched the lives of many”.

But Mrs Mathews sees herself as a symbol of the “hundreds of volunteers in Dubbo who work to make this a better place”.

“The best resource any town, city or country has is its people,” she said.

“And I am just a representative of the many people who volunteer to make Dubbo the wonderful place it is.”

Mrs Mathews said she felt very proud to be a citizen of this town, where she met her husband and where her three children and five of her grandchildren had grown up.

She said Dubbo is what it is – a “healthy, vibrant place with opportunities, where I feel safe” – because of the support of its community.

“This is a great honour.”

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