William O’Brien, better known as Uncle Bill, has been awarded Order of the Companion of Charles Sturt University (CSU) at Port Macquarie for his continuous service, support and success toward both the institution and the community.

Accepting the award on December 9, Uncle Bill, a proud Biripi man and Chair of the Birpai Local Aboriginal Land Council, said it was an unexpected and humbling experience.

Uncle Bill’s relationship with CSU began before the campus was built in Port Macquarie.

“I was involved in the planning and lots of talk around that area … I’ve been there ever since they built the first section and they’re working on the second section now,” Uncle Bill said.

Uncle Bill has been acknowledged for working tirelessly to advance the knowledge, understanding and engagement of the Biripi people, the local community and CSU – building bridges between people and creating connections.

“I feel honoured by being able to come in and talk to students, and to assist them wherever I can,” Uncle Bill said.

“My Mum instilled in me how important education was, and unfortunately I didn’t realise it until I was older … now [my family] are heavily involved in community and building a relationship between all people, not just one lot of people.”

Charles Sturt Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Vann said Uncle Bill’s generosity and commitment to advancing local initiatives and local community is admirable.

“Mr O’Brien has long been an advocate for his community, dedicating himself tirelessly to advancing Indigenous causes in the Port Macquarie region,” Professor Vann said.

“His efforts to steer Indigenous youth towards bettering themselves via education is especially meritorious, and is in keeping with Charles Sturt University’s proud history of accepting and graduating Indigenous students.”

Awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 2016, Uncle Bill is an active, proud community member in northern NSW.

A member of the Birpai Local Aboriginal Land Council since 1984, his credentials include the development of various junior sporting organisations, developing an Indigenous youth group in partnership with the Australian Red Cross, co-founding the Australian Bodyboarding Association, and volunteering at the Sea Acres Rainforest Centre.

Above all, Uncle Bill has a dedication to his community that has shifted and supported the journey of so many and something that, for him, is a deep passion.

“I’m so humbled by what the people have given me. Being an Aboriginal man, you know I never thought that these days or this would be an outcome for me.”

“Being there for everyone because you are a community person and to build on those relationships and treat everyone equal, that’s all the things that have been instilled in me by my Mum, who sadly has passed on.

“But I keep thinking of her when I get these accolades, I think it’s all because of my Mum and because I love this community.”

By Rachael Knowles