A Moree man has been honoured with one of the highest accolades at the prestigious National NAIDOC Awards.
Dean Duncan, who was born and bred in Moree, was named Person of the Year at the 2019 National NAIDOC Awards, held in Canberra on Saturday, July 6.
A proud Kamilaroi man, Mr Duncan was recognised for his lifelong contribution as an advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their families and communities through education.
"I was overwhelmed, but humbled at the same time, especially having grown up in Moree," Mr Duncan said of the honour.
"These awards always go to high profile sports people or actors, so it was quite unexpected.
"It's recognition not just of the work I do now, but my upbringing from my parents and everything they instilled in me. Opportunities were quite far between each other, but mum and dad [Martha and Lance Duncan] were well respected in the community and went out of their way to make sure I understood that and appreciated everyone's contribution to my life.
"There wasn't a lot to do in Moree growing up, but [mum and dad] kept us active and made sure we did sport and took part in academic opportunities. That's what I want to pass on to other kids who aren't as fortunate as I was growing up."
Having finished year 12 at Courallie High School in Moree, Mr Duncan enlisted in the military and spent six years in the army, including two tours overseas in active service, before becoming a teacher.
He has since spent more than 17 years as a teacher and senior lecturer, with the aim of increasing the number of qualifications held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
"I progressed through the education system and ended up at Weemala [Indigenous Higher Education Unit at the Australian Catholic University]," Mr Duncan said.
"I took to education and academia quite well."
As the associate director of Indigenous Education at the Weemala Indigenous Higher Education Unit, Mr Duncan introduced the first Bachelor of Midwifery (Indigenous) and Away from Base program - a key component in the Closing the Gap strategy for maternal health outcomes.
He is currently the national diversity manager at Lifestyle Solutions, supporting people living with disabilities and young people in Out of Home Care. He leads the organisation's diversity and inclusion program, championing the recruitment of people from diverse backgrounds.
"Working with kids in out of home care or foster care, that's my passion," he said.
"Education is my true passion and helping kids in unfortunate situations, who, through no fault of their own, are not able to live with a parent or sibling. If I can point them in the right direction, it makes me feel worthwhile.
"There's so much potential within our kids ... but their quietness hides some of the knowledge they do have and their ability to ascend to the top part of education. That's what I see, potential, rather than academic standing."
Although currently based in Melbourne, Mr Duncan tries to come back to Moree regularly to visit his family who are all still here. He was recently in town for Rugby Australia's DreamBigTime tour, which scouted Indigenous rugby union sevens players, through his involvement with the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team program.
"That grounds me, coming back home," he said.