Sandra Kwa named Citizen of the Year at Wingham Rotary Club Australia Day Awards 2020

Wingham's 2020 Citizen of the Year, Sandra Kwa was unable to be at the Wingham Australia Day ceremony to pick up her award as she was directing a choir at the Saltwater Freshwater Festival that morning. Photo: Scott Calvin
Wingham's 2020 Citizen of the Year, Sandra Kwa was unable to be at the Wingham Australia Day ceremony to pick up her award as she was directing a choir at the Saltwater Freshwater Festival that morning. Photo: Scott Calvin

Sandra Kwa was crowned Wingham's Citizen of the Year in the Wingham Rotary Club Australia Day Awards on Sunday, January 26 for being a driving force in the arts community.

Sandra, along with husband Rob Butler, owns the Queen Street Hall in Wingham and regularly provides it to community groups for events. It is also the home of community choirs, Wingsong and Sing on Q.

She runs the Acoustic Fringe Festival from the Queen Street Hall to showcase local talent, and holds regular soirees at the hall for fundraising for various environmental and humanitarian organisations.

Sandra is the musical director of choirs Wingsong, Sing on Q, and the Baraya Wakulda Indigenous Choir which is based in Forster.

Sandra's daughter, Isobel Butler-Kwa, accepted the award on her mother's behalf as Sandra was conducting a choir at the Saltwater Freshwater Festival in Forster that morning.

She didn't find out about her award win until around 11.30am.

"During the morning at Saltwater Freshwater Susan Stott came up to me after we had finished singing and said 'congratulations' because she had seen something on Facebook," Sandra said.

"I didn't know how to feel about it at that moment. Just knowing I had been nominated was a bit overwhelming.

I didn't know how to feel about it at that moment. Just knowing I had been nominated was a bit overwhelming.

Sandra Kwa

"During the afternoon after I had got home and time to log onto Facebook and open up my emails ... the best thing was to read so many positive messages from my circle of friends and the choir people, and my piano students."

"As each message came in I was really blown away, really. I felt a little bit embarrassed at being the centre of so much attention. I'm just used to having my head down thinking about the next piece of music and what to do, and how to arrange it, and the next event. Just having all of that attention focused on me was a little bit strange.

"What encouraged me was that I quite openly stand for things that are important to me, and they are sometimes things that have the potential to be controversial. Like how I feel about climate change, the future for children, Indigenous recognition and equality, the environment, and refugees. They are things I feel SO strongly about and I have openly supported through music or other ways. I think that's what meant the most to me, because sometimes I don't know if I'm rubbing people up the wrong way by openly supporting things that may not, across the board, be accepted. It meant a lot that there's enough support for those things to give me this award.

Sandra's last event of 2019 at the Queen Street Hall was inviting the Wallaby Joe RFS brigade members and their families as special guests of Wingsong.

The cake made by Di Woollard for the Wallaby Joe "pampering night".

The cake made by Di Woollard for the Wallaby Joe "pampering night".

"We pampered them all evening and gave them lots of music and Christmas presents and heaps of food and a beautiful cake made by Di Woollard, she made native flowers out of icing! It was such a special evening, for us to be able to say thank you to them and make sure they went home well fed, well entertained and well appreciated.

"I have to really thank Wingsong. I feel like Wingsong is a huge part of this recognition, because they are sort of like my team. And they sustain me. Each of them pay their few dollars a week when they come in and that's what actually sustains the hall. The hall doesn't make any profits at all.

Choir for beginners

Sing on Q came out of a program called Sing Your Age, designed to get people out of their homes and singing together, even if they'd never sung before.

"Even this morning I've just spoken to a man who said he's looking to help get over some trauma that he's had. So he's going to come and join that group," Sandra said.

"I love thinking that people can come and it helps their emotional wellbeing by singing in a group with other people.

"Even with beginners who are not confident and who have never sung with other people before. I keep it really simple.

I love thinking that people can come and it helps their emotional wellbeing by singing in a group with other people.

Sandra Kwa

"I'm hoping to expand Sing on Q. It is targeted toward seniors, but we do actually have a range of ages.

Sing on Q meets on Fridays at 11.30am at Queen Street Hall, Wingham, and Sandra invites anyone who is interested in joining in to just turn up. Alternatively you can call her on 0409 269 939.

The choir has been asked to sing at Wingham Library on Friday, February 14 at 5.30pm for Seniors Week.

"If anybody wanted to hear us they can come along to the Library at that time, if they want to join in," Sandra said.

Musings on Australia Day at Saltwater Freshwater

"It was great," Sandra enthused.

"The thing that was magical is that we have this local, and Saltwater Freshwater stands from the Great Lakes up to Coffs Harbour, Indigenous population here that are embracing January 26.

"I think that our council did a wonderful thing to go and join them. And the Australia Day and citizenship ceremony was part of the Saltwater Freshwater Festival.

"It felt so right. It was like we were doing it on their terms, and on their turf, and everybody was comfortable, everybody was happy. The council ceremony had plenty of Indigenous bits in their opening as well, and they got Hope Saunders to sing the National Anthem, and then she sang it fully in Gathang language.

"It just felt like the closest thing I've ever experienced to reconciliation, the whole day.

"To have been present at the Festival where the two things were conducted side by side - all of that was fully embraced by the Saltwater Freshwater mob. I think that's all it takes, is for each side to give a little towards each other. The main thing is that this was their Festival, and we were coming to it. And this is the way it should have been done right from 1788, is that this was their land and we are coming to it, you tell us how we can fit in if you want us here," Sandra said.

It has been Australia's lost summer. Drought, hail, floods and, worst of all, bushfires have ravaged communities all over the nation. But the selfless actions of friends, family, neighbours, strangers, local groups and volunteer organisations have inspired us and strengthened the bonds of community. Please join us in saying thanks to the heroes of the home front by sharing your stories of gratitude. To salute a person or a group, please use the form below.