Byron Writers Festival founder and former chair Chris Hanley has been honoured with two prestigious awards: an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) and Byron Shire’s ‘Citizen of the Year’ Australia Day Award.
Both awards are in recognition of the exceptional work Hanley has done for the local community through his work with the writers festival as well as with numerous local organisations and initiatives.
‘I’m honoured and humbled to receive these awards,’ Mr Hanley said.
‘These awards are really testament to the wonderful, passionate community of the Northern Rivers that has nourished my soul ever since I moved to Byron Bay in 1985.’
Byron shire mayor Simon Richardson presented Mr Hanley with the award yesterday at Byron Shire Council’s official Australia Day ceremony.
Mr Hanley will receive his OAM (for service to literature and Indigenous education) in a ceremony at Government House later in the year.
In 1995, Mr Hanley led a small group to establish the Northern Rivers Writers’ Centre (NRWC). Two years later they ran the first Byron Bay Writers Festival (now Byron Writers Festival), where 200 locals listened to authors share their work.
The festival has since grown to become Australia’s leading regional writers’ festival, filling four huge marquees and venues around the town, attracting more than 3,500 patrons each day at its 20th anniversary in 2016.
Australia’s most significant writers (plus overseas guests) have enriched, stimulated and challenged local culture. Professional and amateur local writers are fostered and encouraged by the centre, contributing to local and national literary culture.
More than 4,000 school children attend festival events every year, heavily subsidised by ticket sales.
Through the festival, Mr Hanley helped raise $70,000 towards the new Byron Bay Library over a decade of fundraising, and he recently redirected the festival’s philanthropic efforts into Indigenous literacy programs.
‘Chris Hanley’s work with the festival has ranged from high level programming, event management and sponsorship through to shovelling gravel to salvage the festival site after freak storms,’ longtime board member and writer Jesse Blackadder said.
‘He has built relationships with sponsors including Southern Cross University, Feros Care and Greenstone Partners, who have underpinned the financial viability the festival,’ he said.
‘For 22 years Chris dedicated countless unpaid hours to supporting the Northern Rivers Writers’ Centre and Byron Writers Festival.
‘He has led with diligence, commitment and vision, and gave unstintingly of his time, expertise and funds.’
Hanley’s community work extends beyond Byron Writers Festival; he has also been an active community worker through programs such as Last Drinks at Midnight, Byron Shire Sustainable Futures Group, and mentoring young business people.