TRIBUTES are flowing in for highly-respected Aboriginal Elder and former Muswellbrook Shire Citizen of the Year Barry French, who sadly passed away this week.
The much-loved local lost his battle with cancer on Thursday, October 17.
Family members posted endearing messages, in his memory, on social media that evening while Muswellbrook Shire Council (MSC) flags were lowered to half-mast on Friday in respect of the indigenous man, who made an impressive impact on the community.
He was often seen delivering the Welcome to Country address at numerous events, including NAIDOC Week and Reconciliation Day ceremonies.
A resident since 1963, Mr French was "astounded" to win the 2015 Muswellbrook Shire Citizen of the Year award.
However, with his gentle nature, he had been a mentor for children, promoted understanding with non-Aboriginal people, joined the planning committees for mines and council, and assisted with several projects at schools across the Upper Hunter.
At the time, he said the most rewarding part of his work was the friendships he'd made over the years.
"I've been working with Aboriginal kids since around 1990 and I've done a lot to try and bridge the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous youths," Mr French admitted.
"I've also done a lot of work in education at Muswellbrook and gone to various areas like Scone.
"But, it's been great to just be with people."
Muswellbrook Shire mayor Martin Rush led the acknowledgements.
"It is with much sadness that our community receives the news of the death of Barry French, Uncle Charlie, Elder of the local Aboriginal community, long-term resident of the shire, a senior and respected community leader and a much-loved family man," he said.
"I had the opportunity to visit Barry this week and to sit with him in quiet respect and to assure him that our whole community was thinking of him.
"A thoughtful and generous man, he lived his life empowering our Aboriginal community in peaceful but purposeful reconciliation."
Mr French held many formal roles within the community, serving at various times as the chairperson of the Wanaruah Local Aboriginal Land Council and the Hunter Valley Aboriginal Corporation.
He was also a foundation member of the Aboriginal Land Council.
He served the community as a member of a number of state government boards and committees, including 23 years' service with the NSW State Heritage and Culture Committee.
Mr French furthered his advocacy and support for young inmates in the juvenile justice system and their welfare as a Juvenile Justice Panel Member for many years.
"Barry's support and encouragement of Aboriginal people - young and old - was highly-regarded and greatly admired by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people across the state, and provided a foundation of gravitas to him and the work he undertook on behalf of the Aboriginal community and others," Cr Rush said.
"He was an active member of the Muswellbrook Shire Council Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee.
"And, by some measures, did more to further the efforts of reconciliation in our community than any other person.
"Barry was the patriarch of a considerably large but close family.
"It is to his family that our community now extends its thanks and sincerest condolences at this sad time in our community's history.
"Vale Barry French."
Councillor Jacinta Ledlin also praised Mr French's contribution to the Muswellbrook Shire.
"It is with great sadness that we recognise the passing of Uncle Charlie," the MSC spokesperson for Aboriginal reconciliation said.
"His presence has had an enormous impact on our community.
"And, his loss will also impact us greatly.
"Uncle Charlie has been a significant member of our community and was instrumental in the progression of Aboriginal reconciliation.
"He is one of our treasured Aboriginal Elders and we extend our thoughts to his family on their loss."
More to come