A PACKED crowd turned out to celebrate Australia Day in the shade of Cook Park’s trees on Saturday - in a year that organisers believe was one of the biggest yet.
Dr Peter Bilenkij was named Orange’s Citizen of the Year for his work with the Radiotherapy Alliance and Cancer Care Western NSW and his role in the planning committee for the Orange Health Service.
Judging by the crowd’s reaction he was clearly a favourite.
Australia Day committee chair Helen Corby said Saturday marked 32 years since Orange first began formally celebrating Australia Day and was also the 20-year anniversary of the flagpole marking Orange’s gateway.
She was thrilled storms forecast for the day didn’t eventuate.
“We had the contingency plan in place to move to the function centre, but I got up this morning and it was just delightful,” she said.
Dr Bilenkij said he was honoured to receive the top gong and accepted it on behalf of the people who had worked alongside him on the committees.
“Orange is a wonderful city run by a very dynamic council that gets behind many projects,” he said.
“Orange High School, which I attended many years ago, has a motto: ‘what ever you do, do it to the best of your ability’.
“I hope the actions I’ve made will make Orange a better place in the future.”
The former surgeon beat other nominees Margaret McFarlane, Shirley Evans, John Swain, Robert Alford, Deanne Phillips and Andrew McDougall to be named Citizen of the Year.
He said his passion for medicine was kick-started by great role models including Dr Bernie Huxtable and Dr Ken Rawle who were the top doctors when he was at school.
He later started practising in Orange in 1981.
Dr Bilenkij described himself as a “migrant kid” born in Germany after World War II.
His parents came to Australia as refugees.
For him Australia Day was an opportunity to be proud of the lucky country.
“We don’t have wars and famines,” he said.
“We are the luckiest country in the world. You wouldn’t want to live in Afghanistan or Greece. I hope we keep it that way.”
He paid tribute to the roles of Dr Stuart Porges and Jan Savage, who helped make the Western Care Lodge a reality, along with the support from the government and council.