Grace and gratitude: Nominate a Coffs Coast champ

Published on 04 April 2024


Coffs Harbour legend Aunty Grace Roberts was renowned for lifting others up with the words “Just do it”, decades before sports company Nike decided it would make a solid slogan. 

A strong-willed and irresistible force, Aunty Grace was a key driver in the construction of Aboriginal Housing near the Park Beach Plaza in the 1970s.  

Today, City of Coffs Harbour’s annual recognition of outstanding members of the Aboriginal community are named in her honour – the Yandaarra Aunty Grace Roberts Community Awards. 

Kulai Preschool Educational Leader Leanne Roberts is encouraging nominations for the 2024 awards which have just opened. 

She said Aunty Grace – her grandmother – was born in The Channon and was a proud Bundjalung woman but moved to Coffs Harbour and spent most of her life here. 

“She was a well-known woman, well respected, and a member of the Stolen Generation,” Ms Roberts said. 

“She used to travel up and down the coast and could see the living conditions of her people and that’s why she fought so hard for homes. 

“I heard she had a stroke the week before the opening of the housing (at Coffs) but was still there on the day they were opened.” 

While the annual awards have gained a reputation, Ms Roberts said many still didn’t know the back-story of Aunty Grace. 

Regularly getting around Coffs on foot, Aunty Grace was not one to take a backward step. 

“She’d be upfront with them (government agencies) and she had the whole community behind her,” Ms Roberts said. 

City of Coffs Harbour Mayor Cr Paul Amos said he would like to see strong support for the 2024 Yandaarra Aunty Grace Roberts Community Awards. 

“If you know a First Nations person, organisation or business going beyond, give them a shoutout by nominating them,” Cr Amos said. 

Ms Roberts echoed the call. 

“They (Aboriginal achievers) should be celebrated,” she said. 

“She (Aunty Grace) always used to say: ‘Be strong and just do it’. 

“This is my grandmother’s award and I’m just here to back her up.” 

There are seven award categories: Grace Roberts Memorial Community Development Award, Aunty Award, Uncle Award, Sports Achievement Award, Youth of the Year Award, Arts & Cultural Achievement Award and Aboriginal Community Organisation/Business of the Year Award. 

“Our First Nations community on Gumbaynggirr Country is a source of great strength,” City of Coffs Harbour City Planning and Communities Director Chris Chapman said. 

“You don’t have to be a First Nations person to nominate someone for an award, but the person you nominate needs to be.” 

The awards – presented by City of Coffs Harbour and Yandaarra Aboriginal Advisory Committee - showcase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the Coffs Coast and the amazing work they do. 

Nominations open Wednesday 3 April and will close Friday 3 May. You can make a nomination here:

The award ceremony will be on Monday 8 July at Yarrila Place, River Oak Room – keep an eye out online for further details.  

Photo: Leanne Roberts