Mal Peters OAM has made speaking up for rural and regional Australia his life's work.
But being presented with the honorary award of Doctor of the University at a recent University of Southern Queensland summer graduation ceremony left the former Inverell councillor speechless.
"To receive such a prestigious award means a great deal to me," Mr Peters said.
"I'm incredibly humbled and quite chuffed I have to say. I didn't do any of the things I've done to receive any acknowledgement or awards."
Born, raised and educated in Armidale, Mr Peters spent a little over two decades working in the motor vehicle industry before returning to his rural roots.
Following the purchase of a large cattle and sheep property in northern New South Wales in the early 1990s, Mr Peters became incensed by the wool scheme of the day which set him on a path of rural and regional advocacy.
He joined the NSW Farmers Association and served as the Vice President in the late 90s and then as the President from 2001 to 2005. He was also a founding Board member of the Australian Farm Institute, and inaugural Chair of the Regional Australia Institute Board until 2021, and Chair of Regional Development Australia Northern Inland.
Mr Peters served as a director of the National Farmers Federation, Australian Agricultural Health & Safety, CB Alexander Foundation, Primary Industry Training Board and is a former mayor of Inverell Shire Council.
He's also been an integral part of water policy development in recent years chairing the Northern Basin Advisory Committee to the Murray Darling Basin Authority; acting as director of the Border Rivers-Gwydir Catchment Management Authority from 2002-11 and chairing the Ministerial Oversight Committee for the Namoi Catchment Water Study since 2009.
Today, Mal Peters and his wife Anne continue to run the 13,000-acre property that started it all.
"It's cattle and grain these days and it would be remiss of me not to say that all I've been able to achieve and work towards wouldn't have been possible without the drive of my wife - she's been a tower of strength and at times, the only one left to run the property," Mr Peters said.
"I'm proud of what's been achieved over the years and especially what's been able to be communicated through the work of the Regional Australia Institute because we've given Australian's a good understanding of what regional and rural living looks like - and we've been able to back it up with science, not emotion," he said.
"While there's much to complain about with Covid-19, it's also been a catalyst for people in metropolitan areas to reevaluate their lives and consider that a better quality of life is waiting for them in regional areas. That shift in thinking brings me a lot of joy."
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