Category: NSW Australian of the Year
In 2019, drought in New South Wales was devastating rural livelihoods and communities. In response, rural-dwelling, self-employed mum Grace Brennan started a social media campaign, #buyfromthebush. Inspired by her friend Nicky’s desire to have a ‘buy from the bush’ themed Kris Kringle, the idea was to connect city consumers with rural small businesses. Within six weeks, business owners using #buyfromthebush saw their average revenues skyrocket by 660 per cent – even before the traditional Christmas rush. Four months later, the initiative had generated $5 million in revenue for bush-based businesses selling art, fashion, food, homewares, jewellery and services. Increased sales led to 21 per cent of businesses hiring new staff. Businesses ran out of stock, some started exporting for the first time, and struggling Australia Post franchises were revitalised by increased orders. Meanwhile, 90 per cent of business owners reported a better quality of life. Now promoting businesses from rural communities across Australia, Grace’s #buyfromthebush initiative has created stronger, more empathetic connections between rural and urban Australia.
TV presenter, advocate for dying Australians
In 1997, Andrew Denton witnessed the slow, painful death of his father Kit Denton. Determined to help others avoid this suffering, Andrew has led an intellectually rigorous debate in Australia about death and dying. Drawing on his love for stories and 30-plus years in the media, Andrew has campaigned to introduce compassionate laws around voluntary assisted dying (VAD) that provide protections for the vulnerable. His ground-breaking podcast series, Better Off Dead, covers the personal stories, moral arguments on both sides, and legislation from countries with VAD laws.
He formed the organisation Go Gentle Australia to help Australians with untreatable or terminal illnesses, as well as their families and carers. Andrew’s campaign for a VAD law in South Australia in 2016 was narrowly defeated by one vote. He led successful advocacy campaigns to introduce VAD laws in Victoria in 2017 and in Western Australia in 2019. Andrew is determined to keep advocating until all Australians have access to VAD.
Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons AFSM
Ex-NSW Fire Commissioner, leader of Resilience NSW
Lives: Berowra Heights
In the terrifying 2019/20 bushfire season, Australians were reassured by the exemplary leadership and empathetic presence of then NSW Fire Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. Shane began as a volunteer with NSW RFS in 1985, in the footsteps of his father George – a full-time firefighter who was tragically killed in an out-of-control hazard reduction burn in 2000. In 1994, Shane joined the NSW RFS full-time, working in a range of leadership positions before being endorsed as the organisation’s commissioner in 2007 – a role he held for 12 years. In 2019/20, Shane guided a state-wide response including a 74,000-strong crew of mostly volunteers through one of Australia’s worst fire seasons. Working long hours, he informed and calmed the public in daily press conferences, liaised with government leaders and provided comfort to colleagues and family members of firefighters who lost their lives in service to others.
Human rights and refugee ambassador
Former Socceroo Craig Foster is a passionate advocate for multiculturalism, refugees and social equality as a member of the Australian Multicultural Council and 18 year, multi Logie-winning broadcast veteran with SBS Television. Craig was the driving force behind the successful campaign to release footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who was imprisoned in Thailand in 2018. Craig united and led a global coalition of advocacy groups, charities, high profile Australians and sport to free the footballer. The Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) acknowledged his leadership. In 2019, Craig travelled to Port Moresby to meet with refugees and asylum seekers still detained in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to bring attention to their plight. Craig also founded the #PlayForLives campaign during COVID-19 disruptions. With a strong conviction that the sporting community should give back to society, he encourages professional athletes and organisations to fill vacant volunteering positions in community organisations.
Category: NSW Senior Australian of the Year
Founding member of Guide Dogs NSW-ACT and philanthropist
In 1956, Apex member Doug Cameron voted to introduce guide dogs as an Australia-wide project for the organisation’s 16,000 members. He then set about bringing Guide Dogs NSW-ACT to life, initially using his Manly accounting practice as its headquarters. As honorary secretary, Doug continued to actively support and donate to Guide Dogs NSW-ACT until it had enough support to hire staff and move to new premises – all while heading a busy Sydney accountancy firm. He remained an active supporter and donor for the organisation and was appointed a life member of Guide Dogs NSW-ACT in 2011. Doug and his wife Elaine donated $1 million to fund the fit-out and initial rental costs of the Guide Dogs NSW-ACT Centre for Eye Health at Parramatta. Named the Cameron Centre in Doug’s honour, it provides eye ailment prevention and peer and community support for sight-impaired people in Sydney’s west. Doug, 93, and Elaine now live in Newcastle where Doug continues his links with Apex.
Since the 1970s, George Chapman has volunteered his time and energy in service of others. As a member of the Royal Volunteer Coast Guard, George helped rescue people on Sydney Harbour. In the early 1980s, George organised bikeathons from Warren NSW to Canberra and Sydney, raising much-needed funds for Warren Central School. In the 1990s, George was a volunteer member for St John’s Ambulance. He attended to people at sporting events and at local Royal Agricultural Shows in the central west of NSW, and during bushfires in the Blue Mountains.
On a trip to Singapore, he noticed defibrillators on every street corner. Returning to his hometown of Dubbo, he campaigned for defibrillators in the city. He raised enough money from community groups to buy and install 150 defibrillators in high-traffic areas. Since 1994, George has volunteered and taught first aid for Australian Red Cross in Western NSW and beyond.
Elder and advocate for the Stolen Generation
Lives: Wagga Wagga
Born in 1932, Isabel Reid is the oldest living survivor of the Stolen Generation – children who were forcibly removed from their families because they were Aboriginal. Isabel, her sister Betty and brother Jack were taken on the way home from school. Their parents had no idea what had happened to them. Isabel and Betty were sent to the Cootamundra Domestic Training Home, becoming domestic servants with their wages paid to the NSW Government.
As an Elder of the Wiradjuri people, Isabel has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the Stolen Generation to help prevent it from happening again. In 2013, she was made an inaugural director of the Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation, and in 2016, she was appointed as an inaugural member and Chairperson of the Stolen Generations Advisory Committee. Her strong leadership was instrumental to the NSW Government offering a $74 million reparation package to those forcibly removed under the Aborigines Protection Act 1909-1969.
A natural leader and outstanding public speaker, Isabel is respected and loved by all.
Professor Neil Weste
Engineer, inventor and technologist
Prof Neil Weste, a key contributor in the development of Wi-Fi, has made a significant impact in engineering excellence. From research at CSIRO and Macquarie University, Neil designed the first commercial microelectronic circuits that implemented the now ubiquitous Wi-Fi wireless networking standard. These microchips provided a way to economically carry data over a radio signal – enabling wireless computing. In 1997, he and research partner Dr David Skellern founded Radiata Communications to commercialise the technology. Throughout his career, Neil continued to demonstrate outstanding and consistent leadership at the very frontier of telecommunications and microelectronics. With 14 US patents to his name, Neil authored the textbook ‘Principles of CMOS VLSI Design’ in 1984. Now in its fourth edition, it is a bestseller as an undergraduate text and reference book in more than 600 institutions worldwide.
As a member of the AusIndustry Innovation, Research and Development Board, Neil consulted in industry development policy, mentored many small Australian technology start-ups and gave lectures on innovation.
Category: NSW Young Australian of the Year
User Experience Designer, Co-founder of Ambient & Co and World Champion Athlete
Isabella Bain is using the potential of artificial intelligence and data modelling to help clinicians treat COVID-19.
Working with the Critical Care Consortium, the IBM associate design director developed a system that uses de-identified COVID-19 patient data to help clinicians identify better patient outcomes. This will be used to save lives in more than 400 intensive care units in 51 countries. Bella graduated from The University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Design Computing in 2016, making the Dean’s list of excellence in academic performance. Bella co-founded design start-up Ambient & Co, which creates interactive outdoor light sculptures for festivals such as VIVID Sydney and I-Light Marina Bay in Singapore. Her work ‘1,000 Cranes’ won second-best installation for VIVID 2018 behind the Opera House. Representing Australia, Isabella has won five world champion gold medals across two international campaigns for dragon boating. One of Sydney University’s 2018 International Women’s Day ‘Women to Watch’, Bella is using her talents to create a better world.
Founder of Foster the Future
Joseph Bennett co-founded Foster the Future, a charity which provides university tutors the opportunity to help one of Australia’s most vulnerable groups – kids in out-of-home care. With few resources and without pay, Joseph used his data science experience to build the charity. Joseph’s systems automatically match tutors and students and track students’ response to tutoring to ensure it is safe and high quality. He has helped 40 high school kids in care access individual weekly tutoring for free – all while studying for his master’s degree at Sydney University. Foster the Future has now expanded to provide online tutoring to regional kids in care. Joseph briefly spent time in out-of-home care, which affected his mental health and motivation at the time. However, he managed to graduate from high school with an ATAR of 98.80. In 2018, Joseph won the University of Sydney’s Hult Prize for his pitch to provide educational support to address high youth unemployment rates among kids in care.
Disability worker Bronte Hendricks believes in changing preconceptions about what people with disabilities can do. Realising that young people with disabilities had few opportunities to enjoy experiences others take for granted, she co-developed Stellar Experiences with business partner Luke Muttdon. This unique tour company organises social and recreational activities for groups aged between 16 and 35 with mild to moderate disabilities and mental health conditions. Stellar Experiences provides access to common activities enjoyed by other young people. These include going to the footy or a music festival, visiting a winery, kayaking, skydiving, camping trips and even overseas adventures. The tours are safe, supportive and age-appropriate – and provide opportunities to build friendships and have fun. Bronte was drawn to working with people with disabilities since high school and has completed a Bachelor of Inclusive Education and Disability Studies.
Pilot, Invictus Games gold medallist
Nathan Parker was on the way to his dream job as a fighter pilot when a military bus accident left him badly injured and his left hand amputated. Despite his injuries, Nathan returned to civilian flying in three months, resuming military and university duties within seven months. He was the first upper-limb amputee in the Australian Defence Force Academy’s history to complete his final 12 months and graduate. After completing his degree in 2017, Nathan was medically discharged in 2019 to become a commercial pilot. He works as a senior RA-Aus flying instructor in Lismore, obtaining his commercial pilot’s licence and achieving his aerobatic endorsement. A public speaker, mentor, flight instructor and now aspiring to provide joy flights for sick children, Nathan is also a gold-medal athlete. He represented Australia in the Invictus Games in Canada 2017 and Sydney 2018, winning nine medals including three gold in Sydney. He also brought home 17 medals from two USA Warrior Games.
Category: NSW Local Hero
Scientist, innovator and waste-free plastics educator
Lives: Coffs Harbour
28 years ago, leading a marine turtle-tagging and research program, Louise Hardman discovered a small green turtle dying a slow, painful death from eating plastics. Sadly, the turtle didn’t survive – but it inspired Louise to tackle plastic waste. She founded Plastic Collective, a social enterprise to stop plastics entering the oceans. With the green turtle as part of its logo, Plastic Collective is changing the way people think about plastic. Louise is an expert in grassroots community engagement, the chemistry of plastics and the circular economy. She invented the Shruder – a mobile recycling machine that shreds and extrudes plastic on site. Using the Shruder and Louise’s Working with Plastics Program, communities are transforming plastic waste into products for local needs and generating revenue through selling processed plastic shred. Louise regularly speaks at international conferences and events about addressing the global plastic waste epidemic.
CEO of Dignity Ltd, homelessness advocate
In 2015, frustrated by the lack of dignity shown to people experiencing homelessness, Suzanne Hopman developed a housing solution with a difference. Believing the only way to end homelessness was by focusing on one person at a time, she created Dignity. Suzanne’s model is backed by research, is specialist led and data driven, and aims to get people out of homelessness within 14 days. Dignity provides 22 guest homes, complete with home-cooked food prepared by volunteers, new clothing and a support worker. The organisation delivers fresh fruit and vegetables to people at risk of homelessness. It also works with schools, organisations and communities to help change negative attitudes. Suzanne also created Dignity studios – longer-term intergenerational accommodation – where residents share skills, support each other and have access to case workers. Suzanne sold her own home to open the first Dignity house. In 2019, Dignity won the Telstra Social Change Maker and the Australian Business of the Year awards.
Advocate for migrant and refugee women
Lives: Oran Park
Rosemary Kariuki is the multicultural community liaison officer for the Parramatta Police. She specialises in helping migrants who are facing domestic violence, language barriers and financial distress. Fleeing Kenya alone in 1999 to escape family abuse and tribal clashes, her early years in Australia were terribly lonely. Her experience helped Rosemary recognise that isolation is a huge issue for many migrant women. Many aren’t used to going out alone, have no transport and speak little or no English. So Rosemary devised ways to help women leave their house and meet women in similar circumstances. In partnership with the African Women’s Group, she helped start the African Women’s Dinner Dance. Now in its 14th year, more than 400 women attend the annual event. She also started the African Village Market – a program to help migrants and refugees start their own businesses – which ran for four years. Rosemary’s warmth, courage and kindness inspire all who meet her. Her work was the subject of the documentary ‘Rosemary’s Way’.
Runs Down The Track
Lives: Lake Cargellico
Lana Masterson runs Down The Track, an innovative and lifesaving youth program based in Lake Cargelligo, Central West NSW. Down The Track targets the region’s most marginalised young people, mainly aged between 10 and 20. More than 90 per cent are Indigenous and all live in the drought-ravaged, under-resourced region and face family violence, suicide, unemployment, homelessness and poor mental health. Almost single-handedly and with compassion, dedication and care, Lana has united police, teachers, politicians, businesses and Elders to keep kids alive, out of jail and thriving. Lana’s Down The Track program provides mentorship, practical education, training, employment and wellbeing support. It has allowed young people to gain skills, participate in social enterprise, become work ready and re-engage in their community. Since the program’s 2016 inception, youth crime has fallen significantly. Just as importantly, it has created a connection between all involved and given young people a sense
of worth. Humble and tenacious, Lana’s commitment is total and her door always open to youth in need.