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Australian of the Year 2009

Tonight in Canberra, Recipients of Australian of the Year 2009, Senior Australian of the Year 2009, Young Australian of the Year 2009 and Australia's Local Hero 2009 will be announced. The list of finalists for the Senior, Young, and Local Hero categories can be found on the National Australia Day Council’s website.

The finalists for Australian of the Year, and their biographies, appear below. What are Webdiarists’ views on the likely winner – and if none of the below appeals, who would you have nominated instead, and why?

ACT - Professor Michael Dodson AM
Professor Michael Dodson is widely recognised as a proud, courageous and humble Aboriginal leader who has spent his adult life trying to explain to people why and how they can help his people. A Yawuru man from the Broome area, the contribution he has made to improving the lives of indigenous Australians is inestimable. He has pursued justice and reconciliation through a process of education, awareness and inclusive dialogue with all Australians. Mick's official roles tell only a small part of the story of what he does. He has served in a variety of challenging and highly sensitive roles at community level, with governments, the United Nations and in academia. In addition he has always actively mentored, nurtured and promoted young Aboriginal leaders, and encouraged respect between people of all cultures. He has described himself as a 'persistent bugger' and is uncompromising in arguing for justice and good sense. He champions the successes of the Indigenous community but also expects accountability for failures. He doesn't shy away from difficult questions or issues. As Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia, Mick's dream is to achieve reconciliation in this country, and a better future for his people. An outstanding Australian, Mick represents integrity, wisdom and compassion.

NSW - Glenn McGrath AM
Glenn McGrath is one of Australia's most loved cricketing legends. Since first wearing the baggy green cap in Perth in 1993, he has gone on to become the most prolific fast bowler in test cricket history, spearheading Australia's bowling attack for over a decade. Professionally he has always demonstrated an unerring will to succeed, but off the field it is the way he has handled personal struggles that has gained him admiration. Glenn's wife, Jane, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, cancer of the hip six years later and had a brain tumour removed in early 2006. Together they established the McGrath Foundation, with an aim to provide funding for breast care nurses on a national basis and provide greater public awareness of breast cancer, particularly amongst younger women. The McGrath Foundation is now a major fundraiser for and supporter of people with breast cancer. In June this year Jane lost her 11-year battle with cancer, leaving Glenn to care for their two children. Throughout it all Glenn has shown enormous strength and dignity, setting an inspirational example.

NT - Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu is from the Gumatj nation in North-East Arnhem Land. Blind since birth, he is a gifted musician who has the unique talent of playing right-handed strung guitars left-handed. A former member of Yothu Yindi and a long-time member of the Saltwater Band, his debut solo album, Gurrumul, was released to critical acclaim. Hailed as one of the greatest musicians Australia has ever produced, Geoffrey sings in a mixture of local language and English. He performs in an almost classical setting with just an acoustic guitar, grand piano and double bass accompanying him. As a deeply traditional man, his songs focus on his spiritual connection with the land, his love of country, and the importance of his ancestors. Named male artist of the year at the 2007 Northern Territory Indigenous Music awards and awarded two arias at the ARIA Awards 2008, he has been acclaimed for his performance on the world stage in New York, Los Angeles and London. Geoffrey has also performed for the Queen and the Pope and supported Elton John on his recent Australian tour. He is an example of triumph over adversity, and of extraordinary talent.

SA - Ivan Copley
Ivan is a committed man of Aboriginal descent from the Peramangk people, the Kaurna people of the Adelaide plains and the Minang people of Western Australia. He has devoted his life to trying to achieve reconciliation and better outcomes for Indigenous Australians. As founder and Chair of the Campbelltown Council Reconciliation Committee he has achieved excellent results, including the signing of a Statement of Reconciliation by the Mayor, CEO of the Council and himself. Through his work with Rotary he established the first clean drinking water purifier in the Aboriginal community of Leigh Creek, having raised the funds for it himself. Whilst at the Australian Bureau of Statistics he arranged for second-hand computers to be installed in Aboriginal communities without computer access. Recently he established an Aboriginal Funeral Fund to assist family members to travel to funerals. He raises money for the Fund through sales of merchandise in his spare time. These are just a few of the many ways in which Ivan is putting his heart and soul into bettering his community. He has been described as a 'bridge for all peoples.'

TAS - Peter Cundall AM
Peter Cundall has been gardening since he was a small child and has a love of the environment. Born in Manchester, he taught himself paving techniques mainly using second-hand materials wheeled from derelict buildings in an old pram. He also learned pruning techniques, propagation and heated greenhouse management, and helped feed his family with the development of a highly productive vegetable garden. After leaving the Australian Army in 1956, he began his own business designing and constructing gardens in Tasmania. In 1967, he began one of the world's first gardening talkback programs on a Launceston radio station and two years later he began a career in television with a program which after several name and format changes became Gardening Australia, one of the longest running, most iconic shows in Australia. Peter has also played a major role in creating the Organic Gardening and Farming Society and has written extensively on gardening, including producing the first gardening book printed on washable plastic paper for outdoor use, Year Round Gardening. He remains actively involved with environmental, peace and child protection movements. Peter is a well-known and much-loved figure in Australian gardening who is respected for his sincere and open-hearted manner.

VIC - Dr Berhan Ahmed
At the age of 15, Berhan Ahmed became a refugee from Eritrea. He was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship to study in Egypt and, in 1987, came to Australia as a refugee with little English. He began working as a tram conductor to learn about Australian society and practice English. From these humble beginnings he has gone on to complete his PhD in Agricultural Science and is now a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He has been instrumental in building bridges between the African and wider Australian communities, forging relationships with politicians, community, business leaders and philanthrophic organisations. He encourages people to focus on the things that unite us as human beings, not the superficial differences. He initiated and implemented a number of projects for Melbourne's African community to raise the standard of living, educational engagement and achievement, level of employment, and integration. He has personally supported many newly-arrived refugees, and is always there to offer guidance and a helping hand through the difficult process of arriving in a new country after traumatic experience. His core philosophy is that every individual deserves a fair go and a chance to make a better life. He actively encourages young people in shaping their own futures with a confidence that comes from a sense of pride in their identity.

WA - Dr Penny Flett
Dr Penny Flett has had a long involvement in geriatric medicine, and has become a champion for people of all ages who require a high level of ongoing support. She is the Chief Executive Officer of Brightwater Care Group, which provides a wide range of services for elderly and young disabled people. In 1974, she became the first woman doctor, and the first woman in peacetime to serve in the RAAF. Over the years she has contributed to and lead many aged, disability and business related boards and associations, and currently chairs the WA Aged Care Advisory Council, which provides advice to the West Australian Government on health and related aged care services. In this role she oversaw the development of the State Aged Care Plan, the first ever blueprint to guide the evolution of health and care services for the elderly. Dr Flett was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2003 for services to the aged and people with disabilities. She has worked tirelessly to dispel stereotypes of old age, and shift deep-seated cultural attitudes. Dr Flett's goal is for the community to revalue older people, and respect their wisdom and experience. She is leading the way in enhancing the lives of older Australians.

QLD - Bronwyn Sheehan
When Bronwyn Sheehan realised that foster children were not being given the same opportunities in life as other children she decided to do something about it. Statistics show that only eight per cent of foster children achieve average literacy levels by age seven and 75 per cent do not finish school. Bronwyn developed a simple idea that has had huge benefits. Launched as the Pyjama Foundation in 2004, the organisation focuses on building literacy skills. Volunteers spend an hour a week simply reading with a foster child. They visit the child in their home and follow the child if they move house. They read with them, play games and act as the child's own angel. The organisation's motto, 'every child needs an angel' underlines Bronwyn's basic tenet that children's lives can be improved by helping them to read. The one-on-one focus also makes the child feel special, developing their confidence and self-belief, and providing them with a positive role model. Bronwyn has inspired more than 500 volunteers to give their time every week to a foster child and her program is backed by literacy experts such as author Mem Fox. Bronwyn is making a real difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children.

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Sorry Mate

Hi Justin. Your dressing down was probably deserved and I'm sorry. I sort of used your post as an anchor to make a point of my own and it certainly wasn't meant to be a personal attack. I hope you forgive me.

And of course! My answers to your rhetorical questions would all be as expected. People may and should discuss whatever they wish.

To elaborate my own point, which I think is valid enough, an enormous amount of public money, media time and just collective mental effort is spent attempting to resolve things which are merely symbolic. In a broad way I think that's worth challenging, especially as it may appear at times that these symbolic issues - however spiritually important to some - are being used as screens for pressing issues that are too hard for your everyday politician. In short I'm pleased with Rudd's brief, concise and prompt response to a call for a debate about the day of Australia Day. From the government's point of view, we just don't have the time right now.

Hamish - that's cool

Hi Hamish, sorry, almost missed your above. That's cool, It was obvious you were intentionally being challenging, so I thought I'd be a little challenging back. Please accept my apologies likewise, for mostly we agree.

I agree totally with you about the symbolic thing. That's what I was having a go about. We Australians are symbolic and patriotic on a particular day reflecting our insensitivity for others. We Aussies on that day are full of ourselves, while our indigineous people cop it on the chin. If I were the home team I'd feel a little pissed myself.

And yes, there are far more important things to address than waving flags, getting pissed and congratulating ourselves. Your earlier thread re educating women is an excellent example.

As long as we have pollies we will have bread and circuses. I've never been a bread and circuses sort of chap and I've given up on expecting the rest of the world to think like me.

Origins of Symbols

Who cares?

Haven't we got more important things to worry about?

Justin, are you really arguing that whilst Jan 26th is not an appropriate date to have an explosion of drunken patriotic fervour, that Jan 1st actually is? The whole thing is national myth building whatever the date. Like Christmas and Valentine's Day, it's actually nonsense.

Whenever the bogans celebrate their cuntree, let's just make sure historical understanding is on the agenda. But not at the expense of spoiling anyone's fun and illusions - I just can't see the point.

Back to ecology, health and education I reckon - someone might actually benefit if we worry about these things.

It all subjective I suppose

"Who cares?"

Maybe you would be best at answering that question, Hamish.

"Haven't we got more important things to worry about?"

I'm sure some of us have. But what is important to one may not be important to another.

People discuss all sorts of things of varying degrees of importance, which of course are subjective.

I don't enjoy horse racing but I would not think any the less of another for discussing same. Nor would I rubbish them for their interest.

Tell me Hamish, when you make love to your wife or partner are you thinking of more important things to discuss or think about, or do you just pass the time in mutual pleasure?

My post was in sympathy for something that is important to our indigenous population.

Like you I couldn't give a flying fuck about our national day - but others do, and that is important to them.

The attitude that comes across in your post is dismissive, even arrogant (forgive me if I am wrong, but that is the impression I get) but if we as a people are going to survive we need to be aware of how others feel and what is important to them - wise we all end up with our heads stuck permanently up our arses.

When you start paying attention you may see many points, rather than your own.

BTW, do you have any hobbies and if so are they important, or just a waste of everybody's time?

A Beautiful Black Day

Happy New Year everybody - we have just entered the year of the Ox.

I know this as I have been eating an indecent quantity and variety of farm yard animals (but not sheep) and many sea creatures, and of course dumplings for the past few days, washed down with gallons of the usual.

I'm looking and feeling a little bit pregnant.

Having said that, if I was the boss of everything I would declare that January 1st be our National Day. Besides until 1 Jan 1901 we weren't a national anyway.

Yep, tough about the concurrent holiday thing, but it is a sacrifice we should make.

But employers don't get too excited yet, and punters don't start getting shitty cause your gunna miss out on a hol.

How about we keep January 26 as a holiday - but a holiday spent in recognition and appreciation of all that our indigenous people have "given" us.

Of course it would be up to our indigenous people to decide on how this day should be spent and how it should be labelled. It will be their day.

Allow me to think out aloud:

It could be a day of education, a day when we white folk are prepared to recognise our true history; a day of apology and forgiveness; a day when we can rejoice in the fact that in spite of everything our indigenous people remain a very important part of our identity. A day of indigenous culture and activities and music and song. A day that could grow into a world indigenous festival. A day that would attract the attention of the whole world in the mature manner in which we are coming to terms with the reality of our history.

A day when all those common threads of humanity connect to create a glorious tapestry of truth and beauty.

Yep let's make January 26 our Beautiful Black Day or what ever our brothers and sisters wish to name it.

And if no one is keen on the idea then it could be easily fixed. We'll just make January 2 a holiday as well to make up for the concurrent thing.

Hands up all those who want another paid day off - see, I said it would be easily fixed.

I reckon that would win everybody - except the employers. But these days from what I can see the employers get far more than a day's unpaid overtime from the punters, over the period of a year anyway. So they can be good sports and agree; if not then they can go suck a witchetty.

PS. Most Australians refer to witchettys as witchetty grubs; however I was informed by Jack Beetson that such terms are tautological. Witchetty in aboriginal lingo means grub.

So there ya go folks, if you didn't know that then on this January 26 you have just learnt a little more about our brothers and sisters - is that a beginning?

Changing the date of Australia Day

Mick Dodson is an excellent choice for Australian of the Year.

He has asked Australians to think about the date we celebrate Australia day.

New Australian of the Year Professor Mick Dodson has called for a national conversation about changing the date of Australia Day.

I think he has a good argument. Australia didn't become Australia until 1st January 1901, the day the states joined in federation.

It is difficult to celebrate a day when a group of convicts arrived in our country.

It excludes those that were here before. That is why 26th January is also known as invasion day.

Australia became a nation when the six self-governing colonies, now states, united in 1901. Before this, the colonies were politically separate, with their own laws and parliaments. During the long political process that led to Federation, a stronger sense of Australian nationalism developed.

The Commonwealth of Australia was inaugurated on 1st January 1901 in Centennial Park, Sydney. In March, elections were held for the new Federal Parliament, and in May the celebrations focused on Melbourne, where the first Federal Parliament was opened.

26th January may be an important date for the colony of New South Wales, but has little or no bearing on the country we are so proud of today. The continent we share has had a long human history going back over many thousands of years. It is hard to pick a date of our beginning but federation day is the first time we could truly call ourselves Australian.

What, miss out on a hol?

My young bloke heard Mick Dodson's speech this morning and remembered I suggested same many years ago.

Changing our national day is small potatoes compared to what this day represents in our aboriginal community.

It simply is another example of our insensitivity and arrogance.

Anyway I reckon we could survey 1,000 Aussies at random and we would be lucky to find a majority who could recite the date of our national day.

Federation Day sounds OK to me, but the punters won't like it for they will be deprived of a holiday owing to the 1st being a holiday anyway.

If that be the case it only reinforces our  total insensitivity for the people we have exploited.

Giving sympathetic lip service is one thing, but forfeiting a holiday is another.

And Kevin Rudd isn't keen on the idea at all, but what would you expect from Howard lite.

Poor fellow my country.

Eureka!

I've always felt that Eureka Day would express the birth of a new nation built on New World ideals best of all - and it's not on a date already taken by another holiday (important, that!!).

And Eureka Day would not necessarily be exclusive of Indigenes, at least not the extent that Colonisation day is, because the Eureka Stockade speaks of egalitarianism, inclusiveness and the overthrow of the ancien regime represented by Governor Hotham. In the new world, all would be included on character, rather than race, class, gender or religion. The focus would be on the creation of a democratic nation over  future times.

But  the Eureka Flag, once a radical banner, was misappropriated by bikies and the hard racist right, so the symbol itself has been mired as to its old inclusiveness.

As for those recognised this year, well, they follow the example of the Fred Hollows type and again offer examples of those traits of character  that prospectively make a "good Aussie", and I applaud those people for their example.

And the winners are...

Australian of the Year: Mick Dodson

Senior Oz of the Year: Pat LaManna

Young Oz of the Year: Jonty Bush

Local Hero: Graeme Drew

Congratulations to all, and to all the finalists.

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Margo Kingston

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