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Susan Wareham
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Australian of Year

Mon, 26 Jan, 2009

News Photo - Australian of Year


Indigenous leader Professor Mick Dodson AM has been named Australian of the Year 2009. Dodson was presented with the prestigious award by the Prime Minister, The Hon Kevin Rudd MP, at a ceremony on the lawns of Parliament House.

Victorian philanthropist Pat La Manna OAM was named Senior Australian of the Year 2009, Queensland victims support worker Jonty Bush was named Young Australian of the Year 2009 and Western Australia's sea safety campaigner Graeme Drew was announced as Australia's Local Hero 2009.

The Prime Minister congratulated all award recipients on their inspirational achievements.

"This year's award recipients have all made contributions to improving our nation, whether it be at a national level of influence or by making valuable contributions at a community level," said the Prime Minister.

"They are true reflections of that great Australian characteristic of standing up and making a difference where it is needed.

"They come from many different backgrounds and many different parts of our nation but they have all seen a need and taken action to make a change and that is truly inspiring."

Fifty eight year old Dodson is a Yawuru man from the Broome area of Western Australia who now lives and works in Canberra. He 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. He has pursued justice and reconciliation through a process of education, awareness and inclusive dialogue with all Australians.

While his official roles tell only a small part of the story of what he does, Dodson has served in a variety of challenging and highly sensitive roles at community level, with governments, the United Nations and in academia. He has also 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, not shying away from difficult questions or issues. As Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia, he has said his dream is to achieve reconciliation in this country, and a better future for his people.

The Prime Minister thanked Dodson for his lifetime commitment to improving the lives of Aboriginal people and promoting understanding between all Australians.

"Mick Dodson has been a courageous fighter for reconciliation and for closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians," said the Prime Minister.

His efforts truly show that if we work together, we can achieve real progress."

The Commonwealth Bank this year celebrates 30 years as the major sponsor of the Australian of the Year Awards. Ralph Norris, CEO also congratulated this year's recipients.

"The Commonwealth Bank is extremely proud to congratulate such an impressive group of Australians on this special occasion and on our 30th anniversary as major sponsor of the Awards," Mr Norris said.

"From reconciliation to water safety, philanthropy to victim's support, their work is making a real difference to our community, and we applaud them on their outstanding achievements."

The Senior Australian of the Year 2009 is entrepreneur and philanthropist Pat LaManna OAM of Balwyn, Victoria. Having come from a poor background himself, 76 year old LaManna readily relates to the misfortunes of others. He battled racism and economic adversity during the years after his arrival in Australia from Italy in 1948, but he persevered and became a successful entrepreneur. He has used these skills to give back to countless charities in Australia and the Third World. He has been a member of the Lions Club for 40 years and founded the Lions Club of the Melbourne Markets in 1972 which has become the highest fund raising Lions Club in Australia. Due to his commitment, he has been elected president of the club seven times. Pat also started the Hand-to-Hand Appeal for the Bionic Hands Department at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital, raising $198,000, and the Pat LaManna Cancer and Research Stroke Foundation which has raised $1.5 million to date. He established the annual Melbourne Passion Play in 1997, an outdoor re-enactment of the story of Christ that is funded by Pat and is free to the public. These are but a few of the generous contributions Pat has made to the community, serving it with energy and devotion and proving how people can make a difference at any age.

The Young Australian of the Year 2009 is victims support worker Ms Jonty Bush of Lutwyche, Queensland. Twenty nine year old Bush has experienced more tragedy than most of us ever will. When she was 21 her beloved younger sister was murdered, and then just five months later her father was killed as the result of an unprovoked attack. It is a tribute to her strength and courage that she not only managed to keep going but that she began to help others deal with their grief by becoming a volunteer with the Queensland Homicide Victim's Support Group. The compassion and understanding Jonty showed others brought her recognition among members of the police force and the legal fraternity, and at just 27 she was appointed CEO of the organisation. She has since led the push for a review of the laws surrounding murder and manslaughter, and as a result the Queensland Law Reform Commission is now undertaking such a review. She also developed the One Punch Can Kill campaign, which has been adopted by the Queensland Government in an attempt to prevent further tragedies. In all that she does Jonty shows others how to cope with their day-to-day lives after a tragedy, and helps them build a future for themselves despite their loss.

Australia's Local Hero 2009 is sea rescuer and safety educator Graeme Drew of Bremer Bay, Western Australia. A professional fisherman operating from the small town of Bremer Bay, 53 year old Graeme Drew is the co-founder of the Bremer Bay SES and Sea Rescue. He and his boat have always been available in times of need. He has searched for lost or disabled vessels and retrieved the bodies of those drowned while fishing, donating his time and equipment long after official searches have been called off. Graeme has campaigned for numerous causes. One example is that there was no safe anchorage between Esperance and Albany, a distance of 600 kilometres, and Graeme was instrumental in lobbying the government and the local shire council to build a land-backed wharf at Bremer Bay, thus providing safe mooring for boats. In 2003, after Graeme's nephew died tragically after falling into a dangerous rip that carried him out to sea, he established a trust in his memory. This trust has purchased self-inflating buoyancy vests which are hired out from bait shops, installed warning signs on dangerous sections of coast, promoted ocean fishing safety, educated school groups on ocean safety, and built the prototype of a system called the Silent Sentry that has already been instrumental in saving two lives. Graeme loves and respects the ocean and wants to ensure that the community are able to safely enjoy it.

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