Canberra’s Professor Tom Calma has been named the 2023 Senior Australian of the Year in a ceremony at the National Arboretum tonight (25 January).
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made the announcement, as well as naming the Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Australia’s Local Hero.
Professor Calma, 69, is one of Australia’s most respected human rights and social justice campaigners, and is Chancellor of the University of Canberra.
The Kungarakan Elder has worked for more than 45 years at local, community, state and international levels championing the rights, responsibilities, and welfare of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
His call for Australia to address the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people was the catalyst for the Close the Gap campaign.
He was instrumental in establishing the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples; has led the Tackling Indigenous Smoking program; co-chaired Reconciliation Australia for over a decade; and co-led the co-design of a Voice to Parliament initiative, submitting, with Professor Marcia Langton, a 250-page report to the Morrison Government that will likely form the basis of the current government’s model.
Professor Calma is an active volunteer, consultant and the first Indigenous Australian inducted as a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.
He believes education is the key to advancing Indigenous people and says his father remains the inspiration behind his life’s work.
The 2023 Australian of the Year is body image activist, documentary director, writer and speaker, Taryn Brumfitt, from Adelaide.
Ms Brumfitt leads the Body Image Movement, an Adelaide-based organisation that teaches people to love and appreciate their bodies.
Her 2016 documentary Embrace tackled the serious issue of women’s body loathing and her own path to body acceptance. It was seen by millions of people in 190 countries and is available on Netflix.
Taryn has written four best-selling books. She released a documentary, Embrace Kids, in September 2022 that aims to teach kids aged nine to 14 to move, nourish, respect and appreciate what their bodies can do.
The 45-year-old has collaborated with body image expert Dr Zali Yager to create an Embrace Kids companion parenting book. They have also created the Embrace Hub – a free, research-based resource for teachers, parents, children and communities on fostering body positivity.
The Young Australian of the Year is Australian Socceroo, Sudanese refugee and co-founder of the Barefoot to Boots charity, Awer Mabil from Adelaide, who was unable to attend the awards presentation due to team commitments in Europe.
His mother Agot Dau Atem and uncle Michael Matiop Dau Atem accepted the award on his behalf.
Barefoot to Boots aims for better health, education, policies and gender equality for refugees.
Mabil, 27, grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp after his family fled civil war in Sudan, before coming to Australia at 10. Only a year after reaching his dream to play for the Socceroos, his sister died in a car accident in 2019.
Mabil says that he now feels “unbreakable”. It is his experience of hard times, the memory of his sister and the knowledge that young people see him as a role model that drives him to perform.
The 2023 Australia’s Local Hero is the founder of Turbans 4 Australia, Amar Singh, from Sydney.
Mr Singh, 41, founded a charity after experiencing racial slurs and insults because of his Sikh turban and beard. He wanted to show people they didn’t need to be afraid and began helping struggling Australians.
Every week, Turbans 4 Australia package and distribute up to 450 food and grocery hampers to people experiencing food insecurity in Western Sydney.
It also raises awareness and funds for important causes while promoting multiculturalism and religious tolerance.
But the organisation is best known around Australia since its founding in 2015 for transporting emergency goods to those in need such as hay to farmers experiencing drought; supplies to flood victims in Lismore and bushfire-impacted people on the South Coast; food hampers to the isolated and vulnerable during COVID-19 lockdowns; and supplies to the Salvation Army in central Queensland in the devastating wake of Cyclone Marcia.
Chair of the National Australia Day Council, Danielle Roche said the 2023 Australians of the Year were great examples of the Australian spirit.
“Their courage, determination and fearlessness are an inspiration to us all,” said Ms Roche. “These are an extraordinary group of Australians of whom we can all be incredibly proud.”