Pioneering insect farmer, businesswoman and climate-action warrior Olympia Yarger has been named the 2023 ACT Australian of the Year at a ceremony in Canberra today.
The founder of agritech start-up Goterra, Ms Yarger has developed an innovative waste management system that uses maggots to process food waste and reduce greenhouse gases.
Her ‘Maggot Robot’ system houses larvae of the black soldier fly inside portable units. Food waste is fed to the maggots and, similar to a worm farm, the larvae’s excretions become fertiliser. The maggots themselves become protein-rich feed for livestock and aquaculture.
It’s already being used by Queanbeyan Regional Palerang Council, Capital Brewing, Woolworths and in Sydney’s Barangaroo precinct.
So far, the system has processed more than 35,000 tonnes of waste and saved more than 66,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.
Ms Yarger, who is currently overseas, told Region last year that her long-term goal was to create more opportunities for people to work in agriculture and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“Our plan is not to build our business on the idea that today will be the same as tomorrow,” she said.
“We know things are changing and are looking at how we can continue to serve a purpose.”
The founder of the Insect Protein Association of Australia, 47-year-old Ms Yarger has even had a fly named after her by the CSIRO (Hermetia Olympea, a soldier fly species from the Daintree rainforest).
Human rights and social justice advocate Professor Tom Calma was named 2023 ACT Senior Australian of the Year.
Professor Calma is one of Australia’s most respected human rights and social justice campaigners.
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 peoples 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.
Currently Chancellor of the University of Canberra, 68-year-old 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 peoples and says his father remains the inspiration behind his life’s work.
The 2023 ACT Young Australian of the Year is award-winning performer and songwriter Kofi Owusu-Ansah.
Kofi Owusu-Ansah is a Ghanaian-Australian poet, songwriter and rapper who uses hip-hop music to highlight issues such as racism and depression.
Born in Ghana in 1998, he moved to Canberra with his family at the age of two.
As a shy kid, he was attracted to poetry as a means of self-expression and self-exploration.
Now, at 24, and on the cusp of an Australian tour with the Black Dog Band under the name of Genesis Owusu, he gets similar illumination from making music.
His 2021 album, Smiling With No Teeth, won four ARIA Awards – Album of the Year, Best Hip Hop Release, Best Independent Release and he shared the Best Cover Art award.
Dr Shamaruh Mirza, scientist and the co-founder of SiTara’s Story, is the 2023 ACT Local Hero.
Dr Mirza is a medical scientist, but she knows that feeling connected and having someone to talk to is as important as any medicine for good health.
Originally from Bangladesh, Dr Mirza saw many women dealing with depression as she did volunteer work among culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups in Canberra.
Wanting to give women of diverse backgrounds a safe space to discuss their challenges and gain confidence, she co-founded SiTara’s Story in 2017 so women could discuss stigmatised topics without fear, form support networks and empower themselves.
The volunteer-run not-for-profit now organises workshops, talk shops, seminars and creative competitions that support CALD women to discuss mental health, disability, domestic violence, self-care and skill development.
In 2021, the organisation was awarded the ACT Mental Health Month award.
Dr Mirza, 44, was a finalist in the Canberra Community Spirits Award 2021.
National Australia Day Council CEO Karlie Brand congratulated the ACT award recipients.
“The ACT recipients are exceptional people, all pursuing life with passion and conviction,” she said.
The four ACT recipients will join those from the other states and territories for the national awards to be announced on 25 January 2023.