Like clockwork, as summer reaches its zenith, offices and worksites begin to fill and new school shoes are purchased, 26 January appears on the horizon. Despite the controversy and discussion over ‘the date’ it is also time to recognise and celebrate the stories and voices of some extraordinary Australians.
Since its inception in 1960, the Australian of the Year Awards has provided formal recognition of the outstanding achievements of our citizens. The 2023 awards will be announced at a ceremony held at the National Arboretum on the evening of Wednesday 25 January.
This year’s ceremony will also include a special celebration marking 20 years of the Local Hero Award category and will pay special tribute to those in our communities who inspire us. Many previous recipients of this award will be joining the celebrations in Canberra, including Ronni Kahn (2010), Jonathon Welch (2008) and Eddie Woo (2018).
The Australian of the Year Awards honour an exceptional group of highly respected Australians, those who ignite discussion and change on issues of national importance. Nominees from every state and territory will be up for four awards: Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year and the 2023 Local Hero Award.
To save you scrambling for the phone to look them up on the day, here are the ACT nominees for this year’s awards:
Insect farming pioneer and founder of agritech start-up Goterra, Olympia Yarger is the ACT Australian of the Year nominee.
Olympia is a climate action warrior, a maggot farmer and founder of the Insect Protein Association of Australia. She even had a fly named after her by the CSIRO (Hermetia Olympea, a soldier fly species from the Daintree Rainforest).
As an insect farming pioneer Olympia 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 Woolworths and in Sydney’s Barangaroo precinct. So far, Olympia’s system has processed more than 35,000 tonnes of waste and saved more than 66,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.
Human rights and social justice advocate, consultant and volunteer Professor Tom Calma AO is the ACT Senior Australian of the Year nominee.
Tom 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 has co-led the co-design of a Voice to Parliament initiative.
Currently Chancellor of the University of Canberra, Tom 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 his inspiration behind his life’s work.
Award-winning performer and songwriter Kofi Owusu-Ansah is the ACT Young Australian of the Year nominee.
Kofi is a Ghanaian-Australian poet, songwriter and rapper who uses hip-hop music to highlight issues such as racism and depression. Kofi was born in Ghana in 1998 and was just two years old when his family relocated to Canberra where the family now lives.
As a shy child, Kofi 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 says he gets a similar kind of 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.
Smiling With No Teeth is a deeply personal record. Throughout, Kofi grapples with two distinct but entwined ‘black dogs’ – racism and depression.
Scientist and co-founder of SiTara’s Story Dr Shamaruh Mirza is the ACT nominee for the 2023 Local Hero Award.
Shamaruh is a medical scientist and knows that feeling connected and having someone to talk to is as important as any medicine.
Originally from Bangladesh, Shamaruh was seeing a lot of women dealing with depression as she did volunteer work among culturally and linguistically diverse groups in Canberra.
Wanting to give women of diverse backgrounds a safe space in which to discuss their challenges and gain confidence, she co-founded SiTara’s Story in 2017. It would be somewhere 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 culturally and linguistically diverse women to discuss mental health, disability, domestic violence, self-care and skill development.
To view the finalists from all the states and territories visit Australian of the Year.