Katrina Fanning AO PSM knows she has come a long way.
The shy little Junee girl whose dream was to play footy was today named the 2023 ACT Citizen of the Year.
The proud Wiradjuri woman received the award from the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr for her services to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and sport, services she preferred to describe, in her acceptance speech, as passions.
“It is both overwhelming and humbling to receive this award, but an enormous honour,” Ms Fanning said.
Mr Barr hailed Ms Fanning as a champion of Canberra’s Indigenous community, saying the award recognised her years of dedication to the community.
Ms Fanning is director of Coolamon Advisors, an Indigenous majority-owned and managed consultancy company dedicated to providing meaningful contributions to Indigenous development.
She was the chairperson of the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body from 2017 to 2021 and was the head of the secretariat for the Coalition of Peaks on Closing the Gap from 2021 to 22.
The former international, national and local rugby league player said the sport opened doors for her as only sport can.
“What I did on the field back then was recognised, which was great, but what is just as important is how I can use that off the field now to make a difference.”
This “difference”, she said, was to realise the “incredible importance” of where Australia currently stood “as we head down the referendum road”.
“How you vote on the Voice to Parliament referendum to government is incredibly important,” Ms Fanning said.
“It’s for all of us, together. Not us against them. This is a democratic process. It won’t take anything away from anyone.
“What I hope it does, as we lead up to it, is for people to get online, turn up at events, talk to direct sources, to see what it is really all about.
“For me, it is about people genuinely working together for the better. To right the wrongs of the world from a long time ago. And when you have a voice, you are always more accountable.
“Through this award, I want to reach out to as many people as possible to talk about this important time in our history.”
After she hung up her boots, Ms Fanning was appointed chairperson of the Australian Rugby League Indigenous Council in 2012, was president of Australian Women’s Rugby League and has been a director of the Canberra Raiders since 2018.
“It was tough growing up in Junee where it was unheard of for girls to play rugby league, but I did, and that has set roots in place for me to do things differently – to have the confidence to do so.”
In her Welcome to Country at the awards, Ngunnawal Elder Aunty Violet Sheridan paid her respects to elders past and present, with special mention of the recent death of elder Aunty Agnes Shea.
The Canberra Citizen of the Year Award recognises citizens who have made a major contribution to the community and helped promote civic pride.
Mr Barr also paid tribute to the 2022 ACT Citizen of the Year, Mohammed Ali, founder and president of Helping Hand.