The 2022 Australian of the Year will be announced in January, and the nominees who all won the award within their respective states and territories are being honoured through an exhibition at the National Museum of Australia.
The nominees have all put forward one object of relevance to their lives, such as a gold medal winning tennis racquet, footprints of a murdered woman, or handcuffs.
National Museum of Australia curator Dr Lily Withycombe has assembled the exhibition. She said organisers have been working at a “ferocious pace” to get everything organised and are pleased with how it has turned out.
“It’s not just people’s careers, but the stories of how they got to where they are,” she said. “All the objects here have personal, moving stories and give you this pretty extraordinary backstory.”
For ACT Australian of the Year Patrick Mills, he did not have the time to offer an item for display. The museum instead decided to put the Boomers basketball jersey of his uncle, Danny Morseu, who was the first Torres Strait Islander to represent Australia at the Olympic Games in 1980 at Moscow.
“I think we still will [have an item of Mills’s on display],” said Dr Withycombe.
“He’s been workshopping ideas and choosing them, but he’s working from this back-to-back basketball season [the NBA in the US] and from all accounts, it’s the best basketball season of his life.
“We want to do whatever Patty Mills wants to do because he’s just so amazing.”
NSW Australian of the Year Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Australia’s ‘rubbish queen’, runs the Mattress Recycle Centre in Cootamundra. She selected tiles created from recycled timber, textiles and glass, designed for use in domestic and commercial buildings.
“I’ve been astonished by looking into the work she’s doing and I feel quite positive looking forward to the future, thinking about people who are creating industries from waste,” said Dr Withycombe.
The diversity of the 2022 Australian of the Year nominees – in both cultural background and lived experience – is clear to see as exhibition visitors read their stories and view their materials.
“It’s amazing, and I think for ordinary everyday Australians, we need to see ourselves in these stories of great Australians,” said Dr Withycombe.
“I think that’s where diversity really matters, and all of these people have come from such different backgrounds and they tell such different stories.”
The Australian of the Year awards exhibition is created in partnership with the National Australia Day Council and the National Museum of Australia.
National Australia Day Council CEO Karlie Brand said the items selected tell the stories of the “exceptional experiences” of the nominees.
“[The objects] form part of the narrative of achievement that continues to be told in their daily lives,” she said.
The 2022 Australian of the Year exhibition is currently on display at the National Museum of Australia until 14 February, 2022, after which it will tour around the country.