In what must be something of an Australian first, all this year’s nominees for ACT Australian of the Year and Young Australian of the year are women.
Region media‘s regular contributor Rebecca Vassarotti is on the major award nominee list along with longtime ABC newsreader Virginia Haussegger, now head of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra; Kate Grarock who is the sanctuary ecologist at Mulligan’s Flat; and Megan Gilmour, one of the founders of an education initiative to ensure seriously ill children don’t miss school.
The 2019 ACT Young Australian of the year nominees are refugee and migrant women’s activist Sophie Fisher; Sally Hill who is an Indonesian language and bi-lateral relations advocate; indigenous youth role model and STEM advocate Karlie Noon and Country to Capital change agent for young rural women Hannah Wandel.
Vassarotti is a former political candidate and is widely respected in the community for her decade at the helm of the YWCA. She also advocates for access in the disability sector, sits as a community member of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal and on a number of non-profit boards and is co-chair of the Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance.
“You get involved in things because they’re important and you want to contribute to the community and make a difference”, she says. “It’s ironic that the award is about inspiring people when I reflect that I’m actually the one who is inspired by the people I work with. People quietly do great work in the community every day.”
Vassarotti is also aware of the concerted effort being made to ensure that women are nominated for major awards of all kinds. In 2016, analysis revealed that only one-third of all Australian honours system recipients are women, a ratio that’s been consistent for more than 20 years, while most women who do receive recognition are given the lower order awards. Only one in five recipients of the top category, the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), were women.
“I think one of the dangers is that we get comfortable about engaging and interacting with people just like us. That happens in boardrooms, organisations, networks and the clubs we’ve involved in, so we don’t see the work being done by others. That’s a fabulous thing about these awards. They expose you to different people and create new pathways if you don’t usually reach outside your own networks”
The local nominees for senior Australian of the year are science writer Julian Cribb; Social justice champion for women and girls Cathi Moore; paediatrician and child advocate Dr Sue Packer and indigenous elder Aunty Agnes Shea.
On the local hero list are Hands Across Canberra founder Peter Gordon; Jayanti Gupta who supports women of South Asian origin; comedian and domestic violence advocate Juliet Moody and disability advocate David Williams.
Finally, Vassarotti says, “the wonderful thing about being in that group of women, is that its a celebration, not a competition. It means that we will be able to profile someone who’s is doing important work in this community and create new role models.”