Australian of the Year award finalists: who will win in 2018

FINALIST: A legend in Australian rugby league circles, Johnathan Thurston is kicking goals off the field as well with his commitment to the indigenous community.
FINALIST: A legend in Australian rugby league circles, Johnathan Thurston is kicking goals off the field as well with his commitment to the indigenous community.

A rugby league super star. An actor. Doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs. Who will be named this year’s Australian of the Year?

All will be revealed on January 25, on the eve of Australia Day, when 32 finalists from all states and territories come together at Parliament House in Canberra to learn who will take the honours in each of the four categories: Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Australia’s Local Hero.

To get to this point, each of the finalists had first to be nominated by a member of the public.

2017 Australian of the Year, world leader in stem cell research Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim said he appreciated the award for the opportunity it had given him to promote science on an even wider stage.

“A simple nomination from someone who knew of my stem cell research work has resulted in an enormous honour,” he said.

National Australia Day Council chief executive officer Jenny Barbour said this year’s state and territory finalists were once again inspiring people representing the many facets of Australian society.

"The Australian of the Year awards allow us to recognise and celebrate the achievements of outstanding Australians – people making extraordinary contributions to our society. They represent what makes our nation great,” she said.

FINALIST:  Samuel Johnson gave up his acting career to support his sister Connie and help raise funds for research when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

FINALIST: Samuel Johnson gave up his acting career to support his sister Connie and help raise funds for research when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The finalists are ...

Australian of the Year

Professor David David AC, South Australia

Craniofacial surgeon

An accomplished and respected craniofacial surgeon, Professor David David has dedicated the last 45 years of his life to working with patients with facial deformities and disfigurements. The 76-year-old medical veteran founded the world-renowned Australian Craniofacial Unit based at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the Women's and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide. Since he established the unit in 1975, David has helped more than 17,000 people. Many of David's patients first come into his care within hours of their birth, and their relationship can continue for life. Working alongside a team of top medical professionals, one of just two standalone multidisciplinary craniofacial teams in the world, David uses his skills to change faces and change lives. David is a founding member of the International Society of Craniofacial Surgeons, the founding President of the Asian-Pacific Society of Craniofacial surgeons and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Craniofacial Surgeons. He continues his work to develop new treatments, tools, research and systems to restore the dignity of his patients.

Dion Devow, Australian Capital Territory

Entrepreneur and community leader

When he chose a controversial name for his business, Dion Devow wanted to reclaim a derogatory term and express pride in his Aboriginal culture and heritage. Darkies Design, which Dion started in 2010, produces contemporary Aboriginal-themed apparel and print media for mainstream, sports and promotional use. One of Dion’s first concepts was a T-shirt with a simple logo: 100% Pure Australian. Darkies Design collaborates with Indigenous artists and designers to produce his designs, and has also supplied ceremonial uniforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs for the teams participating in Australia’s First World War Centenary Commemorations on the Western Front. Quiet yet outspoken, Dion now champions other Indigenous people to build businesses and achieve economic independence. In 2014, Dion created the Canberra Business Yarning Circle, an Indigenous business owners network. An ambassador for Indigenous Community Volunteers, Dion also sits on the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body and is working hard to help other Indigenous business owners achieve their dreams.

Samuel Johnson OAM, Victoria

Actor and fundraiser for cancer research

When his beloved big sister Connie was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Samuel Johnson made the promise of a lifetime. He pledged to ride his unicycle around Australia to remind every woman to be breast aware. From this, Love Your Sister was born. In 2013 and 2014, Samuel travelled 15,465 kilometres, breaking the world record for the longest distance travelled on a unicycle and raising $1.4 million for the Garvan Research Foundation.  Love Your Sister has raised more than $7 million for cancer research, including $2.5 million in five-cent coins. A household name on Australian television for many years, Samuel was awarded the Gold Logie in 2017 for his performance as Molly Meldrum. Making his family’s tragedy and pain a public cause, Samuel has vowed to put his acting career on hold until Love Your Sister raises $10 million. While Connie has recently passed away, Samuel has pledged to continue to fight for families and to “kick cancer to the kerb”.

Scott Rankin, Tasmania

Theatre director, writer and arts charity leader

Motivated by the closure of the Burnie Paper Mill 25 years ago, Scott Rankin embarked on an innovative experiment to explore new ways of dealing with disadvantage. The theatre director and playwright established Big hART, a charity which uses the arts to bring about social justice. As the company’s CEO and creative director, Scott leads a passionate team to tell Australia’s most invisible stories, working with more than 50 communities in regional, remote and urban Australia. No tale is too tough to tell: domestic violence, incarceration, addiction, homelessness, or intergenerational injustice faced by Indigenous Australians. A multi award-winning writer and director in his own right, Scott’s works have featured many times in major international and national arts festivals with films screening on ABC, SBS and at film festivals around the country. His acclaimed production Namatjira, for example, celebrates the legacy of one of Australia's best loved artists. But Big hART remains Scott’s greatest legacy and selfless contribution to the arts and society.

Dr Bo Reményi, Northern Territory

Paediatric cardiologist

As a junior doctor working in remote communities, Dr Bo Reményi was tasked with filling out death certificates for children dying of preventable heart disease. Finding this unfair and unacceptable, Bo spent a further six years studying to become one of Australia’s first female paediatric cardiologists. Now an internationally-recognised expert, Bo is tackling the Northern Territory’s rate of rheumatic heart disease, which among the Indigenous population is currently the highest in the world. While primarily a clinician, Bo’s ground-breaking PhD research has been published in top tier journals Lancet and Nature Reviews Cardiology, and has seen her assist the American Heart Association and work with the World Heart Federation for global public health projects. Bo also undertakes humanitarian work with Rotary in resource-poor countries in our region. Bo’s contribution is even more extraordinary given she arrived in Australia as a political refugee after fleeing Hungary as a teenager. She started school in Australia without any English language skills, but today Bo’s education, expertise and sheer hard work is saving lives.

Professor Michelle Simmons, New South Wales

Professor in quantum physics

One of the world’s top scientists, Professor Michelle Simmons has pioneered research that could lead to a quantum leap in computing. Since arriving in Australia from Britain 18 years ago, Michelle has transformed the University of NSW quantum physics department into a world leader in advanced computer systems. In 2012, Michelle and her team created the world’s first transistor made from a single atom, along with the world’s thinnest wire. At the forefront of what she calls the “space race of the computing era”, Michelle’s aim is to build a quantum computer able to solve problems in minutes that would otherwise take thousands of years. Such a discovery has the potential to revolutionise drug design, weather forecasting, self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence and more. An evangelist for Australian scientific research and a role model to young scientists everywhere, Michelle actively encourages all students – girls and boys – to dream big, challenge themselves and to achieve ambitious goals in science.

Johnathan Thurston, Queensland

NRL player and Indigenous mentor

He may be one of the most accomplished footballers to ever lace on a boot, but Johnathan Thurston has made an off-field commitment to the community which is just as impressive. The captain of the North Queensland Cowboys Johnathan uses his profile to help others, particularly Indigenous people, reach their potential. Johnathan champions ARTIE, Achieving Results Through Indigenous Education, is the face of Synapse's campaign to prevent acquired brain injury in the Aboriginal community, and is an ambassador for the Apunipima Cape York Health Council's anti-ice campaign. He is an ambassador for the Queensland Reconciliation Awards, and actively supports the Beanies for Brain Cancer initiative. In 2017, Johnathan helped launch the $9.5 million NRL Cowboys House, a home for 25 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from remote north Queensland. Johnathan’s qualities of humility, sportsmanship, leadership and loyalty are admired both on the football field and off, making him an inspiring role model for Indigenous people and a great Australian.

Dr Tracy Westerman, Western Australia


A childhood yearning to be a psychologist was sorely tested when Njamal woman, Dr Tracy Westerman, left her home in the Pilbara to attend university where she struggled to reconcile mainstream psychology with Aboriginal culture. Setting many world first’s including self-funding the development of unique screening tools enabling the identification of Aboriginal people at early stages of suicide and mental health risk, her work has attracted international acclaim since 2003. It was cited by the Canadian government as “making a substantial contribution to Aboriginal youth mental health”. In 1998, she founded Indigenous Psychological Services, without funding, solely to address the high rates of mental illness among Aboriginal people. An internationally recognised leader, Tracy has trained 22,000-plus clinicians in culturally appropriate psychological approaches and delivered her suicide intervention programs into remote Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. A trailblazer, Tracy has spent over two decades working to reduce the burden of mental illness in Aboriginal people and ensure minimum standards of cultural competence in her profession.

Senior Australian of the Year

Dr Dimity Dornan AO, Queensland

Hearing health specialist and bionics advocate

A speech pathologist for more than five decades, Dr Dimity Dornan has changed the lives of thousands of children and young adults. Through Hear and Say, an organisation she established 25 years ago, Dimity has devoted her career to helping deaf children to listen and speak by training their brains to use implantable bionic technologies, like the cochlear implant. Hear and Say currently provides services for more than 900 children and their families. Dimity also established several national and global research collaborations, as well as Hear and Say WorldWide, to expand the opportunities for deaf children in developing countries. As a past Chair and cofounder of First Voice, she played a significant role in raising the profile of hearing health globally. Recognised internationally for her work, Dimity is now building Human Bionics Interface, a global network of bionics thought leaders, researchers, clinicians, businesses, start-ups and investors collaborating to accelerate the delivery of bionic solutions that will address previously untreatable medical conditions.

Dr Graham Farquhar AO, 70, Australian Capital Territory

Prize winning biophysicist

One of Australia's most eminent scientists, Dr Graham Farquhar is helping reshape our understanding of photosynthesis, the very basis of life on Earth. After growing up with a Tasmanian farming family background, Graham has used his love of science to deliver practical benefits to the agricultural sector. His study of mathematics and physics formed the bedrock of a career creating mathematical models of how plants work. Graham has received a string of accolades during his distinguished career for his research examining how water efficient crops can protect food security in a changing climate. Importantly, he has worked to improve world food security by developing strains of wheat that can grow with less water. In 2017 Graham became the first Australian to win a Kyoto Prize – the most prestigious international award for fields not traditionally honoured with a Nobel Prize. From his long-term base at the Australian National University, Graham is tackling some of the most profound challenges facing humanity and the environment.

Kathy Guthadjaka, 69, Northern Territory

Educator and pioneering academic

A senior Elder from Gäwa in north-east Arnhem Land, Kathy Guthadjaka is passionate about preserving traditional knowledge and sharing this with the greater global community. Gotha, as she is known, has worked as an educator since the mid-1960s. Growing up on a mission, Gotha was working as a teaching assistant when her father chose to establish homelands in a remote area of Elcho Island. Gotha was tasked with starting a school. For the first year, Gotha taught without pay under a tarpaulin near the beach. But the school was successful, and Gotha created a bilingual educational model that delivered high attendance and graduation rates. Since then, Gotha has pioneered new education methods, represented Australia at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem and at the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Geneva. In her role as a Yolngu researcher at Charles Darwin University, Gotha is leading academic research into language, knowledge, culture and country with widespread practical application.

Dr Catherine Hamlin AC, 94, New South Wales

Pioneering surgeon

For more than 50 years, obstetrician Dr Catherine Hamlin has devoted herself to giving women in Africa a second chance at life. A surgical pioneer, Catherine and her late husband Dr Reginald Hamlin founded a network of six hospitals and a midwifery college in Ethiopia. The hospitals provide free fistula repair surgery to poor women suffering from horrendous and preventable childbirth injuries. The midwifery college trains midwives to prevent the injuries. When Catherine arrived in Ethiopia in 1959, there were almost no resources for expectant mothers. Since then she and her team have treated more than 50,000 women, restoring their health and dignity. Catherine’s organisation is a global centre of expertise in fistula repair and she trains surgeons from around the world. Through her foundation, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, Catherine is tackling a new fistula frontier, Uganda. Now 94 years old, Catherine remains active in her day-to-day work at the hospital, healing women through surgery, rehabilitation and counselling, so they can be whole again.

Kathleen Mazzella OAM, 66, Western Australia

Gynaecological health awareness champion

Facing a radical gynaecological cancer diagnosis at the age of 39, Kathleen Mazzella was convinced she was alone. In her search to find someone else facing the same experience, Kath placed an ad in Woman’s Day, receiving 38 responses from women all over Australia who felt the same sense of isolation and embarrassment. Determined to connect and empower other women, and to reduce the stigma and squeamishness around women’s health, Kath established the Perth-based Gynaecological Awareness Information Network. Since then, Kath has become a voice for the millions of Australian women managing polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, fibroids, menopause, sexually transmitted infections, hysterectomies and more. At the core of her work is a straight-talking message: embarrassment around gynaecological issues risks lives. Kath breaks down the social stigma by sharing her journey and challenges, and promoting a positive preventative message. Twenty-two years after her initial diagnosis, Kath has not only survived, but thrived and dedicated her life to ensuring no other woman and their families suffer in silence through her International Gynaecological Awareness Day campaign.

Tony Scherer, 75, Tasmania

Organic farmer

A pioneer of the organic farming movement, Tony Scherer has promoted sustainable farming methods for more than 50 years. Tony started organic farming in California in the 1970s. Moving to Australia in 1990, Tony introduced several organic methods, including the first machinery to convert Sudan grass into organic compost. By passing his knowledge to other organic farmers, he’s helped the agricultural industry cut millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while growing healthy food. A founding owner of Frogmore Creek Wines, Tony demonstrated that organic viticulture was possible and profitable, with the winery’s Pinot Noir winning multiple awards. Tony has since led a groundswell of interest in sustainable and low pesticide grape production. In 2012, he co-founded the not-for-profit Sprout Tasmania to expand organic and sustainable farming. And as the president of the Pinot Noir Forum, Tony has helped to build Tasmania’s reputation as a world leader in this wine style, creating jobs and supporting a new industry.

Barbara Spriggs, 65, South Australia

Campaigner to prevent abuse of aged care patients

When she suspected her husband was being mistreated in a government-run mental health facility, Barbara Spriggs began to push for answers. Barb had no choice but to place Bob, who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other complex and distressing illnesses, into care at the Oakden Older Person’s Mental Health Services facility. But after suspecting her husband was being physically and chemically restrained, Barb lifted the lid on a story of systematic abuse and neglect. Barb’s determination to seek answers and justice led to a formal inquiry, a damning report detailing a culture of cover up dating back 10 years, an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry and a public Senate inquiry. Barb’s husband has since died, but her sustained efforts saw other patients transferred to a new facility with hand-picked staff offering high-quality care. Barb’s persistence at a time of great personal grief honours her beloved husband with a legacy of better care and respect for older people in aged care facilities around Australia.

Professor Paul Zimmet AO, 76, Victoria

Scientist and diabetes specialist

An international leader in the field of diabetes for 40 years, Professor Paul Zimmet has had a profound impact on the lives of Australians living with diabetes. Paul’s research in the 1980s predicted the current global epidemic of Type 2 diabetes. He founded the International Diabetes Institute in Melbourne in 1984, the first institute in Australia to target diabetes and associated disorders. His legacy is entrenched in numerous humanitarian programs advocating for healthier lifestyles to prevent the disease and its complications. He has published more than 890 research papers, has been named one of the world's most influential scientific minds, and is listed in the top 10 diabetes researchers for global impact. The award-winning scientist is improving care for people with diabetes, nationally and globally. Paul’s knowledge, international profile and passionate advocacy is convincing policy-makers and politicians around the world about the adverse impact of diabetes on the nation’s health and economy, and the need for action to be taken to counteract this serious health threat.

Young Australian of the Year

Zack Bryers, 28, Australian Capital Territory

Youth and outreach worker

He's been a homeless teenager, a soldier in Afghanistan, a gridiron player for Australia, a Churchill Fellow, and now Zack Bryers is a youth worker on call 24/7. After leaving home at 15, Zack couch-surfed and spent time on the streets, before he set a goal to join the army which turned his life around. He spent tours of duty in Afghanistan before post-traumatic stress disorder saw him medically discharged. So, Zack set himself another goal – to make the Australian gridiron team within 18 months. Remarkably, he was playing in the World Cup in the United States within 17 months. He then trained as a youth worker, and is now YouthCare Canberra’s first full-time outreach worker. With compassion and consistency, Zack helps teens find temporary accommodation, attend court or hospital, overcome drug addictions or transform their lives after time in jail. Drawing on his own experiences, Zack is supporting and inspiring some of his community’s most disadvantaged and disengaged young people.

Macinley Butson, 17, New South Wales

Scientist and inventor

A rising star in the male-dominated world of science, Macinley Butson achieved international success in 2017 when she received the First Award in the category of medical science at the prestigious INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair. Each year, more than 7 million high school students develop original research projects for the world’s largest international science competition. Macinley’s idea, Smart Armour, is a shield that can be used by breast cancer patients to protect their non-treated breast while undergoing radiotherapy treatment. A prolific inventor, 17-year-old Macinley has also taken home science awards for other exceptional ideas, such as a system that simultaneously collects solar power and filters water, a spoon that accurately measures and delivers oral medicine to children, and a device that deters garden snails without the use of poison. While empowering young people to embrace science, Macinley also demonstrates the power of giving back to the community as a national youth ambassador for environmental organisation Green Cross Australia.

Kyran Dixon, 24, South Australia

Role model for Indigenous youth

Braving two battles with cancer, Kyran Dixon is a role model for young Indigenous people in his community. After being diagnosed with bone tumour in his hip when he was just 11, this talented Australian Rules footballer had to press pause on his sporting ambitions. Working his way back to football, Kyran joined the Port Adelaide Football Club Academy before disaster struck. A second diagnosis, this time Acute Myeloid Leukemia in 2014, demanded lifesaving treatment. While enduring rounds of chemotherapy, Kyran maintained his university studies, graduating in 2016. He’s now an ambassador who actively promotes cancer awareness and research. As a proud member of the Kaurna and Narungga clans, Kyran is a founding member of the Aboriginal Youth Cancer Advisory Group, and promotes healthy lifestyle choices among Aboriginal young people. Whether he’s a guest speaker or a mentor for at-risk youth, Kyran spreads a message of hope, strength and resilience, and motivates others to make the most of their chances.

Kevin Kadirgamar, 29, Northern Territory

Refugee and migration lawyer

Leaving his birthplace of Sri Lanka to escape civil conflict in his teens gave Kevin Kadirgamar a deep appreciation of the suffering experienced by many, and a steely determination to be a voice of the vulnerable. As a law student, Kevin co-founded Multicultural Youth NT, a youth-led organisation that promotes harmony and empowers young people to implement change in their own communities. Now 29, Kevin is a lawyer championing the rights of migrants and refugees. He's been recognised for his outstanding pro bono work on high-profile cases, fighting for the freedom of children and young people who were held in indefinite immigration detention. A former board member of many youth justice and human rights groups, Kevin mentors students and junior solicitors through Charles Darwin University, provides free migration advice every month and is the president of the Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory. Kevin’s indefatigable efforts demonstrate the important role a lawyer can play in fundamentally changing the lives of others.

Samantha Kerr, 24, Western Australia


When her dream of playing for the West Coast Eagles was shot down because she was the wrong gender, Samantha Kerr switched to another football code – soccer. By the time she was 15, Sam was representing Australia in the Matildas. Now, aged 24, Sam has held contracts with Sydney FC, Perth Glory and is in her fifth season in America's National Women's Soccer League, recently becoming its all-time leading goal scorer. In 2017, she was named a finalist for FIFA Female Player of the Year. Arguably the best women's soccer player in the world, Sam is an engaging ambassador for all women's sport. Her love for the game and her country is infectious. While she celebrates her prolific goal-scoring ability with a trademark backflip, Sam is a well-grounded athlete who inspires young and old with her athletic prowess and sportsmanship. Sam’s star power packs out arenas around the world, and encourages young women everywhere to chase their dreams.

Dr Jessica Manuela, 30, Tasmania

Dentist helping Indigenous communities

Dental surgeon, Dr Jessica Manuela is determined to improve oral health in Tasmanian Indigenous communities. As an Indigenous Tasmanian, Jess established her first dental practice three years ago and a second one in 2017. She now has more than 4000 active patients, but also finds time to speak with school students about oral hygiene and to run community information evenings. Together with the Royal Flying Doctor Service Tasmania and the South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation, Jess has established a culturally appropriate program that helps Indigenous Tasmanians access dental care to improve their health and wellbeing. She was the chairperson for oral health promotion on the Tasmanian Dental Council and has been involved with policy making and regulating the dental profession. She is also lobbying to save important schemes such as the Medicare Child Dental Benefit Scheme. Jess is passionate about educating her patients so that they have the skills to look after their health for a lifetime.

Georgie Stone, 17, Victoria

Campaigner for transgender youth

With her landmark case in the Family Court of Australia, Georgie Stone has helped change the law around access to the first stage of medical treatment for transgender adolescents and improved medical outcomes for trans youth throughout Australia. A brave and visible advocate for trans and gender diverse youth, Georgie has overcome discrimination, suicidal thoughts and bullying to blaze a trail for others. Her advocacy work and personal story has also driven progress in health and medical services and access to safe schooling environments. Many organisations, from schools to the NSW Police Force, use her appearances on Four Corners and Australian Story for training and education. With determination and dignity, Georgie has educated everyone around her, from family to federal politicians. And she has shown Australia that trans youth can speak out, tell their stories, demand equality and gain acceptance.

Phillip Thompson, 29, Queensland

Veterans’ champion

After enlisting in the Australian Army in 2006 at the age of 17, Phillip Thompson was deployed to East Timor and later Afghanistan. While on a dismounted patrol in 2009, Phil was wounded when an improvised explosive device detonated just a metre away. The incident left Phil with an array of medical conditions – including hearing loss and tinnitus, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and a traumatic brain injury – all of which have changed Phil’s life dramatically. Since recovering from his injuries, Phil has advocated for veterans’ employment, health and wellbeing, which has seen him appointed to national and government boards on mental health, self-harm and suicide. He has also competed at the Invictus Games in London and coached at Orlando in 2016. Phil also volunteers his time to listen to his fellow veterans, and has saved countless lives. Phil shares his story and his life experiences to empower other injured and ill ex-servicemen to have meaningful employment and community engagement.

Australia’s Local Hero

Judi Adams, West Moonah, Tasmania

Breast cancer fundraiser

Fourteen years ago, Judi Adams decided to make a difference to breast cancer research. Taking on the voluntary role of chair of the Hobart committee for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Judi began rallying support, engaging sponsors and hosting events. Since then, she’s staged breakfasts, luncheons and gala dinners, sporting events and car shows, raising a staggering $400,000 profit – with every cent going to breast cancer research. Some of Judi’s events, such as the Lumin8 Hobart soirées, Pink Ribbon luncheons, the Pink Cup, Pinktober and the Shannons Take Your Tops Off for Breast Cancer Research car displays have proven so popular that they are now enduring annual events. In 2017, Judi tackled Spain's Camino de Santiago, raising another $15,000 for her chosen charity. Judi’s committee has no operating budget, and each event represents many hours of voluntary labour. With passion and purpose, Judi has fostered camaraderie, created an inspiring events program, brought the community together and attracted interstate visitors while raising much-needed funds for breast cancer research.

Mat Bowtell, East Burwood, Victoria

Engineer and prosthetic limb innovator

Melbourne-based engineer, Mat Bowtell volunteers his spare time and funds to design and make open-source prosthetic devices for those who cannot afford them. During his studies he realised how expensive prosthetics are, especially for families with growing children, so set the goal to close the gap. After spending $5000 on a 3D printer, scanner and software, he began making open-source prosthetic hands for people around the world. While traditional prosthetics can cost up to $6000, Matt’s revolutionary “kinetic finger” can be made for under $1. Rather than licence his designs for profit, Mat has made them freely available online. Mat has helped children and adults in Australia and around the world, including one recipient in Japan who could play the piano again after a decade of silence. Mat never set out to seek acclaim or reward for his volunteer work, but wanted to spread love and compassion to those in need by giving back to society.

Andrew Costello, Adelaide, South Australia

Charity founder and community champion

A much-loved radio host and media personality, Andrew “Cosi” Costello uses his public profile to help people in South Australia and beyond. For the last seven years, he’s hosted South Aussie with Cosi, the state’s only travel show, which is broadcast internationally. His goal is to expand South Australia’s tourism industry and inspire locals to appreciate what’s on their own doorstep. Cosi regularly gives up his time to help people who are doing it tough. He’s organised camping trips for single mums and their kids, and held a birthday party at the Adelaide Zoo for 100 children who’d missed out on celebrations through social isolation or illness. Cosi, who spent seven years as a pig farmer, is also the founder of Cows for Cambodia. This cow bank lends pregnant cows to impoverished families, who get to keep the calf. Cosi has set a goal to raise 1000 cows for the project, which would make it one of Asia’s largest agriculture charities.

Bettina Danganbarr, Elcho Island, Northern Territory

Anti-domestic violence campaigner

An Aboriginal Community Police Officer in the East Arnhem community of Galiwin’ku, Bettina Danganbarr has offered her home as a safe haven to dozens of domestic violence victims. The Yolngu woman is admired throughout her community as a peacemaker. A tireless campaigner for the rights of women, particularly those experiencing family violence, Bettina has championed the establishment of the Galiwin’ku Women’s Space, a community-led response that addresses family violence in a culturally appropriate, Yolngu-led way. Prior to this, Bettina operated a makeshift women’s shelter in her own home, acting as a counsellor and mediator to families and couples while also caring for her three children and two foster children. Bettina’s expertise and knowledge working in two worlds – both the Yolgnu and Balanda, or non-Indigenous – means she can provide culturally appropriate support and responses to conflict. She trains other police officers to understand Yolgnu culture. Her influence has prevented many crimes, and supported many Yolgnu people as they move forward with their lives.

Cr Peter Lyndon-James, Henley Brook, Western Australia

Addiction treatment specialist

After struggling with addiction for most of his life Peter Lyndon-James understands how hard it is to break free. Coming from a broken home, Peter was in and out of prisons from the age of nine, and addicted to drugs for 26 years. In 2001, this one-time career criminal left jail for the last time, studied theology and spent five years as a volunteer chaplain at Acacia Prison. In 2012, he opened Shalom House in Perth’s Swan Valley, a 140-bed facility he calls “the strictest rehab in Australia”. Peter’s 100 percent self-funded program helps up to 140 men struggling with addictions. Wearing his hard-knock heart on his sleeve, Peter works intensively with program residents to help them face their demons, identify past failures and establish future goals. His system is working, and today he leads a team of up to 70 staff and volunteers. In 2017, Peter was elected to the City of Swan Council to represent his hometown of Altone Ward.

Pip Russell, Brisbane, Queensland

Children’s entertainer and innovator

A much-loved host of national children’s television, Pip Russell traded in commercial TV to launch a program that transforms the hospital for children. Juiced TV – the first program of its kind, is made by the kids in hospital, for the kids in hospital. Using her experience gained on programs like Toasted TV and Totally Wild, Pip and her team create a weekly, 25-minute TV program which helps normalise the hospital experience. Patients and their siblings have the chance to star in their own TV show, sharing patient journeys and featuring animal encounters, sports and interviews with favourite idols. Since launching in January 2015 at Queensland’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, more than 1850 patients and their families have participated in the show, and more than 2.4 million people have viewed the program on YouTube. In 2018, Pip takes the next step towards fulfilling her vision for Juiced TV to touch the lives of every child in hospital across the country, as the program launches its regional service in hospitals throughout Queensland.

Suzanne Tunks, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Supporter and fundraiser for sick children

After her daughter was born with congenital heart disease, Suzanne Tunks learnt to appreciate how hard it is for many families in similar situations. Suzanne spent half of her daughter Stella’s short life of nine months in hospital, an experience which drove her to create the Stella Bella Little Stars Foundation. Suzanne has rallied the community and launched a variety of support programs. She’s raised more than $720,000 to provide support and financial assistance for families, covering everything from food and petrol to chemist accounts and emergency accommodation. In 2017, Suzanne opened the Stella Bella Children’s Centre, which offers much-needed respite care. Meanwhile, the Little Star Beads Program brightens the lives of seriously ill children by giving them a bead for specific medical procedures and milestones in their treatment, which then become a symbol of their courage. Having already brightened the lives of almost 1000 children facing tough times, Suzanne is expanding the Little Stars Bead Program to hospitals all around Australia.

Eddie Woo, Sydney, New South Wales

Mathematics teacher

Arguably Australia’s most famous mathematics teacher, Eddie Woo makes maths fun. The head mathematics teacher at Cherrybrook Technology High School, the largest secondary school in New South Wales, Eddie started posting videos online in 2012 for a student who was sick with cancer and missing a lot of school. Before long, he was sharing the videos across the country and beyond. Wootube now boasts more than 100,000 subscribers and has attracted more than 8 million views worldwide and counting. With infectious enthusiasm, the father-of-three's unique and caring approach to teaching destigmatises mathematics as an inaccessible and difficult subject. Outside his high school classroom, Eddie is a volunteer facilitator with the University of Sydney's Widening Participation and Outreach program and has motivated more than 1400 students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A brilliant student, Eddie could have chosen any field, but in defiance of social convention and his parents opted for teaching. Today, he is using his vocation to “pay it forward” and make education equitable for all.