Australian of the Year Awards 2011 recipients announced

Australian of the Year Awards 2011 recipients announced

Victorian social entrepreneur Simon McKeon has been named Australian of the Year 2011 at a public event on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra this evening. The Prime Minister, The Hon Julia Gillard MP, congratulated Mr McKeon today and thanked him for his ongoing contributions to social causes.

Queensland solo sailor Jessica Watson was named Young Australian of the Year 2011, while NSW disability advocate Professor Ron McCallum AO was announced as Senior Australian of the Year 2011 and NSW suicide prevention advocate Donald Ritchie OAM is Australia’s Local Hero 2011.

The Australian of the Year 2011, Simon McKeon, is a leading social entrepreneur and prominent businessman who demonstrates how business and philanthropy go hand in hand. His lifelong efforts to support Australian and international charities has earned him great admiration and respect in the community.

The 55 year old from Brighton, Victoria has enjoyed a successful career as an investment banker and he has equally committed himself to engagement with the community sector in an effort to maximise the impact he can bring about for the benefit of people in need. With community service high on his agenda, in 1994 Simon transitioned into a part time role as Executive Chairman of Macquarie Group’s Melbourne office, enabling him to support a range of causes and organisations, including joining the board of World Vision Australia.

Simon is currently Chairman of the CSIRO and Business for Millennium Development, which encourages business to engage with the developing world. He recently retired as Founding Chairman of MS Research Australia and Founding President of the Federal Government’s Takeover Panel. His association with World Vision International continues and he is involved with the Global Poverty Project and Red Dust Role Models, which works with remote Indigenous communities. Simon’s achievements also include a World Speed Sailing Record with crewman Tim Daddo.

The Senior Australian of the Year 2011 is equal rights campaigner Professor Ron McCallum AO of Artarmon, NSW. Professor McCallum is the first totally blind person to have been appointed to a full professorship at an Australian university. Professor McCallum was the foundation Professor in Industrial Law at the University of Sydney, and from 2002, he served five years as Dean of Law. He has fervently pursued equal rights for working people across the globe and was the inaugural President of the Australian Labour Law Association from 2001 to 2009. He is currently Chair of Radio for the Print Handicapped of New South Wales Co-operative. The organisation operates radio 2RPH, which reads out newspapers and magazines over the air for blind and other print handicapped listeners. He is also one of two Deputy Chairs of Vision Australia, and one of 12 members of the first monitoring committee for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He was appointed inaugural Rapporteur of this committee and is now the Chair. Ron has also recently been appointed to the Federal Government’s National People with Disabilities and Carers Council. Ron is a leading light in the community for people with a disability, working for equality among all Australians.

The Young Australian of the Year 2011 is 17 year old solo sailor Jessica Watson of Buderim, Queensland. Jessica’s achievement of sailing solo, unassisted, non-stop around the world at the age of 16 is well known to all Australians. While completing the journey itself is an inspiring accomplishment worthy of admiration, it is the way in which Jessica has pursued a dream and the manner in which she has conducted herself which has earned her the respect of her fellow Australians. Jessica dreamed of sailing around the world solo since she was 12 years old and, at 16, had set in place a plan to reach her goal. She overcame a lack of funding and respect, along with her own fears, to circumnavigate the world. Defying criticism from those who said her task was destined to fail, she sailed through dangerous conditions and some of the world’s most challenging seaways, such as Cape Horn and the Southern Ocean. The teen adventurer survived multiple knockdowns in her yacht, Ella’s Pink Lady, and endured 12-metre seas, 75-knot winds, storms and loneliness throughout the seven month journey. She kept in contact with followers through her blog and after 210 days out at sea, returned to a hero’s welcome as she sailed into Sydney Harbour. Since her voyage she has displayed maturity and dignity, becoming a role model for young people all over the world. Her voyage has inspired thousands of people of all ages, and has shown that if you put your mind to it you can achieve what may at first seem impossible. Her courage and determination to defeat all odds is truly exceptional.

Australia’s Local Hero 2011 is suicide prevention advocate and compassionate Australian Donald Ritchie OAM of Vaucluse, NSW. Don has lived by the ocean cliff ‘The Gap’ in Sydney’s eastern suburbs for almost 50 years. The scenic locale has unfortunately become an infamous landmark due to its reputation as a suicide spot. In a situation where most would turn a blind eye, 84 year old Don has taken action to prevent people from taking their own lives. It is not a role he sought out, but one which he voluntarily took on simply because he lives close to a place where people in the depths of despair come when they feel they have no other option. Each day, Don keeps an active eye out for people who might need help. For years he has been coaxing people away from the cliffside by inviting them back to his home for a chat over a cup of tea. In this way, Don has saved more than 160 lives. Over the years, he has received tokens of thanks from many he has saved but, tragically, the deaths of so many are eternally etched in his mind. Don’s services to suicide prevention are truly remarkable. His kind words and invitations into his home in times of trouble have made an enormous difference. With such simple actions Don has saved an extraordinary number of lives.

Ralph Norris, CEO of the Commonwealth Bank, which has been the major sponsor of the Australian of the Year Awards for more than 30 years, congratulated the award recipients.

“These four extraordinary people we celebrate as Australians of the Year 2011 have been nominated by their fellow Australians – perhaps the greatest accolade there is,” said Mr Norris. “They represent all that is great about the Australian character.”

More than 2,400 nominations were received from the public for the 2011 awards and nominations are already being accepted for the 2012 Australian of the Year Awards. Nominate someone that makes you proud now.

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