Jeremy Lasek – PHAA
The Public Health Association of Australia congratulates our 2022 Australians of the Year, four remarkable individuals who have dedicated their lives to improving the health of our nation.
Your 2022 Australians of the Year 🙌 It was such an inspiring evening having all our state and territory recipients in one room together, celebrating their accomplishments.
Thank you for watching and don’t forget to nominate someone great for the 2023 #AusoftheYear awards! pic.twitter.com/SXU7KSXHlu
— AusoftheYearAwards (@ausoftheyear) January 25, 2022
The recipients are changing and saving lives through their advocacy work in areas of disability, first aid, alcohol addiction, and in support of homeless people.
Dylan Alcott OAM – Australian of the Year
Within hours of winning his way through to the Australian Open final in wheelchair tennis, Dylan Alcott, was in Canberra to accept our nation’s highest honour.
Dylan has achieved everything there is to achieve in his sport, including seven Australian Open titles. In 2021 he became the first male tennis player in history to win the Golden Slam – all four grand slam titles plus a Paralympic gold medal in the same year.
Dylan may well have been deserving of the Aussie of the Year award for his tennis exploits alone, but it’s his fierce advocacy for people with disability that make him a stand out, both on and off the court.
His Foundation seeks to remove barriers for people with a disability seeking to get involved in sport, studying and mentoring by providing funding and grants.
“I used to hate having a disability. I hated it so much. I hated being different and, you know, I didn’t want to be here anymore. I really didn’t,” Dylan said in his acceptance speech.
“Whenever I turned on the TV or the radio or the newspaper, I never saw anybody like me, and whenever I did, it was a road safety ad where someone drink drives, has a car accident,” he said.
“And what’s the next scene? Someone like me in tears ‘cos their life was over. And I thought to myself, ‘that’s not my life’ but I believed that was going to be my life.”
He paid tribute to Paralympic heroes such as Louise Sauvage, Kurt Fearnley and Danni Di Toro who would eventually show him what was possible.
“When I reached the end of my teenage years, I started seeing people like me,” he said.
“I also stand on the shoulders of giants. Not literally — I still can’t stand.”
Now Dylan loves his disability. And he wants everyone to work so every one of the 4.5 million Australians with a physical or non-physical disability can love theirs too.
That starts with fully funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme, speaking to people with lived experience of their conditions, and investing in people with disabilities to get them and their carers off pensions and into the workforce.
In his speech, Dylan said just over half of people with disabilities were employed, and the unemployment rate was double that of able-bodied people. Unchanged from three decades ago.
“We have to have greater representation of people with a disability absolutely everywhere,” he said.
“In our boardrooms, in our parliaments, in our mainstream schools, on our dating apps, on our sporting fields, in our universities, absolutely everywhere, so we get the opportunity to start living our lives, just like everybody else.
“And I promise you, you won’t just enrich the lives of us, but also yourselves in the process.”
Before leaving the stage, Dylan shared an inspiring piece of advice for non-disabled Australians.
“It’s time for you to challenge your unconscious biases,” he said.
“Leave your negative perceptions at the door and lift your expectation of what you think people with a disability can do.
“Because there’s always more than you think.”
Val Dempsey – Senior Australian of the Year
Starting as a cadet volunteer while still in primary school, for more than 50 years Val Dempsey has dedicated her life to St John Ambulance and teaching first aid. She is recognised as one of Australia’s longest-serving volunteers.
In 2020, she faced her biggest challenge as a St John Ambulance volunteer – first with the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, she led 40 fellow volunteers as they supported fire-affected communities during the emergency that stretched over many weeks.
Then when the pandemic hit, Val displayed unwavering commitment to the St John team, despite heavy hits to team morale. She personally contacted every volunteer to check they were ‘doing okay’ regarding their welfare, mental health and morale.
Last year, as so much of the nation struggled through lengthy lockdowns, the 71-year-old clocked up more than 600 hours of volunteer service, leading first aid training, providing support at local events and working with the COVID-19 response team.
“I believe holding out a hand to someone or taking an opportunity to be kind makes all the difference and it comes back to you 1000-fold,” Val said in her acceptance speech.
In the 90s, she initiated a program teaching people with addictions how to apply first aid to those suffering overdoses.
“All life is precious. This is why I believe in first aid and why I believe all Australians should learn first aid to save lives.”
Val hopes to use her award to call for all learner drivers to become the next generation of mobile first-aiders.
“The first people on the scene of an accident are usually fellow road users. I would like to see a time when all bystanders have first aid training, competence and confidence to out those skills to use in those vital minutes before an ambulance arrives.”
Dr Daniel Nour – Young Australian of the Year
Identifying a gap in the health care of vulnerable people in Sydney, Dr Daniel Nour founded Street Side Medics in August 2020, just as the pandemic took hold in Australia. It’s a not-for-profit, GP-led mobile medical service for people experiencing homelessness.
Despite working full time at Royal North Shore Hospital, Daniel has rarely missed a clinic, and volunteers his afternoons to ensure they are run smoothly and patients are receiving the care they deserve.
In less than 18 months, Street Side Medics now has 145 volunteers and four clinics across NSW. It has helped an estimated 300 people treating a range of illnesses, many of which would otherwise have gone unnoticed. The service is free and doesn’t require a Medicare card.
“As we sit here tonight there are over 116,000 Australians who are experiencing homelessness,” Dr Nour said in his acceptance speech.
“Unfortunately, many of these Australians face significant barriers that limit their ability to access the healthcare services that we are all so lucky to have available to us.
“As a result of this they suffer in silence, many die of conditions which could have been treated, and avoid interventions which could have improved quality of life.”
Dr Nour added that it had been difficult journey, however the thought of Australians suffering from medical conditions that could be treated kept him going.
He said plans were to take the service national to help more of those living on the streets.
“One state is simply not good enough. To anyone that can help I urge you to reach out and together let’s change healthcare for those most vulnerable.”
Shanna Whan – Local Hero of the Year
Shanna Whan has helped countless people in the bush kick their alcohol addiction. She is single-handedly creating radical social impact and change in rural Australia around how we discuss and use alcohol
When Shanna almost lost her life to alcohol addiction in 2015, giving up drinking was just the start. What began as volunteer work to help others locally, evolved into a grass-roots charity, Sober in the Country, which now has a national reach and offers peer support, powerful broad-scale advocacy and education.
“Let’s be honest about the fact that Australia’s got a bit of a drinking problem,” Shanna told the Australian of the Year awards ceremony.
“It’s honestly more acceptable to be drunk in the country than it is to be sober.”
Shanna dedicated the award to those “choosing bush sunrises over hangovers” and to her husband Tim.
“Alcohol use is the silent pandemic we are not discussing,” Shanna said.
“Life in rural Australia is permanent iso. We’ve always got enough beers in the fridge, but we’ve never got enough services or support.”
Having donated about 20,000 hours to the cause, Shanna now travels on invitation as the spokesperson for her organisation.
Throughout it all, her message has remained clear and simple: As her charity campaign states, it’s “OK to say no” to booze.
“Be a good mate. Don’t question or bully someone else’s choices,” she said.
“I dream of the day that everyone in the bush knows that it’s ok to say no to a beer.”