Alumni News Articles


25 January 2017

8:57pm, Canberra: Biomedical scientist Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim has been awarded 2017 Australian of the Year

The Prime Minister, The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, presented Professor Mackay-Sim with the 2017 Australian of the Year trophy at a ceremony in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra this evening.

The Award recognises Professor Mackay-Sim’s lifetime of dedicated research and international leadership which has led to ground breaking advances in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

An inspirational scientist and international leader in stem cell research, his decades of work have given hope to thousands of Australians and people across the world with spinal cord injuries.

Professor Mackay-Sim is a global authority on the human sense of smell and the biology of nasal cells and led the world’s first clinical trial using these cells in spinal cord injury. In 2014, his research helped play a central role in the world’s first successful restoration of mobility in a quadriplegic man – a breakthrough described as the scientific equivalent to the moon landing.  

As the director of the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research, Professor Mackay-Sim’s research has championed the use of stem cells to understand the biological bases of brain disorders and diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease and Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia.

His pioneering work has also led to collaborations with teams of health professionals who are translating his research into clinical practice.

Committed to finding solutions in science, Professor Mackay-Sim has laid the foundation for the next generation of researchers and demonstrated the value of inquiry, persistence and empathy.

Without his decades of work, many new breakthroughs in medical science would not be possible.

Community fundraising champion Vicki Jellie from Warrnambool, Victoria is Australia's Local Hero 2017.   

Vicki Jellie is the quintessential everyday Australian who does not take no for an answer. The 2017 Australia’s Local Hero has united a community to make the impossible possible and demonstrated the power one individual can have in bringing about huge change for the benefit of many. 

After her husband Peter died of cancer in 2008, Vicki found his plans for a local cancer fundraising event. His dream had been to bring radiotherapy services to the South West of Victoria. During treatment, Peter spent weeks away from home in Warrnambool, travelling to Melbourne for radiotherapy treatment.

Peter’s dream became Vicki’s passion. In 2009, Vicki brought together local leaders to initiate Peter's Project – a community group dedicated to fighting for better cancer services. Despite being told that a cancer centre in Warrnambool would “never happen”, Vicki relentlessly lobbied governments, rallying the community and raising funds.

In May 2014, Vicki announced that the dream had been achieved: $5 million raised by the local community, $25 million to be funded by state and federal governments. In July 2016, the new South West Regional Cancer Centre opened its doors, offering radiotherapy treatment for regional patients.

Vicki’s persistence has proven that ‘nothing is impossible’ and she will continue to support “all the Peters” who are facing their own cancer battles.  Furthermore, Vicki’s tenacity and commitment serves as inspiration that all Australians can make a difference.

The 2017 Senior Australian of the Year is 85 year old Sister Anne Gardiner AM of Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory.

Sister Anne Gardiner has given a lifetime to connecting cultures and championing the power of community. Her selfless approach to helping others and sense of giving have made a big impact at a grass roots level.

As a 22-year-old member of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Sr Anne was asked to move to Bathurst Island to live among the Tiwi people. In the 62 years since, she has devoted her life to enriching community, enhancing opportunity and supporting the Tiwi culture.

An advocate of peace, love and the traditional Tiwi way of life, Sr Anne has worked tirelessly with the local people to document and preserve the Tiwi language for future generations.

As the Principal of the local primary school, Sr Anne educated generations of children while also establishing community clubs, from mothers’ groups to Little Athletics. She runs regular prayer meetings, founded an op shop and established a café to raise funds to support her much-loved community. Sr Anne’s labour of love, the Patakajiyali museum, shares valuable Tiwi stories, language and traditional customs, while also bringing financial benefit to the people.

A cornerstone of the community, Sr Anne has earned an enduring place in the hearts of the Tiwi people and her work has helped preserve and empower a culture which is integral to the Australian story.

The 2017 Young Australian of the Year is acclaimed fashion designer and international business entrepreneur Paul Vasileff of Adelaide, South Australia.

At just 26 years of age, Paul Vasileff has achieved extraordinary success as an international fashion designer. Passionate, determined, and committed to running his business from his hometown of Adelaide, Paul’s achievements prove that anything is possible. 

Paul’s passion for fashion started at the tender age of 11, when he stitched his first dress with the help of his grandmother. Since then, he has gone on to graduate from Milan’s prestigious Europeo Istituto di Design and is now the brains behind couture label Paolo Sebastian.  

This home-grown, down-to-earth designer has defied all odds. Told he could never achieve international success without uprooting his life and leaving Australia, Paul operates his business from South Australia. His luxurious creations are all hand-made by his thirteen locally employed staff, and are now favourites on the world’s runways, stocked in boutiques in New York and around the globe, and worn by celebrities walking the red carpet at the Oscars and Logies.

Paul’s view of success serves as an inspiration to all young Australians pursuing big dreams – proof that global success can be achieved from anywhere with the right attitude. His commitment to creating local jobs and keeping his business in Australia is to be admired as is his self-belief in pursuing his creativity and art as an entrepreneurial pathway. 

The Chairman of the National Australia Day Council, Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG, congratulated the 2017 Australian of the Year Award recipients, praising their contributions.

“Alan, Vicki, Sister Anne and Paul are Australians we can all be richly proud of and inspired by,” said Mr Roberts-Smith.

“They have all made valuable contributions – to medical science and their communities, by creating jobs and keeping heritage and culture alive, and through helping others and creating a better future.

“They remind us to dream big, work hard and believe in what you’re doing.”

For more than 37 years, the Commonwealth Bank has been a proud sponsor of the Australian of the Year Awards.

Commonwealth Bank is the major sponsor of the Australian of the Year Awards and has been associated with the program for 37 years.

Commonwealth Bank Chief Executive Officer, Ian Narev, congratulated this year’s Australian of the Year Award recipients.

“Commonwealth Bank is honoured to congratulate the Australian of the Year Award recipients for 2017. Each of you has made a remarkable contribution to the country. Your achievements are an inspiration to all your fellow Australians.”

Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, Vicki Jellie, Sister Anne Gardiner AM and Paul Vasileff will take part in Australia Day activities in Canberra tomorrow.  The 2017 Australians of the Year will attend the National Flag Raising and Citizenship Ceremony in the morning and then attend the ACT Chief Minister’s Australia Day luncheon at the National Gallery of Australia. At 5:15pm they will appear on stage at the Canberra Australia Day Concert.  In the evening they will be guests at the Prime Minister’s Australia Day Reception and then will attend a Fireworks function at Regatta Point.

Nominations for the 2018 Australian of the Year are now open. If there's someone you think should be considered, you can nominate them now at

Media can download images from the event here.

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2017 Australian of the Year

Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim

Biomedical scientist treating spinal cord injuries

An inspirational scientist and international leader in stem cell research, Professor Alan Mackay-Sim has given hope to thousands of Australians with spinal cord injuries. A global authority on the hum...

View Honour Roll profile for Alan Mackay-Sim

2017 Senior Australian of the Year

Sister Anne Gardiner AM

Community champion, connecting cultures and celebrating aboriginal heritage

In 1953, as a 22-year-old member of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Sister Anne Gardiner was asked to move to Bathurst Island to live among the Tiwi people. Sister Anne has devoted 50 o...

View Honour Roll profile for Anne Gardiner

2017 Young Australian of the Year

Paul Vasileff

Acclaimed fashion designer and businessman

With a passion for fashion, Paul Vasileff stitched his first dress at the tender age of 11, created countless formal dresses for friends in his teens and was just 16 when he showcased his first fashio...

View Honour Roll profile for Paul Vasileff

2017 Local Hero

Vicki Jellie

Community fundraising champion, bringing cancer services to South West Victoria

After her husband Peter died of cancer in 2008, Vicki Jellie found his plans for a local cancer fundraiser. His dream had been to bring radiotherapy services to the South West of Victoria. Peter’...

View Honour Roll profile for Vicki Jellie

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