Alumni News Articles


22 November 2011

ACT Australian of the Year 2012 - Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston AC AFC ACT

Senior Australian of the Year 2012 - Betty Churcher AO ACT

Young Australian of the Year 2012 - Dr Sam Prince

ACT Local Hero 2012 - Julie Tongs

Retired military leader Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston AC AFC has been named the ACT Australian of the Year 2012 and presented with his award by Katy Gallagher MLA Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory.

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston is a towering figure in Australian public life. In 2001 he was appointed Chief of Air Force and four years later was promoted to the pinnacle of the military hierarchy, Chief of the Defence Force. Until his retirement in 2011, Angus inspired those under his command with his unswerving diligence, honesty and integrity – the phrase ‘an officer and a gentleman’ is synonymous with Angus Houston.

At 21, he migrated to Australia from Scotland, joining the Royal Australian Air Force in 1970. Ten years later, as a helicopter pilot, Angus won the Air Force Cross for winching three shipwrecked sailors from wild seas off the NSW coast. As Chief of the Defence Force, he oversaw Australia’s challenging military operations in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. The tragic realities of war were part of his life. It was he who fronted the media whenever an Australian fatality occurred. His sincerity and humanity were always evident.

His legacy includes improved control and command systems, a better understanding of service men and women suffering mental illness and the rehabilitation of ADF casualties for them to continue serving in the defence force.

Betty Churcher AO was awarded ACT Senior Australian of the Year 2012 for a lifetime of achievement in art and her visionary efforts to share art with a wider audience.

Best known as the Director of the National Gallery of Australia (1990 to 1997), Betty has been passionate about art for most of her life. As a seven year old child she was taken to the then National Gallery of Queensland where she discovered that paintings took her on a magic carpet ride. Betty’s determination to be an artist took her to London, graduating from the Royal College of Art, and winning the drawing prize. Betty became an inspirational educator and inspired gallery director, determined to foster an appreciation of the transformative power of art.

Betty has been a role model for women: she was the first woman to head a tertiary institution (Dean of School of Art and Design, Phillip Institute of Technology, now RMIT), the first female director of a state art gallery (Art Gallery of WA) and the first female director of the National Gallery of Australia.

A gifted communicator, Betty has used her talent to make art relevant and accessible to the community through blockbuster exhibitions, her television shows and published works. Now aged 80 and, despite her failing eyesight, Betty recently published Notebooks which features Betty’s own drawings of her favourite paintings.

The ACT Young Australian of the Year 2012 is 27 year old doctor and entrepreneur Dr Sam Prince, whose multi-platform projects combine business achievements with philanthropy and medical care. While still at medical school, Sam opened a Canberra restaurant, 'Zambrero', believing a market existed for healthy Mexican food. Just four years later, he had a restaurant chain with 17 outlets around Australia. Besides working full time in a western Sydney hospital and running his restaurant empire, Sam manages and finances his charitable foundation, E-magine. Funded from the restaurant revenues, Sam’s foundation has built 15 schools in Sri Lanka, Vietnam and far north Queensland and he plans to build 100 more in the Asia Pacific region by 2014. With extraordinary drive and vision, Sam has organised public education campaigns in Sri Lanka to reduce deaths from snake bites and dengue fever.

He is now tackling a health issue closer to home: the eradication of scabies. The multi-million dollar project is the first in Sam’s philanthropic vision to eliminate diseases through a program, ‘One disease at a time’. The first phase focuses on Indigenous communities in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, where scabies leads to rheumatic heart disease and early death. Sam hopes to inspire young medical students to join his efforts.

The ACT Local Hero 2012 is Narrabundah care advocate Julie Tongs, a tireless campaigner for Indigenous people. A Wiradjuri woman, Julie has worked at the Canberra hospital, bridging the gap between Indigenous patients and hospital staff and has also advised an Aboriginal affairs minister. For the past 14 years, Julie has run the Winnunga Nimmityhah Aboriginal Health Service in Canberra. A success story in Aboriginal health, Winnunga provides a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. Outgrowing small premises in north Canberra, Julie oversaw the move to Narrabundah, where doctors, dentists, midwives and counsellors mix with art teachers, boxing instructors and mechanics.

Julie believes there is no point treating a person for a single ailment without looking at other aspects of their life. So, in addition to health programs provided by Aboriginal health workers, Julie has established and expanded life-skills options, such as a youth diversion program, a boxing club and a home maintenance program. She has also been instrumental in Winnunga developing a health care model for Aboriginal prisoners, but she believes Winnunga is critical in helping to prevent Indigenous people going to jail by treating alcohol and drug dependencies.

The ACT recipients will now join recipients from all other States and Territories as finalists for the national awards to be announced on 25 January 2012 in Canberra.

Tam Johnston, Program Director for the National Australia Day Council, said the ACT award recipients were diverse but were all leaders.

“The ACT award recipients are not only leaders in their field, but their achievements and the way in which they conduct themselves inspire others, making them great role models for us all,” said Ms Johnston.

The Commonwealth Bank has been the major sponsor of the Australian of the Year Awards for more than 30 years. Chief Executive Officer Ralph Norris congratulated the ACT award recipients.

"The Commonwealth Bank is proud to be part of acknowledging the work and efforts of an impressive group of Australians through the Australian of the Year Awards," said Mr Norris.

"This year's ACT award recipients are extraordinary people that we can all be inspired by. It is the passion and determination of individuals like these that make Australia a terrific country. I wish them the best of luck for the national awards in January."

Read the stories behind all the recipients over here.

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