Alumni News Articles

Australian of the Year finalists for 2009 announced

18 December 2008


11 DECEMBER 2008

State & Territory award announcements are now complete and recipients are listed below.  These recipients are now finalists in the national awards. Recipients of Australian of the Year 2009, Senior Australian of the Year 2009, Young Australian of the Year 2009 and Australia's Local Hero 2009 will be announced on Sunday 25 January 2009 in Canberra.

AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR

ACT - Professor Michael Dodson AM - Indigenous Leader   
NSW - Glenn McGrath AM - Fundraiser
NT - Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu - Indigenous Singer/Songwriter    
SA - Ivan Copley - Indigenous Community Worker
TAS - Peter Cundall AM - Gardening Expert
VIC - Dr Berhan Ahmed - African-Australian Community Leader
WA - Dr Penny Flett - Geriatrics Specialist
QLD - Bronwyn Sheehan - Literacy Advocate

SENIOR AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR

ACT - Reverend Associate Professor Elizabeth MacKinlay AM - Anglican Priest
NSW - Lorraine Peeters - Stolen Generation Advocate
NT - Bryan & Kathy Massey - Community Supporters
SA - John Halbert MBE - Australian Rules Legend
TAS - Ronnie Burns - Respite Centre Founder
VIC - Pat LaManna OAM - Entrepreneur & Philanthropist
WA - Patrick Dodson - Indigenous Leader
QLD - Jean Illingworth - Revolutionary Principal

YOUNG AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR

ACT - Jack Heath - Young Adult Writer
NSW - Kurt Fearnley OAM - Paralympian
NT - Rachel Meldrum - Talented Scientist
SA - Matthew Cowdrey OAM - Paralympic Swimmer
TAS - Sam Cawthorn - Motivator
VIC - Leigh Mathews - Charity Founder
WA - David Wirrpanda - Indigenous Footballer
QLD - Jonty Bush - Victims Support Worker

AUSTRALIA'S LOCAL HERO

ACT - Tim Gavel - Charitable Sports Commentator
NSW - Dr Jamal Rifi - Cultural Leader
NT - Chowdhury Sadaruddin - Muslim Community Leader
SA - Beverley Langley - Wildlife Rescuer
TAS - John Layton Hodgetts OAM - Band Leader
VIC - Beverley Wall - Town Hero
WA - Graeme Drew - Sea Rescuer & Educator
QLD - Cyril Golding - Philanthropic Businessman

Ends

Bios of all finalists are below.


FINALIST BIOS

AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

ACT - Professor Michael Dodson AM
Professor Michael Dodson is widely recognised as a proud, courageous and humble Aboriginal leader who has spent his adult life trying to explain to people why and how they can help his people. A Yawuru man from the Broome area, the contribution he has made to improving the lives of indigenous Australians is inestimable. He has pursued justice and reconciliation through a process of education, awareness and inclusive dialogue with all Australians. Mick's official roles tell only a small part of the story of what he does. He has served in a variety of challenging and highly sensitive roles at community level, with governments, the United Nations and in academia. In addition he has always actively mentored, nurtured and promoted young Aboriginal leaders, and encouraged respect between people of all cultures. He has described himself as a 'persistent bugger' and is uncompromising in arguing for justice and good sense. He champions the successes of the Indigenous community but also expects accountability for failures. He doesn't shy away from difficult questions or issues. As Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia, Mick's dream is to achieve reconciliation in this country, and a better future for his people. An outstanding Australian, Mick represents integrity, wisdom and compassion.

NSW - Glenn McGrath AM
Glenn McGrath is one of Australia's most loved cricketing legends. Since first wearing the baggy green cap in Perth in 1993, he has gone on to become the most prolific fast bowler in test cricket history, spearheading Australia's bowling attack for over a decade. Professionally he has always demonstrated an unerring will to succeed, but off the field it is the way he has handled personal struggles that has gained him admiration. Glenn's wife, Jane, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, cancer of the hip six years later and had a brain tumour removed in early 2006. Together they established the McGrath Foundation, with an aim to provide funding for breast care nurses on a national basis and provide greater public awareness of breast cancer, particularly amongst younger women. The McGrath Foundation is now a major fundraiser for and supporter of people with breast cancer. In June this year Jane lost her 11-year battle with cancer, leaving Glenn to care for their two children. Throughout it all Glenn has shown enormous strength and dignity, setting an inspirational example.

NT - Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu is from the Gumatj nation in North-East Arnhem Land. Blind since birth, he is a gifted musician who has the unique talent of playing right-handed strung guitars left-handed. A former member of Yothu Yindi and a long-time member of the Saltwater Band, his debut solo album, Gurrumul, was released to critical acclaim. Hailed as one of the greatest musicians Australia has ever produced, Geoffrey sings in a mixture of local language and English. He performs in an almost classical setting with just an acoustic guitar, grand piano and double bass accompanying him. As a deeply traditional man, his songs focus on his spiritual connection with the land, his love of country, and the importance of his ancestors. Named male artist of the year at the 2007 Northern Territory Indigenous Music awards and awarded two arias at the ARIA Awards 2008, he has been acclaimed for his performance on the world stage in New York, Los Angeles and London. Geoffrey has also performed for the Queen and the Pope and supported Elton John on his recent Australian tour. He is an example of triumph over adversity, and of extraordinary talent.

SA - Ivan Copley
Ivan is a committed man of Aboriginal descent from the Peramangk people, the Kaurna people of the Adelaide plains and the Minang people of Western Australia. He has devoted his life to trying to achieve reconciliation and better outcomes for Indigenous Australians. As founder and Chair of the Campbelltown Council Reconciliation Committee he has achieved excellent results, including the signing of a Statement of Reconciliation by the Mayor, CEO of the Council and himself. Through his work with Rotary he established the first clean drinking water purifier in the Aboriginal community of Leigh Creek, having raised the funds for it himself. Whilst at the Australian Bureau of Statistics he arranged for second-hand computers to be installed in Aboriginal communities without computer access. Recently he established an Aboriginal Funeral Fund to assist family members to travel to funerals. He raises money for the Fund through sales of merchandise in his spare time. These are just a few of the many ways in which Ivan is putting his heart and soul into bettering his community. He has been described as a 'bridge for all peoples.'

TAS - Peter Cundall AM
Peter Cundall has been gardening since he was a small child and has a love of the environment. Born in Manchester, he taught himself paving techniques mainly using second-hand materials wheeled from derelict buildings in an old pram. He also learned pruning techniques, propagation and heated greenhouse management, and helped feed his family with the development of a highly productive vegetable garden. After leaving the Australian Army in 1956, he began his own business designing and constructing gardens in Tasmania. In 1967, he began one of the world's first gardening talkback programs on a Launceston radio station and two years later he began a career in television with a program which after several name and format changes became Gardening Australia, one of the longest running, most iconic shows in Australia. Peter has also played a major role in creating the Organic Gardening and Farming Society and has written extensively on gardening, including producing the first gardening book printed on washable plastic paper for outdoor use, Year Round Gardening. He remains actively involved with environmental, peace and child protection movements. Peter is a well-known and much-loved figure in Australian gardening who is respected for his sincere and open-hearted manner.

VIC - Dr Berhan Ahmed
At the age of 15, Berhan Ahmed became a refugee from Eritrea.  He was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship to study in Egypt and, in 1987, came to Australia as a refugee with little English. He began working as a tram conductor to learn about Australian society and practice English. From these humble beginnings he has gone on to complete his PhD in Agricultural Science and is now a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He has been instrumental in building bridges between the African and wider Australian communities, forging relationships with politicians, community, business leaders and philanthrophic organisations. He encourages people to focus on the things that unite us as human beings, not the superficial differences. He initiated and implemented a number of projects for Melbourne's African community to raise the standard of living, educational engagement and achievement, level of employment, and integration. He has personally supported many newly-arrived refugees, and is always there to offer guidance and a helping hand through the difficult process of arriving in a new country after traumatic experience. His core philosophy is that every individual deserves a fair go and a chance to make a better life. He actively encourages young people in shaping their own futures with a confidence that comes from a sense of pride in their identity.

WA - Dr Penny Flett
Dr Penny Flett has had a long involvement in geriatric medicine, and has become a champion for people of all ages who require a high level of ongoing support. She is the Chief Executive Officer of Brightwater Care Group, which provides a wide range of services for elderly and young disabled people. In 1974, she became the first woman doctor, and the first woman in peacetime to serve in the RAAF. Over the years she has contributed to and lead many aged, disability and business related boards and associations, and currently chairs the WA Aged Care Advisory Council, which provides advice to the West Australian Government on health and related aged care services. In this role she oversaw the development of the State Aged Care Plan, the first ever blueprint to guide the evolution of health and care services for the elderly. Dr Flett was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2003 for services to the aged and people with disabilities. She has worked tirelessly to dispel stereotypes of old age, and shift deep-seated cultural attitudes. Dr Flett's goal is for the community to revalue older people, and respect their wisdom and experience. She is leading the way in enhancing the lives of older Australians.

QLD - Bronwyn Sheehan
When Bronwyn Sheehan realised that foster children were not being given the same opportunities in life as other children she decided to do something about it. Statistics show that only eight per cent of foster children achieve average literacy levels by age seven and 75 per cent do not finish school.  Bronwyn developed a simple idea that has had huge benefits. Launched as the Pyjama Foundation in 2004, the organisation focuses on building literacy skills. Volunteers spend an hour a week simply reading with a foster child. They visit the child in their home and follow the child if they move house. They read with them, play games and act as the child's own angel. The organisation's motto, 'every child needs an angel' underlines Bronwyn's basic tenet that children's lives can be improved by helping them to read. The one-on-one focus also makes the child feel special, developing their confidence and self-belief, and providing them with a positive role model. Bronwyn has inspired more than 500 volunteers to give their time every week to a foster child and her program is backed by literacy experts such as author Mem Fox. Bronwyn is making a real difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children.

SENIOR AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

ACT - Reverend Associate Professor Elizabeth MacKinlay AM
Reverend Elizabeth MacKinlay works tirelessly and selflessly in her many community roles, promoting greater understanding of the issues facing older people, in particular their spiritual and emotional needs. In 2007, Reverend MacKinlay was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for service to nurse education, the Anglican Church, the wider community, and the welfare of aged people, particularly through the establishment of the Centre for Ageing and Pastoral Studies at St Mark's National Theological Centre in Canberra. A researcher and writer, she has presented many papers and workshops on these issues both nationally and internationally. Her book Spiritual Growth and Care in the Fourth Age of Life won the 2006 Australasian Journal on Ageing Book Award. As Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Council on Ageing, she has introduced a seniors employment campaign called Silver Lining Project, successfully campaigned for grandparental leave in the ACT public service, and worked to introduce improvements in the public transport system for ACT seniors. She also organised the 2008 National Conference of the Centre for Ageing and Pastoral Studies which was well attended by representatives of all the major religions in Australia, helping to develop a sense of solidarity between faiths through discussions on the common experience of ageing for all communities.

NSW - Lorraine Peeters
Like many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children of her generation, Lorraine Peeters was forcibly removed from her family at the age of four and placed in an institution. Through the healing journey necessitated by this traumatic event, she became involved with helping others from the Stolen Generation. She developed the Marumali model of healing and in response to great demand she established a healing program called Winangali-Marumali in 2000, to support survivors of the Stolen Generation. Participants are empowered by the workshop and its model of healing. The program works in tandem with Link Up, which allows Indigenous people to trace lost family members, and Bringing Them Home counsellors. Recognising that those removed from their families are twice as likely to have been arrested, she also established the Marumali program in Victorian prisons. Since 2002, more than 250 participants have completed the program. Lorraine also played an important role in the National Apology given by the Prime Minister in 2008 to the Stolen Generations. Following the apology, she presented the Prime Minister with a glass coolamon, an Indigenous carrying vessel, to thank him for offering the apology. Lorraine has had a profound impact on helping members of the Stolen Generation to heal.

NT - Bryan and Kathy Massey
Bryan and Kathy Massey arrived on Groote Eylandt as missionaries nearly 40 years ago. They knew very little about Aboriginal culture or what lay ahead. In the years that followed, Bryan and Kathy developed a trusting, close partnership with the Aboriginal community of Angurugu. They introduced a program to counteract alcohol and substance misuse, a Meals on Wheels program, and disability services. Their greatest success was fulfilling the community's long-term wish to have an aged care facility, which was built in the shape of the Angurugu totem, a swordfish, to signify community dreams and commitment. Bryan and Kathy's devotion to Indigenous welfare has also extended beyond their immediate community. For many years Bryan has been a board member on the Council on Aboriginal Alcohol Prevention, and in 1997 both Bryan and Kathy travelled to Katherine as part of flood relief efforts. The couple have also raised awareness about Machado Joseph Disease, a fatal nerve wasting condition, affecting a significant number of the Angurugu community and communities in West Arnhem Land. As a long line of missionaries and other non-Indigenous staff have come and gone over the years, Bryan and Kathy have remained, committed to assisting the community they have grown to love so deeply.

SA - John Halbert MBE
John has served the South Australian National Football League, Australian Football League, the Australian Football Foundation and the sport of Australian Rules at the community level with the greatest distinction over the last 40 years and continues in many of his roles serving the game at a national level. He made his debut with Sturt in 1955 and was an immediate success. By the time he retired from the game he had established a new record for the Blues by playing 251 games. Beyond this, John has had an exceptional career as an academic, sportsman, educator, mentor and public speaker. His dedication to the development of young people in sport has been a focus and this was recognised when he was made a Member of the British Empire in 1969 for his work in this area. Furthermore his service to the community has extended to his participation in the Lutheran Church as a congregation Chairman, Board Member and respected elder. John is an honorable and distinguished Australian who continues to inspire young people in Australia through his excellence in the field of sport and the community in general.

TAS - Ronnie Burns
Ronnie Burns is a well-known singer and former 'King of Pop.' For decades he touched people with his music but he gave up the world of showbiz to dedicate his life to saving children. Supported by his wife Maggie, he created the Appin Hall Children's Foundation Respite Centre which provides refuge for terminally ill, disadvantaged, abused and destitute children, and their carers. Ronnie is involved in every aspect of the centre from sourcing potential sponsorship to hands-on building of the new and ever-expanding facilities to accommodate more children. His vision is to eventually have a village that will house 200 children and six permanent staff members. In the meantime for the children already staying at Appin Hall he stages music nights, takes them to visit local attractions and, most importantly, acts as a role model and trusted friend to these children who have experienced much trauma in their lives. Ronnie is known as a man with a huge heart who is generous and selfless with his time. He works tirelessly in his quest to create a safe and nurturing environment and a future for what he sees as the most precious thing on this planet - our children.

VIC - Pat LaManna OAM
Having come from a poor background himself, Pat LaManna readily relates to the misfortunes of others. He battled racism and economic adversity during the years after his arrival in Australia from Italy in 1948, but he persevered and became a successful entrepreneur. He has used these skills to give back to countless charities in Australia and the Third World. He has been a member of the Lions Club for 40 years and founded the Lions Club of the Melbourne Markets in 1972 which has become the highest fund raising Lions Club in Australia. Due to his commitment, he has been elected president of the club seven times. Pat also started the Hand-to-Hand Appeal for the Bionic Hands Department at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital, raising $198,000, and the Pat LaManna Cancer and Research Stroke Foundation which has raised $1.5 million to date. He established the annual Melbourne Passion Play in 1997, an outdoor re-enactment of the story of Christ that is funded by Pat and is free to the public. These are but a few of the generous contributions Pat has made to the community, serving it with energy and devotion.

WA - Patrick Dodson
Patrick Dodson has given a lifetime of service to the Australian community. With his trademark long flowing beard and Akubra, he has been a striking figure at the forefront of Indigenous issues. In 1975, he became Australia's first ordained Aboriginal Catholic priest but after ongoing challenges with the ecclesiastical hierarchy over his beliefs about Catholicism and traditional Aboriginal spirituality he eventually left the priesthood. In 1981, he joined the Central Land Council and was later appointed director, playing a key role in many politically sensitive negotiations with the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Governments. His sensitive approach saw many successes for Indigenous land rights, including the return of the Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park to traditional owners. In 1991, Patrick was appointed as the inaugural chairman of Australia's Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and subsequently became known as the 'Father of Australian reconciliation.' During his chairmanship he brought together leaders within the Aboriginal, mining, religious, pastoral, and cultural communities, culminating in the historic Aboriginal Reconciliation Convention. He was also appointed as a commissioner for The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Patrick has devoted his life to building bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. He has demonstrated that reconciliation is a practical reality and a future that we should all be working towards.

QLD - Jean Illingworth
Jean Illingworth has been instrumental in transforming a once dysfunctional Indigenous school into a much admired model of success. Djarragun is an independent college located south of Cairns catering for disadvantaged students with traditionally low rates of participation in school. Prior to her arrival as principal of the school, class attendance was low, and violence and drugs were rife. Through tough love she has transformed the school into a safe place for both boarders and day students with high retention rates. Jean partly attributes this to the school's extensive vocational education program which covers areas like engineering, construction, music and business. She has also deliberately employed a multicultural group of staff from across the world to break down the barriers that often exist between Indigenous and non Indigenous people. Jean wants to continue making improvements in these children's lives, and her most ambitious plan is to build a primary boarding school nearby for 50 Indigenous students who have been judged to be at risk of harm if left in their communities. The Commonwealth government has committed $2 million dollars so far for the building of infrastructure. Indigenous leader Noel Pearson has described Jean as a 'true social entrepreneur.'

YOUNG AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

ACT - Jack Heath
Jack Heath wrote his first novel when he was just 13 years old and by 18 he had a publishing contract. He has since published a further two books, one of which was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. As an internationally published author Jack inspires other students interested in writing and generously shares his knowledge with them. He recently toured schools during Book Week and encourages other young people to follow their literary dreams. He believes his own success was partly due to timing. When his first novel was released most fiction for early-to-mid teens was issues based. But Jack wanted to write purely entertaining books that kids his age, particularly boys, would want to read, so he started writing about 'robots and explosions.' The idea first came to him when he was studying the human genome project in his Year 7 science class and he believes it was a success because 'I was a kid when I was writing it so the things I was looking for were the same things many other teenage readers were looking for.' Jack's fourth book is soon to be released, and in the highly competitive world of publishing he offers a positive example for all those young would-be writers.

NSW - Kurt Fearnley OAM
Born without the lower portion of his spine, as a child Kurt Fearnley ignored his disability and joined in every sport possible. At the age of 14 he took up wheelchair racing and has since become an elite international athlete. His never-say-die attitude is truly inspirational. Competing in the marathon at the Athens Paralympics, he pushed his chair for the last five kilometres on a flat tyre to win gold. Then during the New York marathon in 2006 he hit a pot hole at full speed and crashed face first, but still went on to set a course record. In 2007, he won 10 out of the 11 international marathons he competed in, breaking six course records in the process. He is currently world champion in all five distances above 800m. Despite being disqualified in one final at the Paralympics in Beijing, given the wrong lane in another, and having his wheelchair bumped sideways down the track in a third, he took home one gold, two silver and a bronze medal. Kurt has an indomitable spirit and that is truly inspirational.

NT - Rachel Meldrum
Rachel Meldrum is on a mission to help the local banana industry. Panama disease in bananas is regarded as one of the most destructive diseases in the recorded history of agriculture. A particularly virulent strain of the disease, known as Tropical Race 4 (TR4), was identified in the Northern Territory in 1997 and caused the closure of several banana plantations. In the last 11 years this strain has caused a 60 per cent decline in the Northern Territory's banana production. At present there are no commercial resistant banana varieties, and no method for eradicating the fungus from plantations. Rachel is investigating whether banana weevils are assisting the spread of this soil-borne fungus. As Rachel explains, her award-winning project will 'expand our knowledge of TR4 epidemiology and, in doing so, help our local banana industry.' Rachel has demonstrated that the influence, creativity and skills of young scientists are vital to our nation's wellbeing.

SA - Matthew Cowdrey OAM
Matthew Cowdrey was born with a congenital amputation of his left arm below the elbow and yet in all aspects of life he has overcome his disability to achieve great things. An outstanding athlete, he first began competitive swimming at the age of eight. Since then he has achieved international status, representing Australia at a number of competitions including the Paralympics in Greece where he won three gold, two silver and two bronze medals, and the World Championships in South Africa where he won five gold, two silver and one bronze medal. By the age of 19 Matthew had broken 72 world records, 127 Australian records and 180 Australian age records in a variety of strokes. In 2006, he swam a qualifying time that enabled him to become the first disabled person to participate in the Australian Short Course Championships against able-bodied athletes. In his spare time, Matthew is an influential mentor and role model to young people. He has exhibited extreme self-discipline in his quest to become the best in the world and holds the title of International Male Disabled Swimmer of the Year 2007 and Australia's Paralympian of the Year 2008. This year he captained the Australian Paralympic swimming team at the Beijing Games where he won more medals than any other Paralympian attending the event, claiming five Gold and three Silver medals. All five of his Gold medals were won in World Record Time. He is truly an inspiration to all.

TAS - Sam Cawthorn
Sam grew up in Tasmania as a country farm boy in a family of 11 children. After leaving college, Sam found his passion, helping and motivating people. This was done through his music school he established teaching both singing and dancing. Sam then established himself as a Regional Industry Careers Adviser working within the local Tasmanian community with young people & industry, identifying skill shortages and providing solutions and strategies for youth entering the workforce. Sam's personal life journey changed dramatically 2 years ago when he was involved in a major car accident. Sam had his right arm amputated and lives with a permanent disability in his right leg. It is the story of Sam's remarkable resilience, his mental strength as well as his physical recovery that has amazed and inspired so many people throughout the world. Through overcoming such a tragedy Sam launched his business called 'Be Motivated'. Sam has now spoken to over 50,000 people throughout Australia and overseas. Sam's message to others is simple. He challenges people to be themselves, believe in themselves, find purpose and focus, nurture their creativity, develop resilient and protective behaviours, conquer obstacles such as fear, set and attain personal goals.

VIC - Leigh Mathews
At just 23 years of age Leigh Mathews founded the Future Cambodia Fund, an organisation working with disadvantaged children and their families in Cambodia. After travelling the world she was struck by both the beauty of Cambodia and the tragic circumstances of its people. She made the decision to stay in Siem Reap, volunteering for charitable organisations until her money ran out and she returned to Melbourne to set up her own charity. Over the last four years she has worked seven days a week in her determination to help Cambodia's children, and in a short time has made an enormous difference. Programs delivered by the organisation include remedial education; health and dental support; and activities for children including sports, recreation, dance and drama. They also run a water, sanitation and health program to educate women, and have built a children's centre which now has 160 children in attendance. Despite devastating setbacks and enormous hurdles to overcome Leigh has never wavered in her vision and commitment. She demonstrates that when you truly believe in what you are doing you can achieve anything.

WA - David Wirrpanda
This year, footballer David Wirrpanda was named the ninth most influential Indigenous Australian by The Bulletin. His career began at the young age of 16, when two West Coast recruiters saw him play and were impressed by his skills. He made the difficult decision to move away from his family in Victoria to join the Eagles in Perth, and at 17 became their youngest ever debutante. He recently played his 200th game and became a life member of the AFL. David has used his influence to encourage young Indigenous people to get an education. In 2005, he launched the David Wirrpanda Foundation to assist and develop underprivileged young people through education, promoting healthy lifestyles and strong role models, and building self-esteem. His aim is to make change slowly from the ground up. He wants to increase the retention of Indigenous students in school, and improve their life choices after leaving school by encouraging further study or entry into the workforce. Since establishing programs in Perth and Roebourne, school attendance and behaviour has improved. David describes the realisation of his Foundation as a 'dream come true.' 'If I can help the kids even a little bit, I will be able to sleep each night.'

QLD - Jonty Bush
In her short life Jonty Bush has experienced more tragedy than most of us ever will. When she was 21 her beloved younger sister was murdered, and then just five months later her father was killed as the result of an unprovoked attack. It is a tribute to her strength and courage that she not only managed to keep going but that she began to help others deal with their grief by becoming a volunteer with the Queensland Homicide Victim's Support Group. The compassion and understanding Jonty showed others brought her recognition among members of the police force and the legal fraternity, and at just 27 she was appointed CEO of the organisation. She has since led the push for a review of the laws surrounding murder and manslaughter, and as a result the Queensland Law Reform Commission is now undertaking such a review. She also developed the One Punch Can Kill campaign, which has been adopted by the Queensland Government in an attempt to prevent further tragedies. In all that she does Jonty shows others how to cope with their day-to-day lives after a tragedy, and helps them build a future for themselves despite their loss.

AUSTRALIA'S LOCAL HERO FINALISTS

ACT - Tim Gavel
Tim Gavel is highly regarded in his role as a sports journalist for Canberra's ABC Radio Grandstand
week, he received his first break in 1988, when he was asked to call the Raiders/Balmain premiership game - an extremely daunting task given that he had never called a match before. Since then he has commentated countless games, four Olympics and four Commonwealth Games. But it's not just because of his excellence in the sporting arena that Tim is admired. Tim also spends much of his time undertaking community work. He is a Board member of the Kids Fitness Foundation, a patron of the Walking School Bus program and an ambassador for the Heart Foundation.  In 2005, Tim and his wife Jenny adopted two orphans from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When Tim found out the siblings had an older sister who was too old to be legally adopted, he immediately pledged financial support - enough money to keep her in school until she was old enough to study at a university in Australia. With his caring nature and endless energy Tim has been described as 'the best you can get' in sports commentating in the ACT and is an inspiration to many.

NSW - Dr Jamal Rifi
In 1984, Dr Jamal Rifi arrived in Australia to study. Despite facing challenges with the English language, he successfully completed his studies and qualified as a medical practitioner. Dr Rifi's generous nature and desire to give back to this country led him to become involved in serving the community, particularly in the areas of youth, family and community development including several fundraising events to raise money for individuals in need of medical treatment. In 1999, he became the Commissioner for Ethnic Affairs in NSW and he was also a founding member of Muslim Doctors Against Violence and the Christian Muslim Friendship Society. His efforts to build harmony between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities have been recognised with a Human Rights Medal. He is a former member of the NSW Expert Advisory Group on Drugs and Alcohol and a community representative for the Youth Partnership with Arabic Speaking Communities. As the President of the Lakemba Sports Club, he has used sport as a social tool to build bridges between communities and channel young people's physical energies into positive activities. He was also instrumental in establishing a program, called On the Same Wave, to recruit and train Muslim youth as lifesavers at the Cronulla beaches. He also encourages young people to join the State Emergency Service, and in every way helps them to take positive career paths.

NT - Chowdhury Sadaruddin
Chowdhury Sadaruddin's contribution to the Islamic community in Darwin is significant. As President of the Islamic Society of Palmerston he has been working to establish a centre for the Muslim community in Palmerston to cater for the religious, cultural and social needs of the Muslim community. The Centre will serve as a venue for open days to promote harmony between Muslims and those of other faiths, strengthening the local community and fostering mutual respect and understanding. Chowdhury has also been instrumental in establishing the Territory's first Islamic school, is involved in organising Islamic Awareness Week, has represented Darwin at the regional level of the Islamic Council meetings and was involved in the Bringing Communities Together Expo 2007. The Expo included two workshops open to the public on 'Enhancing Social Participation' and 'Challenges for Future Generations of NT Muslims.' Although a Muslim, Chowdhury readily extends his support to those of all faiths. His effort to improve his community's standing and lifestyle in the Territory is boundless. The Top End is a better place as a result of his compassion and kindness.

SA - Beverley Langley
Bev Langley runs a voluntary animal rescue service and has rescued and rehabilitated more than 6,000 injured and orphaned animals. Without the support of government funding she relies on donations and the goodwill of others to carry out her work. More than 120 volunteers assist her with feeding animals, building enclosures and collecting or donating food for the Minton Farm Native Animal and Bird Refuge that she set up on her property. Her residents include everything from horses, cows and kangaroos to geese, sugar gliders and kookaburras. Those animals unable to be released due to injuries that would prevent them from fending for themselves are retained at the farm and used to educate the community. Many school groups visit the farm and Bev takes every opportunity possible to teach both children and adults about wildlife, helping promote respect and understanding towards all animals. Every day Bev responds to many calls for help from organisations like the RSPCA, Belair National Park and the public. She is always there when a major environmental disaster occurs, assisting with the aftermath. Without financial reward, Bev has selflessly invested all her spare time into responding to the plight of our wildlife.

TAS - John Layton Hodgetts OAM
From an early age Layton Hodgetts developed a passion for music and after moving to New Norfolk, a small town in Tasmania's Derwent Valley, he discovered that there was little to do for those not interested in sport.  So in 1993, Layton developed the Derwent Valley Community Band. The following year a cultural exchange saw the band go to Japan and perform as part of Band Expo. The band was soon invited to play at events across Tasmania and then in 1997 to attend the Calgary Stampede in Canada, this time as a marching band, an arena in which they had no experience. After many hours of practice under Layton's tutelage they achieved an amazing score of 95 per cent for their performance. Since then the band has toured to Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, France and Scandinavia, and performed at the ceremony to open China's participation for the Olympics and the royal wedding parades for Princess Mary and Prince Frederic in Denmark. Layton is now a judge for bands throughout the world and was awarded a gold medal for conducting at the 2008 European Championships. He is an inspiration to his community for his determination and passion to create something that they can contribute to and be proud of.

VIC - Beverley Wall
Woomelang has a small population of 200 and Bev Wall has committed her energy to maintaining the town's services. When the local post office was facing closure she not only bought it to ensure that postal services were maintained, but also expanded its role to meet gaps left by the closure of other postal services in the region. Within 24 hours of the local supermarket closing, Bev again expanded the post office to supply groceries. It is now the hub of the town, the focal point where everyone meets. With the pressure of the drought on the community, the local garage was the next to close. But Bev would not see the town without this essential service so she began ordering fuel and organised a roster of volunteers to man a petrol depot that she set up. She also worked to obtain a certificate to become the town's only Justice of the Peace. In addition she is a member of several committees, including the Woomelang Bush Nursing Centre, Country Women's Association, and is Secretary of the Development Association. Bev has kept her town alive. The quality of life for Woomelang's residents is much improved by her efforts.

WA - Graeme Drew
A professional fisherman operating from the small town of Bremer Bay, Graeme Drew is the co-founder of the Bremer Bay SES and Sea Rescue. He and his boat have always been available in times of need. He has searched for lost or disabled vessels, and retrieved the bodies of those drowned while fishing, donating his time and equipment long after official searches have been called off. Graeme has campaigned for numerous causes. One example is that there was no safe anchorage between Esperance and Albany, a distance of 600 kilometres, and Graeme was instrumental in lobbying the government and the local shire council to build a land-backed wharf at Bremer Bay, thus providing safe mooring for boats. In 2003, after Graeme's nephew died tragically after falling into a dangerous rip that carried him out to sea, he established a trust in his memory. This trust has purchased self-inflating buoyancy vests that are hired out from bait shops, installed warning signs on dangerous sections of coast, promoted ocean fishing safety, educated school groups on ocean safety, and built the prototype of a system called the Silent Sentry that has already been instrumental in saving two lives. Graeme loves and respects the ocean and wants to ensure that the community are able to safely enjoy it.

QLD - Cyril Golding
When Gladstone's Cyril Golding started his business as a sole operator in 1942 he had no idea that it would become a mining and construction company employing 1000 people and running one of the largest privately owned earthmoving fleets in the Southern Hemisphere. Under Cyril's leadership Golding Contractors has played a prominent role in shaping the economic development and prosperity of Queensland, undertaking many major civil infrastructure projects and mining developments. Furthermore, Cyril's voluntary contribution to community life has been so significant that he is often referred to as Mr Gladstone. He has supported the Red Cross emergency accommodation facilities, the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum, and the Central Queensland University Library, which carries his name. He has also contributed financially to a wide range of charitable causes. Cyril was born with a hole in his heart and predicted to live only seven days. He survived a further two similar predictions during his life, and has recently retired as the company's managing director at the age of 87. He is greatly admired and held with tremendous affection by all those who know him.