Alumni News Articles

Lee Kernaghan named Australian of the Year 2008

25 January 2008

Country music legend and a champion of rural Australia, Lee Kernaghan OAM, has been named Australian of the Year 2008 at a ceremony in front of Parliament House in Canberra.

Micro-finance entrepreneur David Bussau AM (NSW) was announced as Senior Australian of the Year 2008; 22 year old World MotoGP champion Casey Stoner (NSW) was announced as Young Australian of the Year 2008 and Jonathon Welch (VIC) of 'Choir Of Hard Knocks' fame was announced as Australia's Local Hero 2008.

The recipients were presented with their awards by the Prime Minister, The Hon Kevin Rudd MP, who acknowledged the achievements and contributions of all the award finalists.

"This year's award recipients are great examples of passion and commitment," said the Prime Minister.

"They are all proud Australians who have earned our respect and our admiration."

Mr Rudd paid tribute to Australian of the Year Lee Kernaghan for his dedication to helping others.

"Lee Kernaghan's music resonates with every Australian by connecting us all to the spirit of the bush, but more importantly he gives hope and pride to those on the land when they need inspiration most," said the Prime Minister.

"He has rolled up his sleeves to make a real difference for those in need in rural Australia.

"Lee is truly an Australian to make us all proud, you would have to travel a long way to find a better, more genuine bloke then Lee."

Forty-three year old Lee was recognised for his support of country communities across Australia and described the award as the proudest moment of his life.

"In all my dreams, I could never have imagined that I'd receive an award like this - it's been a huge surprise and, without doubt, it's the greatest honour I have ever been given in my entire life," said Lee.

"I don't think it's really totally sunk in yet, but it's a humbling experience because I know there is at least a list a mile long of more worthy recipients for the award than myself.

"But now that I have been given the honour, I also feel I have a responsibility to do my very best by my fellow Australians and that's what I am going to be doing."

A legend in Australian country music, the Queenslander's tally of Golden Guitar awards at the Australian Country Music Awards is 24, second only to the legendary Slim Dusty. While his music represents the very essence of the spirit and values of contemporary rural Australia, it is his personal commitment to supporting the people of the land which has made a real difference. In the past ten years, his 'Pass the Hat Around' tours have raised more than a million dollars for communities in need and his participation in the 'Spirit of the Bush' tours has brightened the lives of farming families doing it tough in the drought.

Lee said he aimed to use his time as Australian of the Year 2008 to bring focus to the plight of families on the land who are struggling against the drought and to also encourage people to support home-grown industries.

"Australia is just coming through the worst drought on record and there are families out there still experiencing extreme hardship," said Lee.

"What I'd like to do is look at ways that, individually and as a nation, we can assist those people - that we can support them and help them get back on their feet again.

"One way we can do that is to buy Australian made and Australian grown - we're securing Australian jobs and we're keeping Australia strong ."

Mr Ralph Norris, CEO of major sponsor Commonwealth Bank, added his congratulations to the Prime Minister's.

"Lee is a larger than life character of the Australian country music scene, but it's the behind the scenes work which he does for rural Australia which sets him apart," Mr Norris said.

"With the country suffering the worst drought in the past hundred years, Lee has been a significant contributor to raising not only the morale of country Australia, but also significant funds to help those in need."

On Australia Day, Lee Kernaghan will take part in Tamworth Country Music Festival celebrations and the Golden Guitar Awards.

The Senior Australian of the Year 2008 is David Bussau AM from NSW. Thirty years ago David went to Bali to help rebuild rural areas devastated by an earthquake and found that traditional development solutions still left poor families trapped in poverty. He realised poor people wanted work because with jobs they could start to solve many of their other problems. His solution was to offer small business loans - a hand up instead of a hand out. David established the non-profit Maranatha Trust to fulfil his dream of helping the poor help themselves. In 1979 he joined forces with a like-minded counterpart in the USA to form Opportunity International. Today, Opportunity International has 1.25 million loans to people in 23 countries. Averaging $220 per loan and a total of $500 million, the organisation creates a job every 30 seconds of the day.

The Young Australian of the Year 2008 is 22 Casey Stoner. At just 22 years of age, Casey is the World MotoGP Champion. He first competed in MotoGP racing when he was four years old, in a race for under-nine's, and he won his first national title at the ripe old age of six. By the time he was fourteen he had won 41 dirt and long track titles and 70 state titles. In a single weekend he won 32 of 35 races and all of the five titles up for grabs. Because the legal age for road racing in Australia is 16, his family took him to compete in Europe. After a string of successes since then, last year he finally accomplished his ambition of racing in the fastest and most prestigious of the cycle racing classes. With his highly competitive attitude Casey took on the best in the world and won.

Australia 's Local Hero 2008 is choral conductor Jonathon Welch. Jonathon touched the heart of the nation when he demonstrated the power of singing in building and renewing promising lives that had been saddened and defeated by circumstance. His Choir of Hard Knocks raised to new levels Australia's awareness of the problems of homelessness, depression, and addiction. This is just one of many community projects to which Jonathon has given his time. Others include Geelong Pop Kidz, the Australian Pop Choir, the Sydney Street Choir, and the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus. Most of all he has shown that engaging with creativity, expression and each other, brings new hope.

There were more than 3,000 nominations received from the public for the 2008 awards and nominations are already being accepted for the Australian of the Year 2009.

Mr Ralph Norris, CEO of major sponsor Commonwealth Bank, said the award recipients were a reflection of the diversity of nominations received this year.

"The 2008 award recipients are very different in their backgrounds and achievements but they have all followed their dream and pursued it with determination," said Mr Norris.

"It's a very Australian quality and something we should all aspire to."

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