Alumni News Articles

NORTHERN TERRITORY AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR AWARD RECIPIENTS 2012 ANNOUNCED

10 November 2011

NT Australian of the Year 2012 - Dr John Boffa 

NT Senior Australian of the Year 2012 - Laurie Baymarrwangga 

NT Young Australian of the Year 2012 - Rebecca Healy 

NT Local Hero 2012 - Rob Cook

Medical campaigner Dr John Boffa has tonight been named the Northern Territory’s Australian of the Year 2012 and presented with his award by The Hon Paul Henderson MLA, Chief Minister of the Northern Territory.

Dr Boffa has dedicated his life to Indigenous health development and helping to overcome alcohol- based issues affecting the lives of Indigenous people in Northern Territory communities.

After graduating in medicine from Monash University, John knew he wanted to use his skills to help the disadvantaged, so he applied for a visa to work on a mission in India. While waiting for his visa to arrive he went to work at a health service in Tennant Creek. Six weeks later the visa arrived but 23 years on, John can be still be found working in the Northern Territory in pursuit of his life-long commitment to Indigenous health development and alcohol-based reforms.

Now 49, John is a general practitioner and the public health medical officer at the Central Australian Aboriginal Health Congress in Alice Springs, where he has devoted his career to changing alcohol use patterns in Indigenous communities. Campaigns such as ‘Beat the Grog’ and ‘Thirsty Thursday’ highlighted the need to look beyond the individual to focus on the systems and structures that contribute to people’s behaviour.

Over the years, John has played an active and inspirational role in changing attitudes toward alcohol in Northern Territory communities through supply reduction, early learning and mental health programs. He continues his remarkable contribution as the spokesperson for the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition reform group.

Laurie Baymarrwangga, from the island of Murrungga, was awarded Northern Territory's Senior Australian of the Year 2012 for her extraordinary commitment to maintaining her culture, the environment of her beloved Crocodile Islands and ensuring younger generations continue to live their heritage.

In the nine decades since her birth on the island of Murrungga, Laurie has seen the arrival of missionaries, exploitation by Japanese and European fishermen, war and tumultuous change. Undaunted, she has almost single-handedly nurtured the inter-generational transmission of local ecological knowledge through a lifelong commitment to caring for kin, culture and country.

In the 1960s Laurie established a housing project on her homelands that has benefitted generations of kin. Speaking no English, with no access to funding, resources or expertise she initiated the Yan-nhangu dictionary project. Her cultural maintenance projects include the Crocodile Islands Rangers, a junior rangers group and an online Yan-nhangu dictionary for school children.

In 2010, after a struggle stretching back to 1945, Laurie finally received back payments for rents owed to her as the land and sea owner of her father’s estate. The great, great, grandmother donated it all, around $400,000, to improve education and employment opportunities on the island and to establish a 1,000 square kilometre turtle sanctuary on her marine estate.

1/2The Northern Territory Young Australian of the Year 2012 is 26 year old carer and volunteer Rebecca Healy of Alice Springs, an extraordinary young woman who has emerged from a troubled childhood in a community racked by violence and alcohol abuse to being an inspirational role model to others.

Growing up in the remote town of Elliott, Bec fled at the age of 12 and for the next seven years her life was dominated by alcohol, drugs and violence. Her life changed the day she met a strong, compassionate and determined woman at a refuge who inspired her to believe that she could be the same. In just two years Bec’s role at the refuge moved from client, to staff, to management. She bought her first house, became a mother of two, was accepted to study law at university, fostered disadvantaged children and was named Barnardos Australian Mother of the Year.

Today, Bec has completed two years of her law degree and continues to devote her life to the welfare of others. She was the driving force behind the establishment of a youth mental health program in Tennant Creek and is a member of many youth advisory committees and volunteers for several community organisations.

The Northern Territory’s Local Hero 2012 is 30 year old Rob Cook of Alice Springs, who has overcome tragedy to rebuild his own life and, along the way, show others that anything is possible.

Three years ago, a helicopter crash in the Tanami Desert resulted in pastoralist Rob Cook becoming a tetraplegic. The crash was headline news, but it is Rob's courage to recover and rebuild his life that is the real story. Just 27, a husband and father of two young sons, Rob spent nine weeks on life support and seven months in rehabilitation suffering intense pain, pneumonia and a minor stroke. Yet he never gave up. With the unwavering support of his wife Sarah, his family, friends and neighbours, he planned his future still living on his family’s property, Suplejack Downs.

Rob became the 255th scholar to win a Nuffield Scholarship and travelled to New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, Canada and Scotland to research international best practice on food production. To help fund this project and to encourage other farmers with disabilities to remain productive, Rob embarked on another incredible journey. In June this year, he became the first person to travel the remote Tanami Track in a wheelchair, accompanied by his friend Luke Bevan. Battered by extreme temperatures and menaced by a wild bull, he travelled the 730 kilometres from Suplejack Downs to Alice Springs in 24 days. Rob's courage, tenacity and passion for living motivates others, both able-bodied and disabled, to make the most of life and pursue dreams.

The Northern Territory 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 Northern Territory award recipients were truly inspirational Australians.

“The award recipients are people every Territorian can be truly proud of, both for the values each represents and also for how they are using their experiences to help others,” 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 Northern Territory 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 Northern Territory finalists 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."