Alumni News Articles


23 November 2011

NSW Australian of the Year 2012 - Father Chris Riley AM

NSW Senior Australian of the Year 2012 - Barbara Holborow OAM

NSW Young Australian of the Year 2012 - Jennifer Star

NSW Local Hero 2012 - Lynne Sawyers

Charity founder Father Chris Riley AM has been named NSW Australian of Year 2012 in recognition of his dedication to helping disadvantaged Australians.

Father Riley believes there is no such thing as ‘a child born bad’ but that they become vulnerable in unsafe environments and circumstances. He believes, with intervention and education, lives can be turned around.

Twenty years ago, Chris founded Youth Off The Streets (YOTS) with a single food van delivering meals to young homeless people in Kings Cross. Today it is a major agency assisting young people aged 12 to 21 who are homeless, face drug and alcohol dependency, exclusion from school, neglect and abuse. Chris estimates the organisation has helped over 50,000 young people with accommodation, education, psychological services and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. It is his determination, unstinting hard work and respect for both the clients and his 250 staff, that has guaranteed the success and effectiveness of YOTS.

In 1997 he opened Key College, an independent high school pioneering a flexible education model to help young homeless people return to school. YOTS now operates Key College on three separate campuses with a fourth school in the Southern Highlands. Twice the winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence, and the winner of the Human Rights Medal, Chris continues to make a difference in the lives of young people with selfless dedication, respect and good humour.

Barbara Holborow OAM was awarded NSW Senior Australian of the Year 2012 for her tireless commitment to achieving better judicial outcomes for children.

Living with diabetes since she was 13, Barbara fought the odds as a single mother to establish a career for herself as a lawyer, working during the day and studying at night first for her Leaving Certificate, and then for her law degree, graduating at the age of 40.

Barbara’s philosophy is that ‘every child is everybody’s responsibility.’ As a magistrate, she was instrumental in setting up free legal aid for children in NSW, a care court to deal with cases of neglect and a special jail for first-time offenders aged 18 to 25. She allowed television cameras into her court, believing that an open and transparent process would help reform the system.

Since her retirement from the bench in 1994 she has continued to defend the rights of children. Over the years, many foster children have come under her care and while working at a refuge she met a young Aboriginal boy named Jacob who she later adopted.

Barbara has written three books on her experiences with children and, at the age of 81, continues her fearless crusading, lobbying government and garnering media attention.

The NSW Young Australian of the Year 2012 is 25 year old youth educator Jennifer Star for her efforts in an establishing an education partnership organisation which benefits thousands of Indian children and shares learnings between two continents.

An outstanding athlete, with a brilliant academic record, Jennifer was named one of Australia’s 100 Brightest Young Minds in 2007. Several years ago she went to India as a World Vision Youth Ambassador and teacher. There were no classrooms and Jennifer found herself sitting under a tree with 48 children and no resources. Then and there she resolved to return to India to improve the plight of some of the world’s most impoverished people. At just 21 she started Tara.Ed, an innovative non-government organisation promoting sustainable quality education in rural India by training teachers. It works as a partner organisation, with both Indian and Australian schools and teachers working together. Since 2007, Tara.Ed has reached out to 86 teachers and 1,340 school children. Her aim is to influence the prospects of 20,000 children, 200 teachers and 20 schools across two continents by 2020. Jennifer knows what it means to set her sights high. As a graduate from Macquarie University with first class Honours and an elite sportswoman in judo, representing Australia internationally, she is accustomed to applying hard work to her considerable talents. Through Tara.Ed, Jennifer’s determination is certainly paying off for thousands of Indian children.

The NSW Local Hero 2012 is Lynne Sawyers of Darbys Falls, a foster mother who has shared her home, her family and her love with more than 200 children.

For 15 years, Lynne has been on call to care for lost, abused and bewildered children in heartbreaking circumstances. Of more than 200 children she has fostered, many arrived on her doorstep with huge problems - physical, intellectual and emotional. She continues to travel hundreds of kilometres every week, prepares up to 15 meals a day, washes clothes, sews, bakes and raises funds to help children. Lynne lives near Cowra with her husband Ken and, even though she has had up to six children at

a time (as well as her own daughter Emma), she has given them a rounded, supportive and non- judgmental family environment, often their first such experience. Her warmth, humour and generosity have had an enormous impact on these children. Because of her, many are now leading fulfilled, happy lives and have adopted Lynne as their ‘second mother’.

Lynne has worked tirelessly without leave, or overtime or penalties for difficult working conditions, but she could not imagine living them in any other way. At the age of 68, she continues to do her very best to give these children a better chance at a good life.

The NSW award 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 NSW award recipients shared a common commitment to helping children and young people.

“The NSW award recipients are fantastic examples of people who see a need and decide to do something about it, making a real impact on peoples' lives and on our communities," 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 NSW 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 NSW 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 all about the NSW recipients here.

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