Alumni News Articles


14 November 2011

Victorian Australian of the Year 2012 - Geoffrey Rush

Victorian Senior Australian of the Year 2012 - Dr Nouria Salehi OAM

Victorian Young Australian of the Year 2012 - Marita Cheng

Victorian Local Hero 2012 - Ahmed Dini

Actor and performing arts mentor Geoffrey Rush has been named the Victorian Australian of the Year 2012 and presented with his award by Governor of Victoria, the Hon Alex Chernov AO QC.

A leading Australian actor and film producer, Geoffrey has been honoured for his outstanding achievements in a lifetime career on the stage and screen and for his long term commitment to the Australian arts, including mentoring young Australian artists.

Geoffrey is one of the few people to have won the ‘Triple Crown of Acting’ – an Academy Award, a Tony Award and an Emmy Award. He also has three British Academy Film Awards, two Golden Globes, four Screen Actors Guild Awards, a number of AFI awards and has been inducted into the ranks of Australia’s elite performing artists with a Helpmann Award.

His story is all the more impressive considering his international career did not take off until his mid-40s when he won an Oscar for his performance in Shine, based on the life of pianist and composer David Helfgott. It was his masterful performance as Peter Sellers that earned him an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

However, it is also his profound interest in and support of Australian film and theatre which has earned respect and admiration. While working internationally, he has always maintained a commitment to Australian film and theatre and he has been instrumental in helping many young artists get started in their careers, including Cate Blanchett whom he chose to star alongside him in a theatre production not long after she graduated from NIDA. As a measure of his passionate commitment to Australia's performing arts, Geoffrey recently accepted the appointment as foundation President of the newly established Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts.

Dr Nouria Salehi OAM was awarded Victorian Senior Australian of the Year 2012 for her medical achievements and her voluntary efforts here in Australia and in her homeland of Afghanistan.

Nouria is a highly respected nuclear physicist and biophysicist whose vital medical research including the use of radioactive isotopes to detect and treat various forms of cancer benefits many Australians.

Born in Afghanistan, Nouria completed her post-graduate studies and worked in France before moving to Australia in 1981. For 30 years, she has combined this demanding career with volunteer activities in both Australia and Afghanistan. Demonstrating her commitment to her country of birth, Nouria has established an organisation to support projects giving Afghanis essential skills and opportunities. These include vocational training and literacy programs for women and young people in Kabul and nearby villages as well as accredited formal training programs for science teachers. Every six months, 68 year old Nouria travels to Afghanistan to support and monitor these projects.

Back in Australia, she works with Afghan migrants helping them adapt to their new country and a new life through educational opportunities. A charter member of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Nouria has received a number of awards, including the Bringing Communities Together Award and the Award of Excellence from the Afghan Ministry of Education.

The Victorian Young Australian of the Year 2012 is 22 year old engineering student Marita Cheng of Brunswick East whose leadership is encouraging girls to pursue engineering studies and careers.

While still a university student, Marita Cheng has demonstrated vision and leadership well beyond her years and is dedicated to encouraging young women to become interested in an engineering career. The daughter of Chinese parents, Marita was born and raised in Queensland and now studies at the University of Melbourne. She founded Robogals Global in 2008, as a response to the traditionally low levels of participation by women in science, engineering and technology. Robogals Global uses fun and educational activities to teach secondary school girls about science and technology. By 2010, Robogals had run workshops for 3,000 girls in Australia and has now expanded to 17 branches across Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Marita’s own career path includes studying for a Bachelor of Engineering and a Bachelor of Computer Science on a Paterson Scholarship. She has been a recipient of the Nancy Fairfax Churchill Fellowship, an International Youth Foundation Youth Action Net Fellowship and an Anita Borg Change Agent Award.

Marita has also been a panellist on ABC TV’s New Inventors and hopes to become the founder of a robotics company, creating robots that will take care of many everyday and mundane tasks. Already she has changed the occupational landscape for women.

The Victorian Local Hero 2012 is North Melbourne social worker Ahmed Dini, who has championed the integration of Somalian refugees in the local community.

Despite enduring the challenges of living in a refugee camp as a young boy, Ahmed Dini, still only 24, has become a leader in Australia’s Somali community. He has galvanised Somali migrants through events and initiatives that provide significant support to Somali families and has become a strong voice and influential advocate for his community. Ahmed was ten years old when he arrived in Australia and since finishing school has spearheaded the creation of the Australian Somali Football Association (ASFA) to promote sport, mentor under-privileged young people and to create a more cohesive Somali community.

Through his vision, the Australian Somali football championships have become the largest sporting event ever undertaken by the Somali/Horn of Africa community in Australia, with more than 4,500 people attending. As event manager, Ahmed is inspirational, leading the 10-person committee, 21 sponsor partners, 80 volunteers, 16 coaches and managers and 180 players. The success of the event prompted the Football Federation Victoria to incorporate the championships into its ‘United through Football’ program. Ahmed is also a Project Ambassador for the Sustainable Employment and Economic Development (SEED) program that assists young people with job placements in the City of Moonee Valley.

The Victorian 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 Victorian award recipients were inspirational achievers giving back to help others.

“The award recipients can be admired both for what they have done and for how they are supporting and encouraging 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 Victorian 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 Victorian 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."

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