Alumni News Articles

Western Australia's Australian of the Year award recipients announced

21 November 2008

Dr Penny Flett, Patrick Dodson, David Wirrpanda, Graeme Drew

5:45PM PERTH:  A champion for older Australians, a key player in Aboriginal reconciliation, an inspirational indigenous footballer and a fearless sea rescuer have tonight been named as the Western Australia's recipients in the Australian of the Year Awards 2009.

The Governor of Western Australia, His Excellency Dr Ken Michael AC, presented the recipients with their awards in a ceremony this evening and congratulated all finalists on having earned such a prestigious honour from their fellow West Australians.

The WA award recipients are:

The WA Australian of the Year 2009 is Geriatrics specialist 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.


The WA Senior Australian of the Year 2009 is Indigenous leader 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.

The WA Young Australian of the Year 2009 is Indigenous footballer 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.'

The WA Local Hero of the Year 2009 is sea rescuer and educator 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 involved with the 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.

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