QLD Australian of the Year Award recipients announced

Posted 21 November 2007 12:00am

A country music singer who raises funds for communities in need; a man who helps drought-stricken farmers despite losing his own property; a young man who is giving orphaned Nepalese children improved care; and a youth mentor who set up the Safe Party Program and the Redlands Top Cop Award programs were tonight named as the Queensland recipients in the Australian of the Year Awards 2008.

Queensland Premier The Hon Anna Bligh, presented the recipients with their awards in a ceremony this evening and congratulated all Queensland finalists on their achievements and contributions.

The Queensland award recipients are:

The Queensland Australian of the Year 2008 is country music legend and bush community supporter Lee Kernaghan OAM.

Lee Kernaghan is a towering figure in Australian country music and a fine ambassador for his craft. He gave his first public performance at the age of five, formed his first band when he was twelve, and released his first commercial single in 1983. His tally of Golden Guitar awards at the Australian Country Music Awards is 24, second only to the legendary Slim Dusty. Lee has a passion for his music and his country and brings these together in his support for country communities across Australia. To many people he represents the very essence of the spirit and values of contemporary rural Australia. 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 raises spirits as well as money for farming families doing it tough in the drought.

The Queensland Senior Australian of the Year 2008 is drought relief helper Brian Egan.

Brian Egan knows exactly what drought-stricken families are going through - he lost his own farm in the 1990's due to drought and personal depression. Five years ago he and his wife, Nerida, established Aussie Helpers to try to alleviate hardship and lift the spirits of families severely affected by drought. By tapping into the bush telegraph, Aussie Helpers finds farming families who are in desperate need of assistance. Brian and his band of committed volunteers have given away more than 150 tonnes of groceries, over 600 tonnes of stock feed and assisted more than 1,000 families. Aussies Helpers raises funds through thrift shops in Dalby and Charleville and through donations to the annual Bush Christmas Appeal and the ongoing Drought Relief Appeal. Brian's hampers help transform Christmas from a bleak and depressing time to one of joy and celebration, while other money goes towards farm repairs, dental care and coastal holidays for outback families.

The Queensland Young Australian of the Year 2008 is orphans' champion Lars Olsen.

Lars Olsen set off in 2004 for a stint of helping orphans in Nepal and teaching English as a volunteer. What he found was uplifting - kids facing a life of hardship and destitution yet looking on life with simplicity, love, compassion and wisdom at such an early age. However, Lars was dismayed when he discovered the small orphanage he worked in was a quagmire of corruption and worse. After rescuing one of the children from terrible abuse, he set up the Forget Me Not Children's Home, with strict governance in place so that all the funds raised are used directly for the kids' welfare. The number of orphans under care quickly reached ten, with the hope that it will one day rise to 30. Lars is also the 2007 Suncorp Young Queenslander of the Year, a timely recognition of his tireless dedication to relieving poverty, hunger, and oppression from the world. Lars is 24 years old.

The Queensland Local Hero of the Year 2008 is youth mentor Michael Meehan.

Michael Meehan has contributed to his community for 20 years as a volunteer helping children, youth, and veterans. He formed Special Kids Queensland, which helps adults with special needs, the elderly, the veterans' community, and virtually anyone who needs special support. Michael organised the Queensland Fire & Rescue Service's annual toy drive and opened a wheelchair and mobility aids bank that lends equipment free of charge to people who can't afford it or aren't entitled to government support. His Safe Party Practice program prepares youths for a safer Schoolies Week and he builds better relationships between youth and police. Mick set up the Redlands Top Cop Award which encourages young people to vote for the police officer who has shown professionalism and broken down barriers between them and police. This is just a glimpse of Michael's commitment to his community, given freely despite the serious effects of chemical exposure as a young man.

"Queenslanders can be very proud of these award recipients, who represent the great Australian values of mateship, helping others and taking action where help is needed," said Tam Johnston, National Manager of the Australian of the Year Awards.

"Like all our award recipients this year, they have been truly inspirational in their own fields and in the broader community."

All Queensland award recipients now become national finalists in the Australian of the Year Awards to be announced in Canberra on 25 January 2008.