Eight finalists for the Senior Australian of the Year Award have been announced with a diverse group of individuals recognised for a wide variety of services to the community.
From the man pushing a lawnmower to raise awareness of child sexual abuse, to the nurse recognised as a pioneer of modern palliative care, these heroes have not slowed down in old age.
Previous Senior Australians of the Year include country music legend Slim Dusty, celebrity chef Maggie Beer and 2022 winner, Valmai Dempsey (Aunty Val) – a volunteer with over 50 years of service for St John Ambulance in the ACT.
Before the Senior Australian of the Year is revealed on Thursday, let’s look at the achievements of all eight nominees.
Professor Tom Calma AO (Australian Capital Territory)
Professor Calma has championed the rights and welfare of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for more than 45 years.
The Kungarakan Elder is a passionate advocate who inspired the Close the Gap Campaign, helped establish the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, and has more recently co-led the co-design of the Voice to Parliament initiative.
“The racism that exists out there, be it subtle, or be it very overt, it’s with us,” said Professor Calma to the ABC.
“My message is that we all need to reflect because what we say, in human rights terms, is that ‘racism stops with me’.”
Teresa Plane (New South Wales)
A former nurse, Ms Plane is a palliative care pioneer and advocate who first opened a hospice and palliative care unit at Sydney’s Mt Carmel Hospital in 1978. She was also instrumental in the establishment of the Macquarie Hospice.
Over 40 years later and the devoted advocate continues to fight for the introduction of palliative care from the moment of diagnosis.
Bernard Tipiloura (Northern Territory)
Mr Tipiloura is a Tiwi Island Elder and suicide prevention campaigner who has helped reduce suicide rates in the Tiwi Islands over the past two decades – in 2006 the community had one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
Joined by his wife, Lynette Johnson, Mr Tipiloura visited local schools to encourage young people to reconnect with their Indigenous heritage, and to draw strength from their cultural identity.
Mr Tipiloura told the ABC he enjoys working with young people and reducing the rates of suicide.
“I teach them about their father’s homeland, their mother’s homeland, their mother dancing, their father dancing, his father dancing,” said Mr Tipiloura.
“That’s the only way we can improve young persons to understand and to improve – to continue the culture that we have created.”
Claude Lyle Harvey OAM (Queensland)
Mr Harvey has campaigned for child protection over the past 17 years, raising awareness and funds to prevent child sexual abuse. He has raised more than $1.5 million for the not-for-profit association, Bravehearts, having campaigned right across the country.
But how has he garnered so much attention? Mr Harvey has pushed his lawnmower, nicknamed Moyra, over 23,000km.
“If I can save just one child from this crime that harms one in five Australian children, I will have achieved what I’ve set out to do,” said Mr Harvey.
Sandra Miller (South Australia)
Ms Miller, a Wirangu woman, is an Aboriginal rights activist and advocate for Indigenous health and welfare. She has led the way as an Aboriginal woman in leadership, having worked hard from humble beginnings as a social worker in the 1980s.
She was heavily involved in South Australian Government policy development and service design for Aboriginal health, ageing and welfare. This included the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, a national policy aimed at keeping children connected to their families, communities, cultures and country.
Although Ms Miller has left public service, she holds leadership roles in Aboriginal health and legal rights groups.
Dr Frances Donaldson (Tasmania)
Dr Donaldson started out as a nurse in Hobart, eventually becoming a Director of Nursing, before she studied medicine in her 40s and became a doctor. She spent over a decade advocating for improved health outcomes for prisoners who needed more support through under-resourced prison health services.
With four decades worth of experience in healthcare, Dr Donaldson was well-placed to tackle Tasmania’s response to COVID-19, working as a doctor in the State’s COVID@homplus service while also volunteering to support seasonal workers in hotel quarantine.
Professor Frank Oberklaid AM (Victoria)
A lifetime of experience is why Professor Oberklaid is an internationally recognised authority on children’s health. The paediatrician was also the founding director for Victoria’s Centre for Community Child Health, a role he held for 25 years at The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.
Professor Oberklaid has more recently developed a program to assist primary school teachers in becoming mental health and wellbeing coordinators so they can better support children with mental health challenges.
Theresa Kwok (Western Australia)
After arriving in Australia from Hong Kong 35 years ago, Ms Kwok has worked hard to support older migrants from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Ms Kwok is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Perth’s Chung Wah Community and Aged Care, an organisation with roughly 800 clients.
Ms Kwok’s organisation assists a wide variety of culturally diverse seniors with aged care and disability support services so they can live independently in Australia.
“Our belief and our vision is to build a better community for all Australians,” said Ms Kwok to the ABC.
“It is not only helping individuals, it takes all of us to help more people.”
The Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Australia’s Local Hero will all be announced on Thursday evening.