August 18, 2010

Learning from our Australians of the Year

There’s a lot of talk these days about role models.  As the lure of celebrity continues to grow, it seems that it’s pop starlets, football stars and anyone who’s had their fifteen minutes of fame who are set up as examples to follow, particularly for our kids.  And far too often, these people seem to be letting us down with their all too human behaviour.  It can make us sceptical about looking up to anyone at all.

And yet, accepting people’s humanness as part of the package, there is still much to be said for having role models and mentors who can inspire us to reach that little bit higher.  That’s what the Australian of the Year Awards is all about.  It’s about providing a broad range of alternatives to Britney and Paris.  Each year, 128 Australians, from all walks of life are acknowledged as finalists and recipients for the Awards.  That’s 128 stories of people who are making a real difference – many of whom are every day Australians you’ve probably never heard of.  Each of them excels in their field of endeavour, has the potential to inspire us and is making a marked contribution to their communities and Australia as a whole.  Of course, come 25 January, there can only be one Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Australia’s Local Hero.

Over the past five or so years, I have had the privilege of getting to know these extraordinary Australians for myself.  And they’ve taught me a thing or two along the way.

Firstly, each of them will tell you that they were just doing what they had to do – going about their business.  For each of them, going the extra mile, working hard and harnessing their talents and passion to make a difference are just things that they do.  That’s not to say that it’s always been easy.  If fact, many of our Australians of the Year have paid dearly for their commitment…but these sacrifices are made willingly and without thought of reward.  Not in some unrealistic, moralistic kind of way, but driven by passion and determination.  It’s part of who they are.

Secondly, they feel the weight of responsibility that comes with such an honour.  Being THE Australian of the Year is a very big deal for anyone, and generally not one that any of our award recipients ever expected to encounter.  They genuinely want to do their very best to fulfil the role in a way which will do Australia proud.  While it’s not always widely known, every Australian of the Year I have known has given above and beyond of their time and energy throughout their year, talking to school children and community groups, participating in public discourse and getting out to talk with Australians all over the nation, including in remote areas.  The gift of their time is precious.   They all have jobs and families and other commitments which are heavily stretched during their time as Australian of the Year.  And yet, all give this time with a wonderful grace and good humour.

Finally, they are human.  Like the rest of us, they will occasionally have a bad day.  But what I’ve learned is that this doesn’t make them any less worthy of our admiration and respect.  Rather, it demonstrates that even the best of us have to pick ourselves up and start again once in a while.  That’s life, and the ability to do that, with 21 million Australians watching, is something that I admire greatly.

This year, we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Australian of the Year Awards.  Hopefully, this will be an opportunity to get to know a few more of this amazing group.  I know I won’t be disappointed.  Not because they’re perfect, but because they’ve put themselves on the line to make a difference and that’s something to be proud of. 
Click here to check out the stories of our past Australians of the Year.
Do you know someone who makes you proud?  Why not nominate them? 

No comments:

Post a Comment