TOP ACHIEVEMENT: Australian of the Year Professor Alan Mackay-Sim.
TOP ACHIEVEMENT: Australian of the Year Professor Alan Mackay-Sim. MICK TSIKAS

Australian of the Year to be given key to Sunshine Coast

HE HAS been the most in-demand bloke in the country during the last 24 hours but Australian of the Year Professor Alan Mackay-Sim remains a mystery man back home at Currimundi.

The Professor was recognised this week with one of the nation's highest honours for his pioneering role in stem cell research which has helped advance the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

His research into the regeneration of nasal cells led to world-first stem cell surgery in 2014 which restored mobility to a paralysed Polish firefighter.

The former director of the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research at Griffith University and his wife, Lisa Peine, have had a holiday home at Currimundi for about 25 years.

They made their permanent base a couple of years ago and Prof Mackay-Sim works from home two to three days a week overseeing and advising on research.

SURPRISE WIN: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull presents the Australian of the Year award to Professor Alan Mackay-Sim.
SURPRISE WIN: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull presents the Australian of the Year award to Professor Alan Mackay-Sim. Sean Davey

But locals are generally unaware that a man whose work has been labelled more impressive than the moon landing lives among them.

The Daily was unable to find anyone who knew him although one thought he looked familiar.

Patriots Bill and Del Payne, who have lived at Currimundi for 48 years, were hopeful that the Professor would be chosen from the list of Australian of the Year finalists but had no idea he lived nearby.

"They must have come here after us," Mr Payne said.

Mrs Payne said Prof Mackay-Sim's work "seemed a worthy sort of thing" but thought the honour would go to someone else.

"I thought he won't get it, he's a Queenslander," she said.

 

NEIGHBOURLY INTEREST: Long-term Currimundi residents Bill and Del Payne were barracking for Professor Mackay-Sim to win Australian of the Year but did not know he was a local.
NEIGHBOURLY INTEREST: Long-term Currimundi residents Bill and Del Payne were barracking for Professor Mackay-Sim to win Australian of the Year but did not know he was a local. Warren Lynam

Prof Mackay-Sim himself was surprised.

"I didn't think it was likely. I turned up at the Queenslander of the Year awards and didn't think it was likely and I turned up at this end, not thinking it was likely, and here I am," he said.

The Professor, who is living with an incurable form of blood cancer, was doing his best to deal with being thrust into the spotlight.

"I'm quite exhausted. I think I had a dozen interviews before 9am," he said.

He was hoping the attention would die down after a day or so and was looking forward to returning to the Sunshine Coast for the weekend, although he expects to have a busy year.

Prof Mackay-Sim plans to use his the platform that his Australian of the Year title has given him to promote science, particularly among the younger generation.

He also wants to push a change in attitude towards science funding so that research can be more long term.

"I'd really like to see a kind of policy in Australia where science and the infrastructure of people is seen as important to us as our national defence or health system," he said.

Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson extended his congratulations to Prof Mackay-Sim and said he would be making contact with him to offer him a Key to the City.

"On behalf of the Sunshine Coast Council and all residents of our region, we are enormously proud of Alan McKay-Sim, deeply respectful of the important contribution he has made to the lives of so many people and join with him in celebrating the recognition that is so rightly warranted," Mr Jamieson said.


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