AN outstanding group of eight senior Australians have been nominated from each state and territory for the 2018 Senior Australian of the Year award.
We meet each of them here and find out what they want to see change during 2018. Once you have heard from each of the nominees, you can use our poll to vote for who you think should win this year's award.
Who is your Australian Seniors of the Year?
VIC - Professor Paul Zimmet AO
The scientist and diabetes specialist has been an international leader in diabetes for 40 years. His work has had a profound impact on Australian's living with diabetes.
Paul's research studies in the 1980s predicted the current global epidemic of Type 2 diabetes, and he was instrumental in convincing governments and health organisations of the disease's social and economic impact. Paul established the International Diabetes Institute in Melbourne in 1984, the first institute in Australia to concentrate on diabetes and associated disorders.
He has published more than 890 research papers, has been named one of the world's most influential scientific minds, and is ranked in the top 10 diabetes researchers for global impact.
The award-winning scientist has mentored many other experts in his field, and has influenced the work of healthcare professionals, diabetes educators, city planners, politicians and policy-makers. Paul's intellect, knowledge, international profile and passion have harnessed medical, scientific, community and government resources to combat the national and global diabetes epidemic.
- "I will maintain my strong advocacy for increased action for prevention and early diabetes diagnosis for Australians of all ages and backgrounds," Paul said. "Why diabetes? Because it is one of the greatest health threats facing Australia affecting nearly 4.5 million - about two million with diabetes and 2.5 million with pre-diabetes. I hope by example (as a cyclist and jogger!) to use my age promoting healthy lifestyle messages encouraging people to live well in their older years. It will ensure Australians are well equipped, both physically and mentally, to enjoy their later decades."
SA - Barbara Spriggs
When Barbara suspected her husband was being mistreated in a government-run mental health facility, Barbara began to push for answers. She had no choice but to place Bob, who was suffering from Parkinson's disease and other complex and distressing illnesses, into care at the Oakden Older Person's Mental Health Services facility. But after suspecting her husband was being physically and chemically restrained, Barb lifted the lid on a story of systematic aged care abuse and neglect.
Barb's determination to seek answers and justice led to a formal inquiry, a damning report detailing a culture of cover up dating back 10 years, and an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry.
Barb's husband has since died, but her sustained efforts saw other patients transferred to a new facility with hand-picked staff offering high-quality care. Barb's persistence at a time of great personal grief honours her beloved husband with a legacy of better care and respect for older people in aged care facilities around Australia.
- "As we begin 2018, let's embrace our lives as Seniors," Barbara said. "Be proud of our achievements, take care of our bodies and minds; things I always work towards. Walk and talk often with a friend. Say or do something nice for someone each day. Be prepared to speak out it could lead to better things for others. Don't underestimate the power and ability you have. Help make 2018 count. Together we can achieve great things."
ACT - Dr Graham Farquhar AO
The biophysicist is one of Australia's most eminent scientists. He has helped reshape our understanding of photosynthesis, the very basis of life on Earth.
After growing up with a Tasmanian farming family background, Graham has used his love of science to deliver practical benefits to the agricultural sector. His study of mathematics and physics formed the bedrock of a career creating mathematical models of how plants work. Graham has received a string of accolades for his research examining how water efficient crops can protect food security in a changing climate. Importantly, he has worked to improve world food security by developing strains of wheat that can grow with less water.
In 2017 Graham became the first Australian to win a Kyoto Prize - the most prestigious international award for fields not traditionally honoured with a Nobel Prize. From his long-term base at the Australian National University, Graham is tackling some of the most profound challenges facing humanity and the environment.
- "I am going to become fit, cook well, re-start modern dance, write up all overdue scientific papers, spend more time with family, learn plant taxonomy, get rid of the weeds, and watch pigs flying from dawn to dusk," Graham said. "But, I am committed as part of the Kyoto Prize to lecturing in San Diego and Oxford, and voluntarily within Australia, emphasising to young people the importance of creativity, of struggling for honesty, and of accepting that there will be failures along the way in any career. I will make some inroads into the pig-flying stretch goals, and accept some failures."
QLD - Dr Dimity Dornan AO
A speech pathologist for more than five decades, Dr Dimity Dornan has changed the lives of thousands of children and young adults, through Hear and Say, which she founded 25 years ago.
She has devoted her career to helping deaf children to listen and speak by training their brains to use implantable bionic technologies, like the cochlear implant. Hear and Say currently provides services for more than 900 children and their families.
Dimity also established several national and global research collaborations, as well as Hear and Say WorldWide, to expand the opportunities for deaf children in developing countries. As a past Chair and cofounder of First Voice, she played a significant role in raising the profile of hearing health globally.
Recognised internationally for her work, Dimity is now building Human Bionics Interface, a global network of bionics thought leaders, researchers, clinicians, businesses, start-ups and investors collaborating to accelerate the delivery of bionic solutions that will address previously untreatable medical conditions.
- "I live and work in a world where science, technology and the internet are colliding for the betterment of mankind," Dimity said. "In 2018, I will continue to advocate for the support of Hearing across the Lifespan and also for Bionics (medical devices where medicine and engineering meet) because it affects all Australians at some time in their lives. Hearing loss is an invisible problem that can affect not only listening and speaking, but also reading, education, making friends, mental health, career and economic potential. I will address this by advocating for the national campaign 'Break the Sound Barrier' to make hearing research, healthcare and wellbeing the 10th national health priority."
NT - Kathy Guthadjaka
Kathy is an East Arnhem Land educator, pioneering academic and senior Elder from Gäwa in north-east Arnhem Land. She is passionate about preserving traditional knowledge and sharing this with the greater global community.
Gotha, as she is known, has worked as an educator since the mid-1960s. Growing up on a mission, Gotha was working as a teaching assistant when her father chose to establish homelands in a remote area of Elcho Island.
Gotha was tasked with starting a school. For the first year, Gotha taught without pay under a tarpaulin near the beach. The school was successful, and Gotha created a bilingual educational model that delivered high attendance and graduation rates.
Since then, Gotha Kathy has pioneered new education methods, represented Australia at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem and at the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Geneva.
In her role as a Yolngu researcher at Charles Darwin University, she is leading academic research into language, knowledge, culture and country with widespread practical application.
- "I am very unsure about how things will work out for me in 2018," Gotha said. "The first step in reaching my goals in the coming year is to qualify for surgery, (and for my people, there are many barriers) get listed, and find a kidney donor who matches me. My second step is to receive the new kidney, finish with dialysis and return home to my grandchildren, my extended family and to Gawa Homeland on Elcho Island. I will then be able to take part more fully in the life of my communities both at Gawa and with the women in Galiwin'ku. I will continue to work with the Northern Institute at CDU and will start again fresh working with Gawa Christian School to consolidate two-way learning and all the methods we have successfully trialled into lesson development technique that will remain to benefit generations to come. It may eventually benefit the broader Australian teaching community by showing how valuing students and their families can open receptivity for better learning outcomes."
NSW - Dr Catherine Hamlin AC
For more than 50 years, obstetrician Dr Catherine Hamlin, now 93, has devoted herself to giving women in Africa a second chance at life.
She and her late husband Dr Reginald Hamlin founded a network of six hospitals and a midwifery college in Ethiopia.
The hospitals provide free fistula repair surgery to poor women suffering from horrendous and preventable childbirth injuries.
- "The story of the fistula patients is a story that every Australian should hear," Catherine said. "Childbirth should be a joyful occasion. But to these women it's a nightmare. I want all Australians to know that they have the capacity to make a difference. Small acts of kindness really do add up to big things. I have put myself in the public eye simply because I had to tell the story of the fistula patients. To be a voice for them. I will continue to do this. I am glad this award will help shine a light on this condition and the thousands of Australians support us."
TAS - Tony Scherer
The Coal Valley organic farmer is a pioneer of the organic farming movement. He has promoted sustainable farming methods for more than 50 years. Tony started organic farming in California in the 1970s. Moving to Australia in 1990, Tony introduced several organic methods, including the first machinery to convert Sudan grass into organic compost.
By passing his knowledge to other organic farmers, he's helped the agricultural industry cut millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while growing healthy food. A founding owner of Frogmore Creek Wines, Tony demonstrated that organic viticulture was possible and profitable, with the winery's Pinot Noir winning multiple awards.
Tony has since led a groundswell of interest in sustainable and low pesticide grape production. In 2012, he co-founded the not-for-profit Sprout Tasmania to expand organic and sustainable farming. And as the president of the Pinot Noir Forum, Tony has helped to build Tasmania's reputation as a world leader in this wine style, creating jobs and supporting a new industry.
- "If I can accomplish anything it would be to get more people to eat food that is ready-to-eat, not shipped," Tony said. "For our organisation Sprout, it is to train as many farmers as we can to grow local produce and market it in their local area so that people can get fresh food. I will also continue my presidency of the NGO, Sprout which provides scholarships to current or future farmers. We conduct training in soil and plant health, extending growing seasons, marketing, financing, and pest and disease control."
WA - Kathleen Mazzella OAM
Facing a radical gynaecological cancer diagnosis at the age of 39, women's health champion Kathleen Mazzella was convinced she was alone. In her search to find someone else facing the same experience, Kath placed an ad in Woman's Day, receiving 38 responses from women all over Australia who felt the same sense of isolation and embarrassment. Determined to connect and empower other women, and to reduce the stigma and squeamishness around women's health, Kath established the Perth-based Gynaecological Awareness Information Network.
Since then, Kath has become a voice for the millions of Australian women managing polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, fibroids, menopause, sexually transmitted diseases, hysterectomies and more.
At the core of her work is a straight-talking message: embarrassment around gynaecological issues risks lives. Kath breaks down the social stigma by sharing her journey and challenges, and promoting a positive preventative message.
Twenty-two years after her initial diagnosis, Kath has not only survived, but thrived and dedicated her life to ensuring no other woman suffers in silence.
- "My desire is to reach as many people from as possible, aged 14-100, with the message of gynaecological and related sexual, mental health awareness," Kath said. "Why? Because women suffer in silence, families feel the ripple effects of the suffering and as a community, we are capable of doing more. We are capable of starting conversations that break down the barriers, of being more supportive when we recognise someone has a challenge in the workplace or home. I plan to continue with my International Gynaecological Awareness Day and Undies for Better Understanding campaign, but more importantly, to mobilise the community to do their part too. I am one person, but we are many!"
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