Sexual assault survivor Grace Tame, who fought to overturn a law that silenced victims, has been named Australian of the Year, declaring: “Hear me now”.
The 26-year-old from Hobart won the legal right to name herself as a rape survivor at a time when her abuser could speak publicly but she could not.
She is one of four remarkable women who swept the pool at the Australian of the Year awards including an Aboriginal elder dedicated to cultural independence and education, a social entrepreneur helping women access personal hygiene products, and a Kenyan refugee who helps others in distress.
Ms Tame was awarded for her tireless advocacy for sexual assault survivors which resulted in the overturning of a Tasmanian law preventing survivors from speaking out.
She was the first Tasmanian to win the honour in the program’s 61-year history.
Grace was just 15 when she was groomed and repeatedly abused by her high school maths teacher, who was later jailed for his crimes.
Determined to have a voice, she spearheaded the #LetHerSpeak campaign and became the first woman in Tasmania to be granted the legal right to talk publicly about her experience as a sexual assault survivor.
During an emotional and powerful speech, Ms Tame accepted the honour for “all survivors of child sexual abuse”.
“I remember him saying, ‘Don’t make a sound.’ Well, hear me now, using my voice amongst a chorus of voices that will not be silenced.”
She pledged to spend the next year advocating for better education on assault, grooming and psychological manipulation by abusers.
“I lost my virginity to a paedophile,” she said.
“I was 15, anorexic. He was 58, he was my teacher.
“Publicly he described his crimes as “awesome” and “enviable”. Publicly I was silenced by law. Not anymore.
“Australia, we’ve come a long way, but there is still a lot more to do.”
Senior Australian of the Year
The nation’s new Senior Australian of the Year has implored the public to better understand Indigenous culture and communities.
Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, an Aboriginal elder from the Northern Territory, reflected on Australia’s colonial history and the modern multicultural community.
“We learnt to speak your English fluently, walked on a one-way street to learn the white people’s way,” Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann said.
“Now is the time for you to come closer to understand us and to understand how we live and listen to what needs are in our communities.
“I hope you will meet us halfway to understand our issues and help us make it better for our communities and for our young people.”
The 73-year-old activist, educator and artist became the NT’s first qualified Aboriginal teacher in 1975.
She later became a principal and a consultant for the Department of Education, where she called for visual art to be part of education for all children.
Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann is on the National Indigenous Council that advises the federal government, and has also established a foundation to help bridge the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal society.
Her foundation is built on the values of Dadirri, Aboriginal spirituality.
Young Australian of the Year
Fighting ‘period poverty’ is the goal for Adelaide student and social entrepreneur Isobel Marshall, who is the Young Australian of the Year for 2021.
The 22-year-old said “period poverty is real”.
“Periods should not be a barrier to education, Ms Marshall said.
“They should not cause shame and menstrual products should be accessible and affordable. They are not a luxury or a choice.”
But 30 per cent of girls in the developing world drop out of school once they start puberty, and one in 10 women around the world can’t afford menstrual products.
Ms Marshall co-founded menstrual product company TABOO in high school with friend Eloise Hall, with the goal of reducing stigma around periods and helping women access products.
TABOO gives all its profits to a charity helping women in Sierra Leone and Uganda gain education.
It partners with the St Vincent de Paul Society’s women’s crisis centre to provide free pads and tampons to those who need emergency accommodation in South Australia.
The organisation also works with the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council across SA, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Australia’s Local Hero
A Kenyan refugee has been crowned as Australia’s Local Hero for her work helping female migrants combat loneliness and the unknown as they settle into their new communities.
Rosemary Kariuki from Oran Park in NSW implored Australians to open their doors to their neighbours and reach out to strangers.
“When I say neighbours I don’t just mean the people living next door, I mean the people around you,” Ms Kariuki said.
“Be open and not scared of any perceived differences because, as humans, we have more similarities than differences.
“We have an amazing opportunity to learn about different cultures and traditions. Not to mention the food, music and dance a bit.”
The 60-year-old fled Kenya by herself in 1999 and found her first few years in Australia incredibly lonely, prompting her to begin an annual dance for African migrant women to combat isolation.
More than 400 women attended the last annual dance, which is now in its 14th year.
Ms Kariuki is also the multicultural community liaison officer for NSW police at the Parramatta station, helping migrants manoeuvre through processes.
National Australia Day Council chair Danielle Roche OAM, congratulated the award recipients.
“Grace, Miriam-Rose, Isobel and Rosemary are all committed to changing attitudes in our society and changing lives,” Ms Roche said.
“They are strong, determined women who are dedicated to breaking down barriers and advocating for people’s rights – particularly the rights of women and children.
“They epitomise the Australian values of respect, tolerance, equality of opportunity and compassion. Because of them, others get a fair go.”