The Australian of the Year for 2017 will be announced tonight.
The awards — which also honour the Senior Australian of the Year, the Young Australian of the Year, and Australia’s Local Hero — celebrate the achievements and contributions of ordinary Australians enacting extraordinary change.
Each state and territory nominates a finalist for award — so, before the award is announced, meet each of the nominees.
South Australia: Kate Swaffer
Kate Swaffer was diagnosed with dementia in 2008 — before her 50th birthday — and since then has attended university and advocated for better services and outcomes for the 354,000 Australians currently diagnosed with the condition.
As chairwoman, chief executive and co-founder of Dementia Alliance International, she has been the voice for dementia patients, sitting on numerous committees and councils, and was the first person with dementia to be a keynote speaker at a World Health Organisation (WHO) conference.
Western Australia: Andrew Forrest
Philanthropist and mining magnate Andrew Forrest is the founder of the Fortescue Metals Group and co-founder of the Minderoo Foundation.
He was chosen as Western Australia’s 2017 Australian of the Year for driving hands-on philanthropy to support 250 community causes, as well as his work to highlight Indigenous disparity in Australia, and for drawing attention to the 45.8 million people trapped in modern salvery.
Northern Territory: Andrea Mason
Indigenous leader Andrea Mason is the chief executive of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council — which works across a 350,000-square-kilometre area of Central Australia helping women to raise strong and healthy children.
As well as advocating for women, the council aims to create employment opportunities, support health and wellbeing, and tackle domestic violence and other social challenges.
Australian Capital Territory: Alan Tongue
Since retiring from the NRL in 2011, former Canberra Raiders captain Alan Tongue has created a rehabilitation program that is now used in Canberra’s youth and adult jails.
The Aspire program aims to rehabilitate young people and equip them with life skills to make positive choices, and Tongue has also partnered with Barnardos to teach young people how to build healthy and respectful relationships in a bid to tackle domestic violence.
Victoria: Paris Aristotle
Paris Aristotle AM was awarded Victorian Australian of the Year for 2017 for his work building the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, known as Foundation House, which was established in 1988 and now employs 200 staff.
As well as advocating for refugees and torture and trauma rehabilitation, he has advised both sides of politics on refugee and asylum seeker policy, as well as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees assisting with resettlement.
Tasmania: Rosalie Martin
Speech pathologist Rosalie Martin has been recognised for her work improving Risdon Prison inmates’ literacy.
Ms Martin has been volunteering at the jail for the past three years, running a program called Just Sentences — which helps inmates transform their lives — and says her goal is to build awareness around the importance of literacy.
New South Wales: Deng Adut
Refugee and criminal lawyer Deng Adut was snatched from his family at the age of six and forced to fight as a soldier in Sudan in north-eastern Africa.
He escaped into Kenya, and arrived in Australia as a refugee in 1998.
Mr Adut now runs a law firm in Blacktown, where he often represents members of Sydney’s Sudanese community, and is studying for his second Masters degree.
Queensland: Alan Mackay-Sim
The work of biomolecular scientist Alan Mackay-Sim was key to the first successful restoration of mobility in a quadriplegic man.
Professor Mackay-Sim has spent decades researching the regeneration and repair of the nervous system.
His research has championed the use of stem cells to understand the biological bases of brain disorders and diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and hereditary spastic paraplegia.