News People State memorial service announced for Clean Up Australia founder Ian Kiernan

State memorial service announced for Clean Up Australia founder Ian Kiernan

ian kiernan clean up australia
Ian Kiernan at the 2004 launch of his Say No to Plastic Bags campaign. Photo: AAP
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Tributes have flowed for round-the-world sailor and environmentalist Ian Kiernan, founder of the Clean Up Australia and Clean Up the World campaigns, who died on Tuesday, aged 78.

He will be honoured with a state memorial service.

Mr Kiernan, who was diagnosed with cancer in late July, is survived by his wife Judy, daughters Sally and Pip, and son Jack.

A keen yachtsman, Mr Kiernan was sailing around the world when he decided something needed to be done to clean up the oceans.

It led him to establish Clean Up Australia, which 30 years later, is still going strong.


“Ian Kiernan’s greatest legacy is the creation of an informed, concerned, committed and involved community – sharing his passion for the safeguarding of our most precious asset, our environment,” the organisation said in a statement.

Mr Kiernan founded Clean Up Australia 30 years ago as Clean Up Sydney Harbour after becoming dismayed by the pollution he saw as he sailed the world’s seas.

The following year his idea went national before going global in 1993.

A keen yachtsman, Mr Kiernan sailed competitively for more than 40 years. In 1987, he represented Australia in the BOC world yacht race. He set the Australian record for a solo sail around the world, finishing in sixth place.

While he sailed on many yachts, one has become synonymous with his name, Maris. He bought the classic timber yawl in 1971 from marine artist Jack Earle, on condition he teach him how to cross oceans on it.

“He certainly did that. I became a celestial navigator; Jack taught me to practise with my sextant bringing the sun down in a dish of oil,” Mr Kiernan said.

It was touring the seas where Mr Kiernan became dismayed at the level of pollution – plastic bags, nappies, bottles and cans – clogging the world’s waterways.

He organised community event Clean Up Sydney Harbour in January 1989. More than 40,000 volunteers joined the effort, and a year later the national campaign was set in motion.

In 1993 he took his vision to the world stage, creating Clean Up the World, with 30 million volunteers from 80 countries participating.

Mr Kiernan was Australian of the Year in 1994. Four years later, he received the prestigious United Nations Environment Program Sasakawa Environment Prize for “mobilising tens of millions of people around the globe”.

ian kiernan clean up australia
Mr Kiernan in Malaysia for Clean Up the World in 2005.

In 2014, Mr Kiernan was fined $1000 and had his licence suspended for six months following a mid-range drink-driving charge.

Media commentator Phillip Adams called him “the greatest garbo since Greta”.

Clean Up co-founder Kim McKay recalled his irrepressible spirit on Wednesday.

“He had no airs and graces. He was just an average bloke, he’d say,” Ms McKay told ABC News.

“He was far from that I might say. He was a very interesting, larrikin, quintessential Australian.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced Mr Kiernan’s family had accepted her government’s offer of a state memorial service.

“The patron of many environmental and sailing groups and the holder of national and international honours, Ian leaves behind a truly noble legacy,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also paid tribute to Mr Kiernan, saying his passion for oceans and coast struck a chord with all Australians.

“The thing I think Ian did more than anything else was just tap us all on the shoulder and say ‘Hey, we’ve got to take care of this. This is our responsibility’,” Mr Morrison said.

“For that, Ian, I want to say thank you. I want to say thank you for what you’ve done for our country.

“To his friends and to his family and to his loved ones, we express our deepest sympathies and our condolences.”

Clean Up Australia said one of Mr Kiernan’s final requests was that, rather then sending flowers, people support his passion and commitment by making a donation to the organisation.

Mr Kiernan’s family has invited the public to record condolences at

-with AAP