Joint exhibition commemorates 2021 Australian of Year

National Museum of Australia showcases diverse objects of personal reflection

A bronze nozzle from a firefighting hose, a well-travelled statuette of Ganesh and a symbolic painting reflecting a journey through medical training are among the objects selected by the 2021 Australian of the Year state and territory recipients. This year’s recipients include Australia’s first Indigenous doctor, the former Rural Fire Service Commissioner and an advocate for survivors of sexual assault.

The National Museum of Australia and the National Australia Day Council today launched an exhibition of significant objects chosen by the 8 extraordinary 2021 Australian of the Year state and territory recipients. These objects reveal meaningful stories about their lives, aspirations and experiences.

Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, said the exhibition shines a light on the lives and achievements of 8 extraordinary Australians.

‘The Australian of the Year 2021 nominees are remarkable people whose selfless actions have stood out in a year unlike any other in recent times,’ Minister Fletcher said.

‘The objects to be exhibited provide a window into the lives of Australians who have striven to make our communities safer and stronger.

‘I commend the nominees for the contributions they have made to their communities and Australia more-broadly. Their stories will inspire future generations of Australians to make changes in their own communities.’

National Museum Director Dr Mathew Trinca said in a year of immense challenges, the state and territory recipients have selected objects that bring a sense of hope for the future.

‘After such a challenging year we are honoured to feature these deeply personal and inspiring objects selected by 8 exceptional individuals. Many of the recipients have overcome adversity to drive change in society and contribute to the world. It is these stories we need to hear in times of difficulty, stories that give us hope and inspire us to make change,’ Dr Trinca said.

National Australia Day Council CEO Ms Karlie Brand, said the objects had moved beyond being ordinary possessions and were now extraordinarily significant.

‘These items tell of the exceptional experiences of our state and territory recipients. They form part of the narrative of achievement that continues to be told in their daily lives and gives us insight to what inspires and drives them,’ Ms Brand said.

‘It’s fascinating to reflect on the objects chosen — it gives you even more respect for the stories of the extraordinary Australians we are celebrating through the Australian of the Year Awards.’

Curator Dr Lily Withycombe said, ‘What I love about this exhibition is how these unexpected, personal objects help everyone to connect with these extraordinary Australians. It makes their achievements all the more meaningful and accessible — and, ultimately, inspiring.’

  • 2021 Northern Territory Australian of the Year, Dr Wendy Page: Aboriginal health expert Dr Wendy Page has worked for more than 30 years to improve Aboriginal health in Arnhem Land. She selected a family heirloom, a serenity prayer, whose words have guided her through life. She also selected a Miwatj shirt which she wears every day while working as a doctor for Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation. It represents the country and land on which she lives and works.
  • 2021 Tasmania Australian of the Year, Grace Tame: A survivor of sexual assault and advocate for others, Grace Tame was prohibited from speaking out about her experiences with abuse. She has chosen a book with the first 5,000 names of individuals who supported her campaign to change Tasmania’s state law that prevented survivors of sexual assault from speaking publicly about their experiences. The book reminds her of the tremendous support she has had in Australia and overseas through the #LetHerSpeak campaign and represents a new future for survivors.
  • 2021 Victoria Australian of the Year, Donna Stolzenberg: Founder of the National Homeless Collective and proud Ngatjumay and Mirnang woman, Donna Stolzenberg has been working for people experiencing homelessness for 20 years. Her choice of object was a small statuette of Dinesh that has travelled with her around the world. The God Ganesh represents new beginnings and the removal of obstacles which reminds Donna of the infinite possibility in every day — a sentiment she brings to her charity work.
  • 2021 SA Australian of the Year, Tanya Hosch: Leader and change maker Tanya Hosch is an advocate for social inclusivity driving change in organisations such as the AFL to deliver industry frameworks to prevent racism and gender diversity. She selected a photograph that resonates deeply with her personal experiences. Depicting reconciliation advocate Dr Raymattja Marika AM holding Tanya’s then-infant daughter Marley Hosch, the black and white photograph is a symbol of hope to Tanya and a reflection of her work creating a more inclusive society.
  • 2021 ACT Australian of the Year, Professor Brendan Murphy: As the former Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy provided expert advice to government and recommended the early closure of international borders to control the spread of COVID-19 during the first few months of the pandemic. His object of choice is a well-thumbed copy of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 Pandemic plan. The plan represents the consensus-driven, democratic decision making which is the foundation for his collaborative work in public health.
  • 2021 NSW Australian of the Year, Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons AFSM: Former Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, guided New South Wales and a crew of 74,000 firefighters through Australia’s worst fire season. Shane selected an award he received in 2008 when he was appointed Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service. The award was presented to him by his former brigade, the Duffy Fire Brigade. He was the Brigade’s youngest ever captain and went on to become its greatest advocate.
  • 2021 Queensland Australian of the Year, Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM: As an advocate for doctors with disabilities Dr Dinesh Palipana selected scrubs, signed by his friends, colleagues, family and emergency workers who helped him on the night of his accident that resulted in quadriplegia while he was a young student. Dinesh went on to graduate and now works in one of the busiest emergency departments in the country. He draws on his personal experiences to create a more inclusive environment for patients and medical practitioners and engage with innovative research into spinal cord injuries.
  • 2021 WA Australian of the Year, Professor Helen Milroy: Professor Helen Milroy is a descendent of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia and the first Indigenous doctor. Her object is a painting she made representing a multi-dimensional model of health and wellbeing from an Aboriginal perspective. Helen’s grandmother Daisy, a carer and a healer, inspired Helen to pursue a career in medicine. Daisy is represented by a crow within the painting.

Each year, Australia celebrates the achievements and contributions of extraordinary people through the Australian of the Year Awards, which honour leading citizens who are role models for all.

The exhibition will be on display at the National Museum of Australian, Canberra, until Sunday 14 February 2021.

In collaboration with the National Australia Day Council, a bespoke exhibition of graphic display panels celebrating the current and past national winners of the Australia of the Year Awards over the past 60 years will be made available for local display via Australian diplomatic mission abroad in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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