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Climate change crusader is Australian of the Year

25th January 2007, 16:30 WST

Professor Tim Flannery

Tania Major


Environmentalist, scientist and writer Professor Tim Flannery is 2007 Australian of the Year 2007.

Professor Flannery was presented with his award by Prime Minister John Howard at a ceremony on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra tonight.

Mr Howard said Professor Flannery had helped millions of Australian better appreciate and understand the environment.

"He has encouraged Australians into new ways of thinking about our environmental history and future ecological challenges," he said.

Professor Flannery was born in Melbourne, spent many years in Adelaide and now lives in Sydney with his wife Alexandra, with whom he has two children.  He is one of the world’s leading writer-scientists and an internationally acclaimed explorer and environmentalist.

Sir David Attenborough described him as being in the league of all-time great explorers such as David Livingstone.

Professor Flannery has shown that human activity is drastically altering the Earth’s climate and these changes will have a devastating effect on life on this planet unless we change our behaviours.  His most recent book, The Weather Makers, debuted on the New York Times bestseller list and won the 2006 NSW Premier’s Book of the Year Award. The book looks at the predicament we face and offers hope of a solution to stop and ultimately reverse the climate change trend.

Accepting the award, Professor Flannery said being named Australian of the Year 2007 was a great honour, but that it came with an obligation.

“I’m very proud to be the Australian of the Year 2007 and somewhat humbled by the honour that’s been bestowed upon me,” he said. “The award also means I have an obligation to the people of Australia to continue the quest to create a sustainable future for our country and for our children.

“We can only call ourselves Australian if we have a long-term future in this country and that means to live sustainably.”

Professor Flannery said on Australia Day he would celebrate what his fellow Australians have achieved and contributed to the country.

“I’ll be celebrating all of the great and generous things that Australians have achieved through the year,” he said.

Queensland’s indigenous youth advocate, Tania Major, was named Young Australian of the Year 2007 for her efforts in addressing the issues involved in the welfare of young indigenous people.

Now 25, Tania became the youngest person ever elected to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission (ATSIC) three years ago. Tania’s forthright and open approach to the myriad problems faced by her people, including domestic violence, has focused the attention of opinion leaders, politicians and the public alike.  Her honesty and passion have established her as a role model not only for indigenous youth, but for all young Australians. 

“I’m proud to be an Aboriginal Australian and to have been recognised and acknowledged for the work I’m involved in,” said Tania, who lives and works in Cairns.

“As Young Australian of the Year I want to encourage all Australians to be part of making a difference and giving all people a fair go – indigenous people, people from all sorts of different backgrounds, people of all types, shapes and colours.

“I’ve travelled the world and we have this identity of giving everyone a fair go, but do we really give a fair go to all Australians?

“Individuals can make a difference – if non-indigenous and indigenous young people come together to learn about each others’ cultures, to learn the real history of this country and acknowledge it, this will hopefully improve the way we all interact.

“We need to come together and better develop ourselves as responsible individuals and enhance and strengthen a truly Australian national identity, celebrated by all Australians.”

The Senior Australian of the Year 2007 was awarded to South Australia’s Phillip Herreen for his role as a mentor for people who have become disabled through accidents and as a volunteer facilitator helping young people in trouble for driving and other offences.

Mr Herreen was one of Australia’s most popular speedway drivers until a horrific crash in 1993 during what was to be his last race before retiring from the track. The accident left him confined to a wheelchair.  Phillip now helps other people rebuild their lives as a volunteer peer support advocate.  He works with injured people to give them encouragement, inspiration and hints on life in a wheelchair. 

His experience as a driver and as a paraplegic is invaluable in educating young people about the dangers of dangerous driving and young people in trouble with the law.

Mr Herreen, 64, lives in Adelaide with his wife Coleen and has four children and one grandchild.  He was nominated in the Australian of the Year awards by his longtime friend Helen Walker.

“I’m honoured and proud to be Senior Australian of the Year, but when I look at the other nominees I’m also a little bit embarrassed,” said Mr Herreen.

“It’s great to be recognised for having helped others with disabilities and young people to whom I’m trying to get the message ‘don’t take risks in cars’.

“This is another phase in what has been a bit of a roller coaster ride – since my accident I’ve been given opportunities to help others who have experienced spinal cord trauma and I’ve grabbed those opportunities with both hands.

“Being able to help others, particularly young people, to overcome the challenge of a life-changing accident and educating others to prevent accidents is very rewarding and this award is just the icing on the cake.”

Melbourne’s Shanaka Fernando was awarded Australia’s Local Hero in recognition of his work founding not-for-profit restaurant group ‘Lentil As Anything’.  The business has shown how a commercial enterprise can be operated on a socially responsible, idealistic and altruistic basis and still be financially successful and popular with the public. It operates on a policy of ‘no set prices’, where customers pay only what they can afford or what they think the meal was worth. Shanaka relinquished his personal capital in the first restaurant and turned it into a cooperative and youth training enterprise. 

The business has grown into four restaurants employing about 80 young people and providing space for artists and writers.

The 38-year-old, who was born in Columbia, Sir Lanka, arrived in Australia in 1989.  His father is Sri Lankan with Portugese lineage and his mother is Sri Lankan with Irish descent.

“Being named Australia’s Local Hero means a lot to me and, hopefully, it means the nature of what is happening through our organisation is important and will spill out to the greater society.

“I hope this award will inspire other migrants and anyone in the community, who may have ideas that might not seem normal and which have no prior format, to go ahead and try these ideas and to follow your heart.

“On Australia Day, I will celebrate the generosity of spirit which exists in the Australian community.”

Accepting his award on the eve of Australia Day, Shanaka’s view on what being Australian means was poignant.

“I didn’t know the answer to the question of what it means to be Australian until quite recently,” said Shanaka. “I went out into country Victoria with refugees and we had a tree planting weekend and I came in contact with what I considered an amazing spirit of community and openness.

“To be Australian is, I think, to be welcoming of others.

“To be Australian is to be encouraging of each other, to urge each other to shine and reach our full potential.

“Which is,” he said with a grin,“very contrary to the tall poppy syndrome.” 

Tomorrow Profesor Tim Flannery will take part in Australia Day celebrations in Sydney, while Tania Major will take part in the Australia Day festivities at Southbank in Brisbane, Phillip Herreen will return home for Adelaide’s celebrations and the One Day Cricket match and Shanaka Fernando will appear at celebrations in Melbourne including the Voyages concert.

There were more than 3200 nominations received from the public for the 2007 awards and nominations are already being accepted for the Australian of the Year 2008.  You can nominate an Australian who makes you proud now at www.australianoftheyear.gov.au

CANBERRA