Victorian Finalists Announced For Australian of the Year Awards 2008

The Victorian finalists for Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Australia's Local Hero were announced today.

Victorian finalists include football legend Kevin Sheedy AM, human cultural leader Carrillo Gantner AO, golfer Stuart Appleby, lifesaver Alistair McCooke and Choir of Hard Knocks leader Jonathon Welch.

Ms Tam Johnston, National Manager of the Australian of the Year Awards, said nominations for this year's awards reflected the values Australians admired in others.

"We received more than 3,000 nominations for people who are contributing to the community, who are taking a leadership role in our society and whose achievements are an inspiration," said Ms Johnston.

Ralph Norris, Chief Executive Officer of major sponsor Commonwealth Bank of Australia, said the finalists demonstrated the diversity of Australian society and the importance of community.

"The finalists in this year's awards make a difference within local communities or to the Australian community as a whole and their contributions are a vital part of what makes this country great," said Mr Norris.

Recipients of each category will be announced at the Victoria Australian of the Year Awards Ceremony on Thursday 15 November at Sumac at Central Pier Docklands at 2:00pm.

Recipients in each category then become national finalists for the Australian of the Year Awards to be announced on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra on 25 January, 2008.

Victorian finalists are:


Stuart Appleby - Sportsman and benefactor
Professor Don Esmore AO - Cardiac surgeon (Prahran)
Kon Karapanagiotidis - Human rights advocate (Brunswick)
Wendy Lawson - Autism support advocate (Warnambool)


Carrillo Gantner AO - Cultural leader (South Melbourne)
Ron Parker - Community volunteer (East Ivanhoe)
Kevin Sheedy AM - Football legend (Ringwood)
Judith Robbins - Respite provider (Meerlieu)


Daniel Adams - Poverty fighter (South Melbourne)
Alessandro Demaio - Health promoter (East Malvern)
Elise Klein - Youth program facilitator (Moorooduc)
Alan Wu - Youth representative (West Melbourne)


Manar Chelebi - Tolerance advocate (Roxburgh Park)
Beau Gerring OAM - Boxing coach (Tottenham)
Alistair McCooke - Life saver (Ocean Grove)
Jonathon Welch - Community choirmaster (South Melbourne)


Finalist bios attached with this media release.
For further information or to arrange an interview please contact:
Nicole Browne, Media Opps
02 9954 7677    or    0414 673 762    or



Stuart Appleby

Sportsman and benefactor

Stuart Appleby is a highly successful sportsman and a great community activist. He has won our most important golfing honour, the Australian Open, and consistently features in the top ten of world golf rankings. Stuart is a strong supporter of the Challenge Foundation, raising money for children with cancer. He not only gives of his time and energy, but has personally donated more than a million dollars. After visiting his parents' farm he saw firsthand the devastation and despair caused by drought. Now Stuart also supports beyondblue, with a special focus on combating depression in rural communities. Through his 'birdie meter' he raises donations for every birdie he makes in tournaments. Stuart has a wonderful ability to relate to people of all ages and is the driving force behind Victoria's junior golf foundation. He is a role model as an international achiever and a caring contributor to the community.

Professor Don Esmore AO

Cardiac surgeon

Professor Don Esmore is a cardiac surgeon working in the field of organ transplantation who has performed about 600 heart or lung transplants, 8,000 open heart procedures, and about 100 artificial heart implants. He works around the clock replacing diseased organs with life-restoring ones. Don helped establish the transplant program at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney and he developed the transplant program at the Prince Alfred in Melbourne into one of the most respected in the world. He regards as his best achievement being the first surgeon to implant an Australian-invented, Australian-made artificial heart that replaces the patient's heart function without removing it. Don was diagnosed with a serious condition four years ago and is currently in remission after treatment, which he undertook while continuing to operate to save the lives of others.

Kon Karapanagiotidis

Human rights advocate

Kon Karapanagiotidis is the founder and chief executive of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. The Centre gets virtually all of its funding from donations and last year provided more than $14 million-worth of help in the form of legal, medical, food, clothing, and social services. It is an independent, not-for-profit charity committed to protecting the human rights of asylum seekers, whether they are in the community or in detention. Since opening in 2001, the Centre has cared for and assisted thousands of people by providing health services through a medical care network, food parcels and toiletries through its food bank, legal advice and advocacy through its human rights law program, crisis support through its casework program, and counselling for survivors of torture. Kon's commitment to human rights and social justice has inspired hundreds of volunteers to support the Centre in its growing range and scale of services.

Wendy Lawson

Autism support advocate

Wendy Lawson is a writer, poet, and adult educator. She also is autistic. She didn't talk until she was four and struggled at school. For more than 25 years she was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia and lived with intense confusion and depression. She has since gone on to complete five tertiary qualifications and is now doing her doctorate on autism and stress. Wendy is the author of four books and she travels the world and throughout Australia speaking about her experiences as a person with autism, which she prefers to describe as a 'diffability'. She motivates people working with a child or adult with autism to look at their differences as positive. The insights that Wendy brings from her academic, professional, and personal understanding provides parents a door of hope and pathways to helping their children reach their potential.


Carrillo Gantner AO

Cultural leader

The actor, director, theatre founder, and philanthropist, Carrillo Gantner, has for many years been dedicated to the development of the arts and culture across the breadth of Australian society, directed financial support for worthy activities and the people who drive them, and pursued a more global cultural awareness. This year Carrillo celebrates 25 years as a cultural leader in his numerous roles over the years, including cultural counsellor at the Australian embassy in Beijing; Melbourne city councillor; chair of Asialink, the Sidney Myer fund, the Australia Council Theatre Board, and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival; and his present position as chair of the Victorian Arts Centre. Carrillo's hands-on involvement with the arts, especially through the Myer Trust, has made a major and lasting difference to the arts in Victoria and enriched the cultural life of the whole community.

Ron Parker

Community volunteer

Over the past 32 years Ron Parker has donated his time and energy to more than thirty community organisations. His voluntary services are extensive, spanning the education programs of many Melbourne institutions, health and emergency services, the Law Institute of Victoria, and an impressive number of committees, organisations, and community groups. He has been a tour guide, school council leader, editor, community advisor, Neighbourhood Watch zone leader, community radio researcher, theatre worker, hockey coach, and committee member to sports clubs and the Olympic torch relay. Ron has a keen sense of social justice and he regards it a privilege to be proactive in helping his community and ensuring that the needs of diverse groups in our society are represented and protected. He is sought out by many for his wise counsel and is described as a quiet achiever, a role model, and as an ordinary man doing ordinary things of extraordinary importance.

Judith Robbins

Respite provider

Many seriously ill children would love to have a holiday at a popular vacation spot but can't because of their low immunity to infection or because people stare at them due to their loss of hair. Also, with the significant medical expenses involved in caring for a sick child, families often can't afford to go on holiday. This is where Judith Robbins saw a need and stepped in to make a difference. In 1995 she and her husband, Peter, opened Annie's Cottage on their East Gippsland farm as a wonderful place where children who have a life threatening illness can come for a country holiday. With enthusiastic support from her local community, Judith keeps the fridge stocked with food, linen is ready when families arrive, and there is heaps of play equipment. All this is provided free of charge and Judith relies completely on donations to assist with running costs. So far nearly 300 families have benefited from her generous support.

Kevin Sheedy AM

Football legend

The name Kevin Sheedy is synonymous with Australian Football. Wearing the guernsey as both player and coach for almost forty years, Kevin played a total of 789 games, including 18 grand finals and eight premierships. He is an icon to AFL followers, but he has also used his unique position to help minority and underprivileged groups, especially Indigenous and other young people. Over the years Kevin has been actively involved in a variety of youth and charitable organisations and has been awarded many times for his work in those areas. He is also involved in the Fred Hollows Foundation, The Mercy Hospital, the Homeless Youth Organisation, Rotary, and Apex, to name just a few. Kevin is an innovator whose ideas have shaped the modern style of coaching, taking it into the realms of science, and the 70 Indigenous players on the current AFL playing list are a tribute to his vision.


Daniel Adams, 20

Poverty fighter

Daniel (Dan) Adams is a change maker, social justice advocate, educator, innovator, and project director. He was instrumental in organising the 2005 concert for the Make Poverty History campaign, the largest youth-run event ever held in Australia. The concert united 24,000 people at live sites across Australia and reached an audience of 500,000. It is remarkable that someone who started out with no music industry contacts, events management experience, or financial backers could make an event of this magnitude happen let alone sign up 50,000 young Australians to a commitment to fight poverty. Since the concert Dan has continued as a passionate advocate for social justice, channelling his energy into a new project, Schools 4 Schools, facilitating a direct link between schools and students in Victoria and Natal in a peer-to-peer leadership program. He has inspired thousands of young people to actively engage in seeking solutions to world poverty.

Alessandro Demaio, 22

Health promoter

Alessandro (Sandro) Demaio has performed more than 1000 hours of community service with St John Ambulance, 500 hours volunteering with an elderly citizens welfare organisation, and assisted elderly and young people with acquired brain injury. He currently chairs the Asian Medical Students' Association, which creates links between students in Australia, the United Kingdom and Asia and promotes the view that health is a global issue. As a demonstration of this, Sandro recently conducted an international research task on cancer, together with medical students across seven countries. He has participated in diabetes screening and education in rural and Indigenous communities as part of a Royal Flying Doctor Service program and was a delegate for the Monash University Crocfest to promote further education for rural and Indigenous high school students. Sandro was this year's Stonnington Young Citizen of the Year, awarded by his local council for his community service commitment and achievements.

Elise Klein, 23

Youth program facilitator

Elise Klein has made a long-term commitment to the youth-based Reach Foundation, a non-profit organisation that encourages young people to reach their goals and connect with each other. Elise has developed resources for programs to assist young people at risk and programs tailored for young Indigenous women. She co-founded and managed a grass-roots community development project in West Africa in support of education for under-privileged or orphaned young people, healthcare centres, and a micro credit scheme. She has also volunteered with the World Health Organization to create and co-chair the inaugural World Youth Assembly for road safety, worked with Green Steps to assist environmentally sustainable business, and spent two years as a foster carer for injured and orphaned wildlife. Her work was recognised last year when selected as an Australian representative to the United Nations General Assembly. Elise is a very real example of young people inspiring other young people.

Alan Wu, 23

Youth representative

Alan Wu has been an active participant in the community since the age of twelve. He is committed to enabling the voice of young people to be heard and inspiring other young people to participate in their communities. His voluntary work includes appointment to the National Youth Roundtable and National Youth Week planning group; in 2005 being the youngest person ever elected as Chair of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition; appointments to the ABC Advisory Council, the Oxfam International Youth Parliament, and the Commonwealth Youth Parliament; participation in the United Nations General Assembly's special session on action for youth; and last year being the youngest ever participant in the Asialink leadership program. Alan has a passion for ensuring that young people understand and feel confident about getting involved with international processes. He also recognises the importance of understanding our regional neighbours and continually promotes engagement with Asian cultures and societies.


Manar Chelebi

Tolerance advocate

If you recognise Manar Chelebi, it's probably because she is often seen in newspaper articles, such as when she went on the Long Walk for Aboriginal Reconciliation and when she modelled her Islamic swimwear for Life Saving Victoria. She works tirelessly in the Muslim and broader community promoting peace and harmony. Manar is a primary school teacher, author, mother of three, and she relentlessly supports the less fortunate among us through the Muslim Women's Charity Group. She is involved in many inter-faith activities and is a volunteer fundraiser and pastoral care worker. Manar is at her best when she is speaking to community groups about her faith and promoting cultural diversity and understanding, getting people to look beyond the veil. Responding to life as a scarf-wearing, misunderstood Muslim woman with a typically Australian sense of humour, Manar has been seen wearing a badge stating, 'Relax, it's a head scarf, not a bomb'.

Beau Gerring OAM

Boxing coach

From humble beginnings teaching boxing in a tin shed to selection as an Olympics coach - this has been Beau Gerring's career path. He has dedicated more than fifty years to the Footscray Youth Club. Along the way he has coached teams for many tournaments and produced champion boxers from all backgrounds. His voluntary work far transcends coaching as he has mentored many young people, teaching them self-discipline and respect and giving them the chance to dream. Beau is not only a great boxing trainer, but he is like a father to his young charges. He has turned down numerous lucrative coaching offers from overseas in order to continue his voluntary work here. Beau's contribution to sport was recognised in 1997 with the award of a Medal of the Order of Australia, but it is his contribution to many community groups through exercise, training, fun, and motivation that makes Beau a local hero.

Alistair McCooke

Life saver

Ocean Grove surf lifesaver Alistair McCooke has rescued dozens of people from dangerous surf during his 25-year career. He also is an intensive care paramedic who has helped establish emergency response service programs for expatriate staff in Saudi Arabia and been a health and safety supervisor in a United Nations humanitarian mine clearance project in Iraq, where he also trained medics. Alistair was acknowledged as Victorian and National Surf Lifesaver of the Year in 2004, from a field of 33,000 active lifesavers, for his work in promoting life-saving automatic defibrillators as standard equipment for surf lifesaving kits. Research shows that every minute a patient suffers sudden cardiac arrest and does not receive a shock by a defibrillator, their chance of survival decreases by 10% so Alistair is a passionate campaigner with Rural Ambulance Victoria for 'heart safe' communities by having the equipment located wherever large numbers of people gather.

Jonathon Welch

Community choirmaster

Jonathon Welch touched the heart of the nation when he demonstrated the power of singing in building and renewing promising lives that had been saddened and defeated by circumstance. His Choir of Hard Knocks, one of Jonathon's community choir initiatives, raised to new levels Australia's awareness of the problems of homelessness, depression, and addiction. This is just one of many community projects to which Jonathon has given his time. Others include Geelong Pop Kids, the Australian Pop Choir, the Sydney Street Choir, and the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus. Jonathon is also well known to young singing students and choirs as an adjudicator at community eisteddfods and competitions. He continues to perform as a singer in his own right and is a member of Tenor Australia, a trio of professional tenors. Most of all he has shown that engaging with creativity, expression, and most of all, with each other, brings new hope.

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