A couple of weeks ago it was announced that I won the Commonwealth Bank Local Hero Award, along with another Bank Employee, Chris. I had asked my boss to nominate me in the hope that I would get more exposure amongst the Group with my volunteer work, but had no expectations of winning. When it was announced that I had won, out of 45,000 eligible employees, I was overwhelmed and MAY have shed a tear or ten. It was such a great sense of accomplishment. I don’t promote what I do to get recognised, but I do like to promote it to gain exposure so that others will see what is out there for them to help with. And with all the communications that went out about the award, a lot of exposure was created.

My prize was $1,000 to be donated to a charity of my choice (Green Gecko, of course), return flights to Canberra, one nights’ accommodation at Crowne Plaza, and a guest pass to the Australian of the Year Finalists Luncheon, the Winners Announcement and Australia Day Live Concert. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing my experience was. It was SO inspirational meeting these finalists. They are so humble about what they do, and don’t want the recognition. But boy, do they deserve it!

Most memorable experience from the announcement:
My most memorable experience was when Donald Ritchie was named as Australia’s Local Hero. It was so warming and encouraging that a simple act such as offering for a person in emotional distress to come back to his house for a cup of tea could result in saving so many lives. He is a role model for every Australian, as he demonstrates that you don’t have to donate millions of dollars to charity or spend hours a week volunteering to make a difference in someone’s life. You can change someone’s life with just some kind words. We should all take a page out of Donald Ritchie’s book.

Most memorable part of the trip:
Catching the plane there with the Red Wiggle, Murray. I can’t believe the Wiggles have been around for 20 years and are still going strong. They are great role models for younger kids, here’s to another 20 years!

Most inspirational people I met:
I found Robert Vojakovic, WA Senior Citizen of the Year, and his wife, Rosemary, to be the most inspirational. I had the pleasure of sitting next to them at lunch, and learnt more about asbestos in that hour than I have in my whole life. Robert and Rosemary have spent 32 years fighting for the rights of Asbestos victims, and founded the Asbestos Disease Society of Australia. They are on call 24/7 to help those victims in distress, and raise 1 million dollars a year to keep their organisation running. They give people somewhere to turn. It was so inspirational to see the dedication, passion and commitment they express towards this cause, whilst also having raised 2 daughters who have had to deal with some confronting situations. They are my heroes, and I aspire to one day be as emotionally strong as them.

I also found Clinton Heal, the WA Young Australian of the Year to be truly inspiring. Clinton is 27 and a melanoma survivor. He founded Melanoma WA after he was diagnosed with melanoma and realised that there was no support network, and nowhere for patients to turn for assistance and support. Clint speaks to many community groups, schools and mine workers to raise awareness about this all important issue. I myself (as you can tell by my skin colour) have always sunbaked without a second thought. But chatting to him made such a profound impact on me that as soon as I got back to Sydney I threw out my SPF 4 Tanning Oil and went and bought SPF 30 Sunscreen.

Most deserving winner:
They were all deserving, obviously, however Senior Australian of the Year Professor Ron McCallum really stood out. Professor Ron McCallum is the first totally blind person to have been appointed to a full professorship at an Australian university. Professor McCallum was the foundation Professor in Industrial Law at the University of Sydney, and from 2002, he served five years as Dean of Law. He has fervently pursued equal rights for working people across the globe and was the inaugural President of the Australian Labour Law Association from 2001 to 2009. He is currently Chair of Radio for the Print Handicapped of New South Wales Co-operative. The organisation operates radio 2RPH, which reads out newspapers and magazines over the air for blind and other print handicapped listeners. He is also one of two Deputy Chairs of Vision Australia, and one of 12 members of the first monitoring committee for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He was appointed inaugural Rapporteur of this committee and is now the Chair. Ron has also recently been appointed to the Federal Government’s National People with Disabilities and Carers Council. Ron is a leading light in the disabled community, working for equality among all Australians.

Professor Ron has not let his disability hold him back. He has embraced it, and used it to his advantage, so he can fight for others with disabilities and prove to people that you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

Best conversation:
My brief, but effective conversation with Dr Don Bowley, QLD Local Hero, gave me some great ideas. I was telling him that I felt so bad talking about the volunteer work that I do, when all these finalists were so humble. He told me something which I already knew, but having someone tell it to me made the impact I needed it to. He said if you are silent about what you do, it won’t make people aware of what is out there. Totally right!

I hope to one day be nominated for Australian of the Year, however at the same time, I wish that there are that many lovely, community minded people out there that I don’t have a chance!

For more information on the Australian of the Year Awards, visit http://www.australianoftheyear.org.au/