"When our political leaders are failing to lead by example, it's comforting we can look closer to home and often no further than our own communities."
Writing recently in The Land newspaper, former deputy chair of the Australian of the Year Awards Robbie Sefton pointed to the inspiration to be found in the efforts of people like Shanna Whan, who has been nominated for the annual awards.
"Good news has at times been hard to find in the past two years, so people like Shanna and her fellow 2022 nominees are worth celebrating," Sefton, founder and managing director of rural communications and advisory firm Seftons, wrote.
"They are people who saw an issue and didn't look away or look for someone to fix it, but rather took the initiative and had the courage to stand up and say 'I can do this'. And they did. And they make our communities better every day, for all of us."
They are people who saw an issue and didn't look away or look for someone to fix it, but rather took the initiative and had the courage to stand up and say 'I can do this'.Robbie Sefton
For Whan, who is the 2022 Local Hero for NSW, the issue she did not look away from is alcohol and how it is viewed and used in rural Australia.
Whan is the CEO of Sober in the Country, a grassroots charity she established after her own battle with alcohol addiction.
Giving up drinking in 2015 was just the beginning. Volunteering locally to help others recognise that their "social drinking" had become a problem, she now leads a national group providing peer support, education and advocacy.
Having courageously shared her journey to sobriety on the ABC's Australian Story in 2019, Whan's life-saving message is that it's always "OK to say no" to beers in the bush.
Here are the other finalists for the 2022 Australian of the Year Local Hero award:
Luke Ferguson - ACT
A youth support worker at Canberra's Woden School, a high school catering for students with disabilities, Luke Ferguson set up Party Down Productions, a program that teaches students to plan and stage their own events, from using Photoshop to make posters to setting playlists and performing as DJs. The program helps young people with disability to break down barriers and engage with the wider community while also enhancing their independence and self-esteem.
Rebecca Forrest - NT
Over more than 13 years, Rebecca Forrest's fundraising events have contributed an estimated $1 million to support anti-violence, people with autism, Life Education, the Cancer Council and Police Legacy. In 2018, she set up No One Left Behind, events for women to inspire others by sharing their experiences. Her inaugural International Men's Day Forum included emotional addresses from Professor Mick Dodson and Tick Everett from Dolly's Dream.
Kimberley Smith - TAS
Retired police officer and Australian Police Medal recipient Kim Smith is a community volunteer with the Rotary Club of Sullivans Cove in Hobart.
He has led successful programs to help young people and refugees, including recovering drug users, teens who have survived abuse and neglect, and learner drivers. The driver training, which has attracted government funding, has helped refugee families get established in the community and even secure jobs.
Craig Hollywood - WA
What began in 2015 as an idea for the team at Westons Barbershop in Perth to give free haircuts to the homeless is now Short Back & Sidewalks - a group of about 250 volunteer barbers and hairdressers nation-wide that has provided some 6400 free haircuts to people in need.
As founder and CEO, Craig Hollywood has expanded the reach of Short Back & Sidewalks to include free haircuts for young people at risk, women escaping domestic violence and remote communities.
Monique Bareham - SA
President of the South Australia Lymphoedema Association, Monique Bareham was instrumental in securing a compression garment subsidy from the state government in 2020 for people suffering from the chronic, debilitating and incurable condition caused by damage to the lymphatic system.
Before the subsidy scheme, SA was the only state not to offer financial assistance to people needing to buy the expensive compression garments.
Since her successful lobbying efforts, Ms Bareham - a cancer survivor herself - supports the roll-out of the compression garment subsidy scheme to ensure availability and equitable access.
Saba Abraham - QLD
Since arriving as a refugee from Eritrea, Saba Abraham has worked to support other refugees and her community.
Known affectionately as "Mama Saba", she established and now manages Mu'ooz Restaurant & Catering in Brisbane's West End, a not-for-profit social enterprise restaurant and catering business that has provided employment and training opportunities for more than 270 refugee women since 2003.
Through the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, she chaired the Brisbane Community Leaders Gathering, which helped translate public health messages into a range of languages so that all people could receive detailed and timely information.
Leo op den Brouw - VIC
A volunteer with the Mallacoota State Emergency Service for 35 years, Leo op den Brouw's dedication and leadership were on display through the Black Summer bushfires, when a huge blaze devastated the township on New Year's Eve 2019, destroying 123 homes and burning 83 per cent of the land. As SES unit controller, he helped his community prepare, coordinate and act through the fire and during the immediate aftermath, when blocked roads and continuing fire threats left Mallacoota cut off for five weeks.
- ACM, the publisher of this newspaper, is media partner of the 2022 Australian of the Year Awards, which will be presented in Canberra on January 25 and telecast on ABC TV from 7.30pm (AEDT).