Australia Day awards shun do-gooders for science

The 2018 Australia Day awards avoided rewarding citizens who help others.

Australia awards' forgotten heroes

If there was ever any doubt that Australia is a clever country, this year’s Australia Day winners would clear that doubt. This year’s award recipients prove that our nation does indeed produce among the finest scientific minds in the world.

In case you missed the honour roll, the top gong went to quantum physics professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons. Biophysicist Dr Graham Farquhar was named Senior Australian of the Year, mathematics teacher Eddie Woo is the new Local Hero and soccer player Samantha Kerr scooped the Young Australian guernsey.

As deserving as the recipients are, and as proud as we should be of them, it appears that this year there was a strong bias towards recognising science. Apart from Ms Kerr’s award, the lack of diversity in the winners’ circle begs the question, “did Aussies not excel at anything else?”

A scan of the nominees for Senior Australian of the Year, all 31 of them, clearly suggests many citizens are champions in their fields. These ranged from agriculture and speech pathology to helping abuse survivors and people with disabilities.

And while they cannot all be winners, perhaps some of them may have been more worthy of an award recognising the epitome of humanitarianism than the eminent Dr Farquhar. His work consists mostly of researching the viability of genetically modified grains.

If I had been on the judging panel, I would have assessed the material impact ­– in the past, present and near future – of each of the nominees’ endeavours in improving the lives of disadvantaged people. It seems to me that while the biophysicist’s insights are awesome, so much more worthy of recognition are the efforts of nominees outside the lab, such as Barbara Spriggs. She is the South Australian whose suspicions that her husband was being abused in an Oakden aged care facility led to a government inquiry into what really goes on in nursing homes.

Another highly commendable senior citizen is farmer Raymond Harrington who invented the ‘seed destructor’ – a contraption attached to a harvester that pulverises 95 per cent of weed seeds.

His technology will allow farmers to increase crop production and save billions of dollars by avoiding herbicides. The latter can only make our foods safer by allowing them to be harvested without exposure to carcinogens, such as those allegedly contained in Roundup. It will also help to stem the flow of poisonous chemicals into the environment, which damage other layers of the food chain.

As a former biotechnology journalist, I respect science and I’m passionate about it. But today you can call me a do-gooder, anti-intellectual or leftie activist and I will still hold my head up high. You see, in addition to Mrs Spriggs and Mr Harrington, my shortlist of finalists who I believe were more worthy of winning a Senior Australian of the Year award is as follows:

  • Dr Catherine Hamlin, who with her husband established six hospitals in Ethiopia to treat new mothers with horrendous child-birth injuries for free
  • Aboriginal elder Aunty Faye Carr has helped to improve the lives of Indigenous mothers and children struggling with family violence and has also ‘parented’ many young Australians who do not have anyone to call mum or dad
  • Carmel Crouch adopted a disabled child and went on to found STEPS and Pathways College – both of which help young people with disabilities to live independently
  • Former carpenter Dr Barry Kirby studied medicine in his 40s so he could help stem fatalities among Papua New Guinean new mothers. His Safe Motherhood Program slashed maternal death rates by 75 per cent  
  • A co-founder of ShareLife Australia and an organ transplant recipient himself, Brian Myerson has attracted $150 million of government funding and triggered an inquiry into the lengthy waiting lists that more than 12,000 transplant patients endure.

Do you think that the Australia Day awards should go to people who actively help improve the welfare of others? Who would you have chosen to be Senior Australian of the Year from the list of nominees? Is there any merit in even having these awards?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    Not a Bludger
    1st Feb 2018
    What an appalling editorial - denigrating worthy recipients and suggesting (better?) others whilst second guessing the judges.

    Give me the talented scientists, medics and technologists every time.
    1st Feb 2018
    Yeah Olga it's always about the do gooders. You may want to NOT use the science which comes from our scientific geniuses. These people deserve to be recognised and I find it offensive that some folk, mostly women, only want to acknowledge their own sex and to 'feeling' they have.
    2nd Feb 2018
    Right on, MICK!
    1st Feb 2018
    These are great Australians! What do you mean by lack of diversity? Two men, two women. Eddie Woo, Australia’s greatest Maths teacher is a son of migrant parents. Your alternative list contains other worthwhile recipients, but the judges had all the facts. We need young people to focus on maths and sciences, and Michelle Simonds and Graham Farquhar are excellent role models in their fields. Time, we actually did focus more on Maths and Sciience. You’re entitled to your opinion, but that’s all it is.
    1st Feb 2018
    Well they've turned "human rights" into a hand out for every whinger who wants something. It used to be associated with giving help to people with disease and famine.
    What do they expect?

    1st Feb 2018
    Do you think that the Australia Day awards should go to people who actively help improve the welfare of others?
    Of course I do - any who better than those who have made fantastic contributions in Science
    ex PS
    2nd Feb 2018
    Do we recognise those who are reactive and help after the damage has been done, or those who are active in preventing the damage? Which has more value?

    2nd Feb 2018
    The ones who should be ignored are the useless SPORTS people.
    8th Feb 2018
    I nominated a lady who did voluntary work, including medical reseach for various organisations for at least 60 years. She also minded other peoples' children including tiny sick babies who had to be bottle fed with a special formula and a stomach pump at the ready as they both had hiatus hernias. For a few years she was a volunteer who did home visits to administer treatment to patients with cancer. She undertook special training to do that. She did a lot of overnight stays with patients until she felt she was too old to be doing that (at the age of 80y.o.) I received letter stating "she had missed out" but that she would receive a letter stating she had been nominated.

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