Every year, the Australian government celebrates acts of lifetime civic achievement and of heroism with the Australian of the Year Awards. This year, it looks like both the Australian of the Year and the Young Australian of the Year will be women! In the adult division, Indigenous lawyer and professor Larissa Behrendt is poised – according to the bookies – to win. In the youth category, all eyes are on Jessica Watson, the teenager who sailed solo around the world last year. Behrendt is the finalist from my home state, New South Wales, and was given the state award, “in recognition of her passionate and articulate advocacy for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.” Behrendt has worked and written extensively on Indigenous rights and on native title policy, and in addition to two non-fiction books on those issues, wrote a novel, Home, in 2004.
Watson is the 17-year-old who last year became the youngest person to sail solo and unassisted around the world. Watson, who sailed through some terrifying weather and seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, has also been nominated for National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year (one of only two women out of ten nominees). According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the other person most likely to be named Young Australian of the Year is also a young woman. Tara Winkler, 25, founded an orphanage in Battambang, Cambodia, that now houses 41 children, and Winkler is now working to establish a medical facility in the city.
The winners will be announced on January 25th, on the eve of Australia Day.