Star athlete Tayla Harris has been named among 17 nominees for Victoria’s 2021 Australian of the Year Awards.
The AFLW player and professional boxer is in the running to be recognised as the state’s next Young Australian of the Year.
Harris, Carlton’s leading goal-kicker in the AFLW in 2019, made headlines nationally last year when she took a courageous public stand against the sexualised abuse of social media trolls after an action photo of her kicking a goal was posted online.
Now an advocate for respectful relationships, Harris is an ambassador for family violence prevention group Our Watch and recently co-authored a book about her experience, More Than a Kick, which offers advice to young people on how to navigate social media and deal with online bullying.
The other Victorians in line to be named the state’s Local Hero, Young Australian, Senior Australian or Australian of the Year include a 92 year old breaking new ground in the study of dementia, two mums helping parents of kids with disabilities and a neurologist whose invention translates thought to action for paralysed patients.
Named alongside Harris in the Young Australian of the Year category is Keeley Johnson, 16, of Ballan, who was just 13 when she created the charity Keeley’s Cause with her mum to help other children with autism and learning difficulties get access to better educational resources.
Through donations, sponsorship, merchandise sales and sausage sizzles, Keeley’s Cause has been able to provide more than 100 iPads – pre-loaded with tailored education plans – to children with autism or an intellectual disability.
In what is a challenging year, the award nominees give Victoria and all Australians an important reminder of how much good there is in our communities and how much Victoria has to celebrate.
National Australia Day Council CEO Karlie Brand
Among the everyday community champions lauded in the Local Hero category are two people who helped their communities recover after last summer’s bushfires and a GP who responded to the challenges the coronavirus pandemic posed to frontline medical workers in her town.
Kangaroo Flat’s Nathan Rogers, a volunteer firefighter in central Victoria for 18 years, is nominated for his work as CEO of The Bushfire Foundation, which raised more than $85,000 through the devastating 2019-2020 bushfire season.
Tenille Bull, of Lakes Entrance in East Gippsland, is nominated for her efforts as founder of It’s My Shout, a not-for-profit website that allows people to support struggling tourism-dependent small businesses by purchasing virtual products such as beer, coffee or accommodation.
Bendigo GP Dr Kirby White is nominated for helping establish Gowns for Doctors after her supply of disposable gowns ran out in the third week of the COVID-19 outbreak
With colleague Dr Nicole Townsend, Dr Kirby’s Gowns for Doctors raised more than $40,000 through a GoFundMe page to develop a gown that could be laundered and re-used, allowing them to keep seeing patients. She then enlisted local volunteers and commercial textile companies – even her own wedding dress supplier – to make the gowns, producing more than 5000 gowns for more than 750 regional Victorian GP clinics.
Victoria’s award recipients in each of the four categories will be announced by Governor Linda Dessau on October 27 in a ceremony to be live-streamed on the local news websites of Australian of the Year Awards media partner ACM, the publisher of this masthead.
They will then join other state and territory winners as finalists in the annual national awards announced on January 25, 2021.
National Australia Day Council CEO Karlie Brand said Victoria’s nominees were among 128 people being recognised nation-wide as part of the awards, which began in 1960.
“In what is a challenging year, the award nominees give Victoria and all Australians an important reminder of how much good there is in our communities and how much Victoria has to celebrate,” Ms Brand said.
The 2021 Victorian award nominees are:
Australian of the Year
Steven Bevington – Founder/Managing Director of Community Housing Limited
Amanda Hose and Kate Jones – Hosts of Too Peas In A Podcast
Professor Thomas Oxley – Neuro-interventional surgeon and neurologist
Donna Stolzenberg – Founder/CEO of the National Homeless Collective
Senior Australian of the Year
Bich Cam Nguyen – Founder/CEO/Honorary Secretary of the Australian Vietnamese Women’s Association
Lorna Prendergast – Dementia advocate
Geoffrey Sussman OAM – Wound management expert
Rodney Syme AM – Campaigner for voluntary assisted dying
Young Australian of the Year
Nathaniel Diong – Entrepreneur and founder of Future Minds Network
Tayla Harris – Footballer, boxer and respectful relationships ambassador
Keeley Johnson – Founder of Keeley’s Cause
Dylan Langley – Out-of-home care reform advocate
Victoria Local Hero
Tenille Bull – Founder of bushfire relief fund It’s My Shout
Matthew Charles-Jones – Founder of Totally Renewable Yackandandah
Nathan Rogers – CEO of The Bushfire Foundation
Dr Kirby White – Founder of Gowns for Doctors
Get to know Victoria’s nominees
The following biographies and photographs of the 2021 Australian of the Year nominees from Victoria have been supplied by the organisers of the annual awards, the National Australia Day Council.
Australian of the Year
Steven Bevington (aged 64): Founder and Managing Director, Community Housing Limited
Growing up in England, Stephen Bevington spent 15 years sleeping rough, couch surfing and living in insecure accommodation. His experience of homelessness inspired a lifelong dedication to creating affordable housing for those in need. After migrating to Australia with his family, Stephen founded Community Housing Limited (CHL) 26 years ago. From a one-man operation in Melbourne, CHL has grown to have a presence across Australia,
East Timor, Chile, Peru, Indonesia, India, Rwanda and Papua New Guinea. Under Stephen’s leadership, CHL has become the largest not-for-profit social and affordable housing provider in Australia, managing more than 11,000 properties nationwide. Stephen has helped more than half a million families directly and indirectly. He is passionate about prioritising people with the most complex needs for affordable housing. CHL also creates employment and training in construction, especially in regional and remote Aboriginal communities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Stephen’s strong leadership ensured CHL continued to serve the most vulnerable while caring for the safety and wellbeing of its staff and clients.
Amanda Hose (44) & Kate Jones (48): Hosts of Too Peas in a Podcast
Kate Jones and Amanda Hose met 14 years ago when they both had twins they would later find out who all had disabilities or additional needs. Recognising there were few people talking about the experience of parenting multiple children with disabilities, they started ‘Too Peas in a Podcast’. With no previous podcast experience, they set themselves the goal of finding 30 listeners. Twelve months later, their podcast passed the 1 million mark. Today, it attracts 10,000 listeners each week. These include parents of kids with disabilities and those without, educators and health professionals. With humour and honesty, Kate and Amanda cover a host of issues – from medical and educational challenges to social stigma, mental health and family relationship challenges. They also talk about their ongoing efforts to give their children rich and satisfying lives. Kate and Amanda don’t pretend to be experts. But by acknowledging their own and others’ experiences they hope to build a connection and give a voice to parents with children who have additional needs.
Professor Thomas Oxley (40): Neuro-interventional surgeon and neurologist
Associate Professor Thomas Oxley is an internationally recognised neuro-interventional surgeon and neurologist. He is the driving force behind an innovation that could restore the independence to 10s of millions of people with paralysis due to spinal cord injury, motor neuron disease and stroke. Founding CEO of Synchron, Thomas is also the founder and joint head of the vascular bionics laboratory at Melbourne University, and a neuro-interventional surgeon at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Through Synchron, Thomas develops bloodstream-delivered solutions for previously untreatable nervous system conditions. Synchron’s flagship product the Stentrode, a world-first minimally invasive brain-computer interface that wirelessly transmits brain signals, is currently being trialled on people with severe paralysis in Melbourne. Thomas received the 2018 Global Australian Advance Award and the UNESCO Netexplo Award for Innovation. He was also a finalist for the Congress of Neurological Surgeons Innovator of the Year Award .
Donna Stolzenberg (52): Founder and CEO of the National Homeless Collective
Proud Indigenous woman Donna Stolzenberg is a CEO, keynote speaker and trainer. In 2014, she had the simple idea of handing out 50 donated sleeping bags to homeless people. That idea has evolved into a nationwide charity.
The National Homeless Collective (NHC) is a grassroots Australian organisation that helps people affected by homelessness, domestic violence and social disadvantage. A mother of five boys and a grandmother of two,
Donna has lived experience of overcoming homelessness and hardship. Under Donna’s direction, NHC has created six sub-charities targeting different issues – Period Project, School Project, Plate Up Project, Sleeping Bags for Homelessness, and Secret Women’s Business. It also runs Kala Space, an op shop employing women affected by domestic abuse or homelessness. Donna’s generosity and resourcefulness have provided practical solutions in Australia’s most recent crises. This includes helping women to safely escape homelessness, people affected by bushfires, or those locked down in the Melbourne towers during COVID-19.
Senior Australian of the Year
Bich Cam Nguyen (80): Founder, CEO and Honorary Secretary of the Australian Vietnamese Women’s Association
Eighty-year-old Bich Cam Nguyen is the full-time CEO and secretary of the Australian Vietnamese Women’s Association (AVWA). This flourishing, fast-growing organisation has 3 offices, more than 200 paid staff, plus volunteers. Cam and her family came to Australia in 1975 as refugees. With her husband and friends – and without any funding – they founded the Vietnamese Friendly Society to provide interpreting services and information about Australia to new Vietnamese refugees. In 1983, supported by 16 Vietnamese professional women, Cam formed the AVWA while bringing up her family and working full-time. The apolitical organisation helps Vietnamese and Victorians of all backgrounds with programs including home care, training, and counselling. In 1995, Cam became AVWA’s full-time executive director and then its CEO since 2004. Fit, healthy and active, Cam has served on numerous committees including as honorary secretary for a consortium of African organisations. Cam’s dedication has helped refugees and migrants from many backgrounds to feel valued and empowered.
Lorna Prendergast (92): Dementia advocate
In July 2019, 90-year-old Lorna Prendergast made headlines around the world when she graduated from Melbourne University with a master’s degree in ageing. Lorna undertook her study in memory of her late husband Jim, who suffered from dementia. Completing her degree online, she investigated the correlation between music and dementia symptom relief. Then in July 2020, Lorna began a music therapy trial in the dementia wards of East Gippsland’s nursing homes. Using her high-profile platform, Lorna received grants for the trial from the local government. She also collaborated with the Rotary Sunrise organisation, to provide each dementia patient in her trial with customisable headphone sets. Lorna’s tenacity and loyalty to her husband’s memory is inspiring and unstoppable. As a student, she has inspired Australians in remote regions to gain further education. As a researcher, she has created a deeper understanding about dementia patients’ needs, improving their quality of life and their relationships with carers.
Professor Geoffrey Sussman (82): Wound management expert
Professor Geoffrey Sussman OAM is a modern-day renaissance man. At 82 years old, he actively contributes to his profession, local community and faith, the arts and sporting worlds, and the wider Victorian and Australian communities. Geoffrey’s international career in wound management has spanned almost 60 years. He is a pioneer, educator, researcher, clinician and author in the field. Widely acknowledged as the leading authority in Australia in wound management, he has even extended his skills to animal patients in the Melbourne Zoo. Geoffrey has participated fully in life outside his chosen profession. He has a long, active career in amateur and professional theatre and in TV as a writer, director and performer. Until recently, Geoffrey was cantor in his local synagogue and taught at a religious school. He has made a significant contribution to the sporting world as a sport administrator at the grassroots level and as an Olympian.
Dr Rodney Syme (85): Campaigner for voluntary assisted dying
For more than 40 years, Dr Rodney Syme AM has challenged the laws on voluntary assisted dying.
Rodney has used media, parliamentary enquiries and seminars to help raise awareness about voluntary assisted dying – a cause rapidly gaining acceptance globally. With compassion and care, Rodney helped frame the successful legislation of voluntary assisted dying in Victoria in 2017 and Western Australia in 2020. Rodney has counselled more than 2,000 patients, risking prosecution and his reputation by assisting terminally ill Australians who wish to die with dignity. His book ‘A Good Death’ recounts some of their stories. He also authored ‘Time to Die’, which argues for giving the right to assisted dying to those in unbearable pain. Rodney was chair of the Victorian Section of the Urological Society of Australasia from 1990-92, and the Urology Study Group of the Cancer Council of Victoria from 1992-94. In 2017, he received the Australian Humanist of the Year Award.
Young Australian of the Year
Nathaniel Diong (19): Entrepreneur and founder of Future Minds Network
Nathaniel Diong is an award-winning Gen-Z educator – building the next generation of entrepreneurs, investors and social innovators. As CEO of Future Minds Network, he has worked with more than 11,000 youth to tackle youth unemployment through entrepreneurship. Through hyper-engaging programs, students learn from ex-founders at YCombinator (birthplace of Airbnb), Harvard, and Oxford to build start-ups with an impact. They practise enterprise skills such as communication and problem-solving, and even stimulate the creation of their future jobs.
In 2020, Nathaniel ran over $90,000 of pro-bono programs to support educators and youth during COVID-19. This included virtual summits for ‘teenpreneurs’ in the UK, international hackathons and career-readiness workshops.
Nathaniel is also an international start-up mentor, judge and entrepreneur-in-residence at programs such as UC Berkeley and hackathons with the United Nations. He has mentored early-stage start-ups across three continents and sits on eight not-for-profit boards. He has sat alongside giants like the founder of Techstars, and worked across the disability, education and employment sectors.
Tayla Harris (23): Footballer, boxer and respectful relationships ambassador
Tayla Harris is a young Australian athlete making her mark on the sports field and beyond. As a footballer in the AFLW, she was Carlton Football Club’s leading goal-kicker in 2019, receiving the JLT Mark of the Year Award for two years running. In boxing, Tayla holds the Australian super welterweight title and is undefeated in eight professional fights. After a photograph of Tayla kicking a goal became the target of sexualised trolling online in 2019, she courageously used this experience to fight online bullying and disrespect towards women. Tayla is now a powerful advocate for respectful relationships. She is an ambassador for Our Watch, an organisation working to prevent violence against women. She is also active in Carlton Respects, a Carlton Football Club community initiative that promotes gender equality in Australian schools and workplaces. Her co-authored 2020 book, ‘More Than a Kick’, provides advice to young people on how to navigate social media and deal with online bullying.
Keeley Johnson (16): founder of charity Keeley’s Cause
At 13 years old, Keeley Johnson created the charity, Keeley’s Cause, to help other children just like her. Keeley’s autism and learning disability meant she struggled to learn using paper-based methods – despite performing the same tasks well using an iPad. Lack of funding meant Keeley didn’t have access to an iPad at school. This limited her ability to learn and communicate with others and contributed to her family’s decision to home school. Then Keeley and her mum came up with a plan to ensure other children would have access to the resources they needed. They founded Keeley’s Cause to provide iPads pre-loaded with tailored education plans to children with autism or an intellectual disability. In just two years, Keeley raised more than $70,000 and presented 103 iPads through donations and sponsorship, merchandise sales and sausage sizzles. In 2020 and now aged 16, she was awarded the prestigious Diana Award, which continues Princess Diana’s legacy by recognising young people’s extraordinary achievements.
Dylan Langley (26): Out-of-home care reform advocate
Dylan Langley spent his childhood in foster care and group residential facilities – and when he was required to leave Out of Home (OOH) care at age 18, he had nowhere to go. He slept rough and in homeless shelters and experienced a mental health breakdown. Sadly, his experience is not uncommon, with many OOH residents experiencing poor outcomes when they leave care. Dylan now works with the Home Stretch campaign, calling on governments to allow young people to continue in OOH care until age 21. He draws on his lived experience to advocate for this important change, to help provide greater protection for vulnerable young adults. A caring, thoughtful man, Dylan is a volunteer speaker with youth mental health organisation Orygen. He contributes to the training and development of healthcare students, mental health and OOH workers, and other welfare professionals. In 2019, Dylan participated in the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, providing first-hand insights on the complex needs of people in OOH care.
Victoria Local Hero
Tenille Bull (36): Founder of bushfire relief platform It’s My Shout
The 2020 East Gippsland bushfires left Tenille Bull’s Airbnb business more than $40,000 down in revenue – and unable to cover its costs. Realising that there were many tourism-dependent businesses in the region that were suffering the same fate, the mother-of-three started It’s My Shout. Tenille’s not-for-profit online platform allows people to donate to local small businesses by ‘purchasing’ virtual products such as beer, coffee or accommodation.
She created the website in under 24 hours. Within the next 12 hours, the site had attracted national media coverage. In just eight weeks, It’s My Shout had raised more than $140,000. All the money went directly to the businesses involved. Tenille’s ability to listen to others lifted the spirits of many locals and business owners, who had been traumatised by the fires. Her generosity and enthusiasm in the face of adversity is an inspiration to all.
Matthew Charles-Jones (50): Founder of Totally Renewable Yackandandah
After organising a community energy forum in 2014 in his hometown of Yackandandah, Matthew Charles-Jones initiated the community group Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY). With enthusiasm and commitment, Matthew brought together passionate townspeople to strive for 100 per cent renewable energy by the year 2022. Thanks to the group’s determination and Matthew’s leadership, the goal is well within sight. TRY takes a community approach to energy innovation, with a focus on efficiency, local generation and storage. TRY has installed solar systems on all the town’s major public and private institutional buildings – from the CFA fire station and hospital, to the supermarket and service station. Yackandandah now has among the highest density of rooftop solar in Australia. With the help of Mondo, a subsidiary of AusNet Services, the town has installed three micro grids and a broader mini grid to advance clean, local and interdependent power. Matthew regularly shares TRY’s journey with other communities, inspiring them to also reach for a 100 per cent renewable energy.
Nathan Rogers (35): CEO of The Bushfire Foundation
In his 18 years as a volunteer firefighter in central Victoria, Nathan Rogers saw many vulnerable and sick community members struggle with bushfire preparedness and recovery. So in 2015, Nathan founded The Bushfire Foundation Inc. The organisation provides bushfire preparedness and recovery support to elderly, injured and disabled community members, and those in financial hardship. The Bushfire Foundation’s all-volunteer team helps with activities like cutting grass, cleaning gutters, removing rubbish, installing fire pumps and building fire breaks. It also helps with bushfire recovery, helping to clean up damaged properties and delivering animal feed. Nathan also educates volunteers and directors about the risks and impacts of bushfire. He has driven the organisation almost singlehandedly and much of the work he does is unpaid. In the 2019-20 bushfires, Nathan launched an appeal for bushfire victims in SA, NSW and Victoria, raising more than $85,000 and distributed around $55,000. Leading from the front, Nathan has kept the foundation alive to serve its communities.
Dr Kirby White (35): Founder of Gowns for Doctors
When Bendigo GP Dr Kirby White’s supply of disposable gowns ran out in the third week of the COVID-19 outbreak, she and colleague Dr Nicole Townsend decided to act. Together, they developed a gown that could be laundered and re-used, allowing them to keep seeing patients. From their own need, Gowns for Doctors was born. To fund the initiative, Kirby raised more than $40,000 through a GoFundMe page, and by lobbying local, state and federal organisations and governments. She then engaged local volunteers and commercial textile companies to make the gowns. Kirby has now produced well over 5,200 gowns, supplying more than 750 regional Victorian GP clinics with these essential garments. She has also built up a stockpile of surplus gowns, which are ready to go out to other clinics when needed. A dedicated and passionate GP, Kirby often checks up on patients late in the evening. She has gone above and beyond for her community and regional Victoria.
- ACM, the publisher of this website, is media partner of the 2021 Australian of the Year Awards.