Top awards for four Canberrans

FOUR Canberrans, who each contribute to the local community, were acknowledged tonight (November 6) at the 2018 ACT Australian of the Year Awards.

The awards, which took place at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, were presented by Chief Minister Andrew Barr to Mark “Dion” Devow, Dr Graham Farquhar, Zack Bryers and Suzanne Tunks.

ACT Australian of the Year Dion Devow.

The 2018 ACT Australian of the Year was awarded to entrepreneur and community leader Mark “Dion” Devow who wanted to reclaim a derogatory term and express pride in his Aboriginal culture and heritage by choosing a controversial name for his business.

“Darkies Design”, which Dion started in 2010, produces contemporary Aboriginal-themed apparel and print media for mainstream, sports and promotional use. One of Dion’s first concepts was a t-shirt with a simple logo: 100% Pure Australian.

Darkies Design collaborates with Indigenous artists and designers to produce his designs, and has also supplied ceremonial uniforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs for the teams participating in Australia’s First World War Centenary Commemorations on the Western Front.

ACT Senior Australian of the Year Graham Farquhar

Quiet yet outspoken, Dion now champions other Indigenous people to build businesses and achieve economic independence. In 2014, Dion created the Canberra Business Yarning Circle, an Indigenous business owners network. 

The 2018 ACT Senior Australian of the Year is 69 year old prize-winning biophysicist Dr Graham Farquhar. Dr Farquhar is helping reshape the understanding of photosynthesis, the very basis of life on Earth.

After growing up with a Tasmanian farming family background, Graham has used his love of science to deliver practical benefits to the agricultural sector. His study of mathematics and physics formed the bedrock of a career creating mathematical models of how plants work.

Graham has received a string of accolades during his distinguished career for his research examining how water efficient crops can protect food security in a changing climate. Importantly, he has worked to improve world food security by developing strains of wheat that can grow with less water. In 2017 Graham became the first Australian to win a Kyoto Prize – the most prestigious international award for fields not traditionally honoured with a Nobel Prize. 

ACT Young Australian of the Year Zack Bryers

The 2018 ACT Young Australian of the Year is 28 year old youth and outreach worker Zack Bryers. Zack’s been a homeless teenager, a soldier in Afghanistan, a gridiron player for Australia, a Churchill Fellow, and now a youth worker.

ACT Local Hero Suzanne Tunks

After leaving home at 15, Zack couch surfed and spent time on the streets, before he set a goal to join the army which turned his life around. He spent tours of duty in Afghanistan before post-traumatic stress disorder saw him medically discharged. Zack then set himself another goal – to make the Australian gridiron team within 18 months. He was playing in the World Cup in the United States within 17.

He then trained as a youth worker and is now YouthCare Canberra’s first full-time outreach worker.

The 2018 ACT Local Hero is Suzanne Tunks, a dedicated supported and fundraiser for sick kids. After her daughter was born with congenital heart disease, Suzanne learnt to appreciate how hard it is for many families in similar situations.

Suzanne spent half of her daughter Stella’s short life of nine months in hospital, an experience which drove her to create the Stella Bella Little Stars Foundation. She has rallied the community and launched a variety of support programs. She’s raised more than $720,000 to provide support and financial assistance for families, covering everything from food and petrol to chemist accounts and emergency accommodation.

In 2017, Suzanne opened the Stella Bella Children’s Centre, which offers much-needed respite care. 

National Australia Day Council CEO, Jenny Barbour, says the ACT Award recipients represented the diverse ways in which people contribute to the Canberra society.

“The Australian of the Year Awards allow us to recognise and celebrate the achievements of outstanding Australians – people making extraordinary contributions to our society,” Ms Barbour says. 

The ACT Award recipients will join a cohort of 32 State and Territory recipients from around the country at the national Awards on January 25 in Canberra.

For more information on the Australian of the Year Awards visit australianoftheyear.org.au.

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