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Queensland Scientist Named 2017 Australian of the Year


25 January 2017 at 9:00 pm
Lina Caneva
Biomedical scientist Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim has been named 2017 Australian of the Year.


Lina Caneva | 25 January 2017 at 9:00 pm


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Queensland Scientist Named 2017 Australian of the Year
25 January 2017 at 9:00 pm

Biomedical scientist Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim has been named 2017 Australian of the Year.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull presented Mackay-Sim with the 2017 Australian of the Year trophy at a ceremony in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday evening.

The award recognises Mackay-Sim’s lifetime of dedicated research and international leadership which has led to ground-breaking advances in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

Alan Mackay-SimMackay-Sim is a scientist and international leader in stem cell research and a global authority on the human sense of smell and the biology of nasal cells and led the world’s first clinical trial using these cells in spinal cord injury.

In 2014, his research helped play a central role in the world’s first successful restoration of mobility in a quadriplegic man – a breakthrough described as the scientific equivalent to the moon landing.  

Alan Mackay-Sim receiving his Australian of the Year award

As the director of the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research, Mackay-Sim has championed the use of stem cells to understand the biological bases of brain disorders and diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia.

He was chosen from a field of eight state-based Australian of the Year winners including:

  • child soldier turned successful lawyer, Deng Adut (NSW)
  • refugee, torture and trauma rehabilitation advocate, Paris Aristotle AM (Vic)
  • businessman, philanthropist and anti-slavery advocate, Andrew Forrest (WA)
  • a speech pathologist working in the justice system, Rosalie Martin (Tas)
  • Indigenous leader and business woman of the year, Andrea Mason (NT)
  • author and advocate for living beyond dementia, Kate Swaffer (SA)
  • NRL champion turned youth mentor and educator, Alan Tongue (ACT).

The 2017 Senior Australian of the Year was 85 year old Sister Anne Gardiner AM of Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory.

Gardiner was described as giving a lifetime to connecting cultures and championing the power of community.

As a 22-year-old member of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Gardiner was asked to move to Bathurst Island to live among the Tiwi people. In the 62 years since, she has devoted her life to enriching community, enhancing opportunity and supporting the Tiwi culture.

Community fundraising champion Vicki Jellie from Warrnambool in Victoria was Australia’s Local Hero 2017.   

After her husband Peter died of cancer in 2008, Jellie found his plans for a local cancer fundraising event. His dream had been to bring radiotherapy services to the south west of Victoria. During treatment, he spent weeks away from home in Warrnambool, travelling to Melbourne for radiotherapy treatment.

Her husband’s dream became Jellie’s passion. In 2009, Jellie brought together local leaders to initiate Peter’s Project – a community group dedicated to fighting for better cancer services. Despite being told that a cancer centre in Warrnambool would “never happen”,  Jellie relentlessly lobbied governments, rallying the community and raising funds.

The 2017 Young Australian of the Year was fashion designer and international business entrepreneur Paul Vasileff of Adelaide in South Australia.

At just 26 years of age, Vasileff has achieved success as an international fashion designer, passionate, determined and committed to running his business from his hometown of Adelaide.

The chairman of the National Australia Day Council, Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG, congratulated the 2017 Australian of the Year Award recipients, praising their contributions.

“Alan, Vicki, Sister Anne and Paul are Australians we can all be richly proud of and inspired by,” Roberts-Smith said.

“They have all made valuable contributions – to medical science and their communities, by creating jobs and keeping heritage and culture alive, and through helping others and creating a better future.

“They remind us to dream big, work hard and believe in what you’re doing.”

Mackay-Sim, Jellie, Gardiner AM and Vasileff will take part in Australia Day activities in Canberra on Thursday.

The 2017 Australians of the Year will attend the National Flag Raising and Citizenship Ceremony as well as the ACT chief minister’s Australia Day luncheon at the National Gallery of Australia.


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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