Australia Day awards
Leading Australians will be honoured for their contributions to the community at an awards ceremony. Image by Joe Castro/AAP PHOTOS
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Inspiring Australians gather as they vie for top honour

Andrew Brown January 24, 2024

From community leaders to unsung heroes, medical researchers and youth advocates, finalists for the Australian of the Year award have arrived in Canberra ahead of the announcement of winners.

The 34 nominees from around Australia across four categories have come to the national capital for a range of events before the winners are unveiled on Thursday night.

Among the finalists are Professor Georgina Long and Professor Richard Scolyer, who were named joint nominees for NSW in recognition of their cancer research.

The pair had helped to pioneer an immunotherapy treatment for melanoma, which has helped to save thousands of lives.

Those breakthroughs were then used for treatments when Prof Scolyer was diagnosed in 2023 with incurable brain cancer.

He said their research partnership has allowed them to reach greater scientific heights.

“What we’ve achieved is more than either of us could achieve individually but by working as a team you do a lot more,” he told AAP.

“The discoveries that we’re making in melanoma are having a big difference in all cancers.”

Georgina Long and Richard Scolyer
 Georgina Long and Richard Scolyer are among the 2024 Australian of the Year nominees. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

Prof Long said the pair had stood on the shoulders of giants.

“The cocktail that we’re using of drug therapies I could only come up with that cocktail because of the work we’ve done in melanoma,” she said.

“You’ve got to have a team that says ‘we’re behind you’ … and that’s what we have built with other people over decades.”

Victoria’s finalist Janine Mohamed was recognised for her work in Indigenous health care, leading the Lowitja Institute and the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives.

She said improving health outcomes for Indigenous people was crucial in helping to close the gap with non-Indigenous Australians.

“We know that when systems are culturally safe that you see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accessing those hospitals,” she said.

“Cultural safety really is one of the antidotes to racism within the health system.”

Janine Mohamed
 Victoria’s Janine Mohamed is in the running for an award for her work in Indigenous health care. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

ACT nominee Joanne Farrell was the founder of Build Like a Girl, a program supporting women in trades and the construction industry.

She set up the program after nearly 30 years in the industry, saying women were still facing discrimination and harassment.

“In three decades, we haven’t changed our mindset about what women are capable of, and so that really drives me to keep encouraging women, but also spreading the message to the worksite that we’re not here to threaten (men),” she said.

“There are now more young girls leaving school who are saying (trades are) something I want to do … generationally we’re starting to see that change.”

Thursday’s ceremony will see the winners announced for the Australian of the Year and the Senior and Young Australian of the Year, as well as Australia’s Local Hero.

Finalists from all four categories will be hosted at Government House by Governor-General David Hurley on Wednesday night.

They will then meet with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the Lodge on Thursday ahead of the awards.

National Australia Day Council chief executive Mark Fraser said the finalists were nominated by the public, who were inspired by their achievements or contributions to society.

“Whether they have spent a lifetime helping others, are forging new pathways, breaking down barriers, bringing people together, challenging us to do better or demonstrating the potential we all have to achieve greatness, the national nominees are all showing us what it is to be exemplary citizens,” he said.