Canberra diversity and innovation celebrated as ACT Australian of the Year Awards announced

Posted 8 Nov 2017

Story by CBR Canberra

The ACT’s Australian of the Year Award recipients for 2018 have been announced, recognising and honouring leading local citizens and role models who inspire and challenge us to help create a better Australia.

Up against some of the ACT’s finest, Indigenous entrepreneur and community leader, Dion Devow, was named this year’s ACT Australian of the Year at a ceremony on Monday evening, for his business innovation and work advocating for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business owners.

Dion created his business, Darkies Design, in 2010 as an outlet providing contemporary Aboriginal-themed clothes and print media for mainstream, sports and promotional use in collaboration with Indigenous artists and designers.

Controversially, Dion chose to deliberately include the word ‘Darkies’ in his business name, as a way of reclaiming the derogatory term and instilling his pride of Aboriginal culture and heritage among the community. The company was named 2014 ACT NAIDOC Business of the Year and won a contract with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to design ceremonial uniforms for the First World War Centenary Commemoration on the Western Front in 2016.

As a prominent leader within ACT’s Indigenous community, Dion also set up the Indigenous business owners network, Canberra Business Yarning Circle to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses, is an ambassador for Indigenous Community Volunteers and sits on the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body.

Joining Dion as award recipients were Dr Graham Farquhar, Zack Bryers and Suzanne Tunks, who all received ACT Australian of the Year awards in their respective categories.

Prize-winning biophysicist, Dr Graham Farquhar, was awarded the ACT Australian Senior of the Year for his work in plant biophysics and photosynthesis, particularly examining water efficient crops and food security in a changing climate.

Earlier this year, Dr Farquhar became the first Australian to win a Kyoto Prize, the most prestigious international award available to scientific fields not covered by the Nobel Prize, after working to improve world food security by developing strains of wheat that can grow with reduced water.

The ACT Young Australian of the Year was awarded to Zack Bryers for his youth and outreach work.

Zack became homeless at the age of 15 and lived on the streets until joining the ADF Army and participating in numerous tours of duty in Afghanistan.

After being medically discharged with post-traumatic stress disorder, Zack set himself the goal of representing Australia in Gridiron, and within 17 months was playing in the World Cup in the United States.

Nowadays, Zack is YouthCare Canberra’s first full-time outreach worker, helping teens seek temporary accommodation, attend court or hospital, overcome drug addictions or transform themselves after time in jail.

Supporter and fundraiser for sick children, Suzanne Tunks received the ACT Local Hero award after establishing the Stella Bella Little Stars Foundation.

Suzanne created the foundation in memory of her daughter Stella, who was born with a congenital heart disease. The Stella Bella Little Stars Foundation offers support and assistance to children and their families suffering from serious and long term illnesses. In 2017, Suzanne opened the Stella Bella Children’s Centre, which offers much needed respite care. Through her fundraising efforts, Suzanne has raised more than $720,000 to provide support and financial assistance for families and has developed a variety of support programs.

The ACT award recipients will join interstate winners at the national awards on 25 January in Canberra, where four Australians of the Year will be announced. For more information on the Australian of the Year Awards, you can visit the website.

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