2019 NSW Australian of the Year Announced

Posted 12 November 2018 11:58am




2019 NSW Australian of the Year – Kurt Fearnley AO

2019 NSW Senior Australian of the Year – Heather Lee OAM

2019 NSW Young Australian of the Year – Jarrod Wheatley

2019 NSW Local Hero – Sophie Smith

7:20pm, Sydney: The 2019 NSW Australian of the Year Award recipients have been announced this evening at a ceremony held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. The NSW Award recipients will become part of 32 State and Territory recipients from around the country. These recipients will represent their state at the national Awards on 25 January 2019 in Canberra, where the four Australians of the Year will be announced.

The 2019 NSW Australian of the Year is 37 year old athlete and advocate for people with a disability, Kurt Fearnley AO of Newcastle. Representing Australia over a 20-year wheelchair-racing career, Kurt Fearnley AO has captured the hearts of the nation. Born without part of his spine, Kurt’s indomitable spirit was apparent at an early age, when he would crawl through paddocks with his brothers and sisters and race his wheelchair down the grass track at school athletics carnivals. An outstanding athlete, Kurt has participated in five Paralympic games, winning thirteen medals, including three gold. This year, he ended his international career on a high – with gold and silver medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and carrying the Australian flag in the closing ceremony. In 2009, Kurt acknowledged the sacrifice of Australian soldiers, crawling the entire 96km length of the Kokoda Track, to raise awareness for men’s health. Then, in 2011 he crewed on the winning yacht in the gruelling Sydney-Hobart yacht race. Kurt champions the rights of people with disability and advocates for greater access into communities and workplaces. His determination and love of life provides inspiration to all Australians.

The 2019 NSW Senior Australian of the Year is 91 year old athlete, Heather Lee OAM of Richmond. At 92, Heather Lee is an unstoppable Australian. She started walking regularly late in life – signing up for a series of fun runs in her late 70s – and discovering she was actually quite quick. In 2011, at her physiotherapist’s suggestion, Heather competed in the Australian Masters Games, just before her 85th birthday – winning four gold medals. In 2012, she set a new Australian record for the 5km race-walking event for her age group. Later that year, at the Australian Masters Track and Field Championships, she broke three Australian records; the 10km (84m 06.00s), the 1500m (11m 36.90s) and her own 5km (now in 41m 25.40s). Currently, Heather holds eight Australian and five world records. Heather has been a member of the local Hawkesbury Cancer Support Group for many years and was the 2018 Cancer Council March Charge Ambassador. Remarkably, Heather is one of the few people who walks the full 24 hours of the Hawkesbury Relay for Life. The 2019 NSW

Young Australian of the Year is 30 year old social entrepreneur, Jarrod Wheatley of Surry Hills. By founding two innovative, not-for-profit organisations, Street Art Murals Australia (SAMA) and Professional Individualised Care (PIC), Jarrod Wheatley is working tirelessly to improve opportunities for those on the margins of our community. Five years in the making, PIC is a new model of out-of-home care. Before, children who were too traumatised or high-needs for a foster home would generally be placed in a group home. Here they would be cared for by shift workers and were at risk of becoming institutionalised. Instead PIC places one child in the home of a Professional Therapeutic Carer, who can provide therapeutic intervention and real relationships. PIC has been officially accredited by the Office of the Children’s Guardian. Through SAMA Jarrod used street art as vehicle for social inclusion and urban beatification, breaking the negative cycle of criminalisation and alienation by commissioning murals and workshops. Street artists have now painted more than 360 murals all over the country, for clients such as Pfizer and Lend Lease.

The 2019 NSW Local Hero is 48 year old founder of Running for Premature Babies Foundation, Sophie Smith of Coogee. After losing all three of their prematurely-born triplets within two months of birth, Sophie and husband Ash decided to give back to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sydney’s Royal Hospital for Women who had cared for their boys. They began training for the 2007 SMH Half-Marathon with the goal of raising $20,000 providing the hospital with one new humidicrib. With their team ‘Running for Premature Babies’, 98 runners, raised $80,000. Now, 3000 people have run on their team, the largest in the SMH Half-Marathon, celebrating prematurely born children, living and lost, and raising over $3 million for lifesaving neonatal equipment and research, directly benefitting over 5000 premature babies and their families. Tragically, Ash lost his battle with brain cancer in 2016, leaving Sophie to raise their two young sons. Despite this heartbreak, she has grown the Foundation to support more Neonatal Intensive Care Units to give premature babies a better chance of survival and written “Sophie’s Boys” donating the profits back to the foundation.

 National Australia Day Council CEO, Ms Karlie Brand said the NSW Award recipients were inspirational for their achievements and contributions. “The NSW Awards recipients’ stories serve to remind us all of our own ability – whether that’s in challenging our own potential, helping others achieve their potential, using our experiences to support others or challenging the perceptions people have around what is possible,” said Ms Brand. “We look forward to welcoming them to Canberra in January for the national awards.” For more information on the Australian of the Year Awards visit australianoftheyear.org.au.

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