2019 NSW Australian of the Year Nominees Announced

Posted 8 November 2018 11:57am




A robotics researcher, a health activist, an inventor, a women’s advocate, an investigative reporter, a brain cancer awareness advocate, a retired teacher and athletes who prove disability and age are no barrier to success are among nominees for the 2019 NSW Australian of the Year Awards.

The nominees announced today are in the running to be named NSW Australian of the Year, NSW Senior Australian of the Year, NSW Young Australian of the Year and NSW Local Hero.

The 2019 NSW Award nominees are:


Kurt Fearnley AO - Athlete and advocate (Newcastle)

Mark Hughes - Brain cancer awareness advocate (Newcastle)

Joanne McCarthy - Investigative journalist (Bateau Bay)

Professor Salah Sukkarieh - Robotics researcher (Kogarah)


Barbara Baikie - Advocate for women (Wallaroo)

Heather Lee OAM - Athlete (Richmond)

Professor Gordon Parker AO - Psychiatrist and creative writer (Northwood)


Angelina Arora - Scientist, inventor and philanthropist (Glen Alpine)

Gidon Goodman - Health activist (Dover Heights)

Nicole Seebacher - Cancer researcher (Pennant Hills)

Jarrod Wheatley - Social entrepreneur (Surry Hills)


John Dyball - Retired teacher (Vincentia)

Mary Jo McVeigh - Child-protection advocate (Concord)

Sophie Smith - Fundraiser and founder of Running for Premature Babies Foundation (Coogee)

George Tonna - Founder of NSW Physical Disability Rugby League Association (Ingleburn)

*see bios on following

The NSW Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Local Hero Award recipients will be announced on the evening of Monday 12 November 2018 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

The NSW Award recipients will join other State and Territory recipients from around Australia in the national awards, which will be held in Canberra on 25 January 2019.

National Australia Day Council CEO, Ms Karlie Brand, said the NSW nominees are among more than 120 people being recognised in all States and Territories as part of the 2019 Australian of the Year Awards. "The NSW nominees are an extraordinary group of people whose achievements and contributions remind us we can all achieve more than we think and make a difference,” said Ms Brand.

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



Kurt Fearnley AO, 37 Athlete and advocate

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.

Mark Hughes, 41 Brain cancer awareness advocate

Mark Hughes was a successful rugby league player winning two grand finals with the Newcastle Knights in 1997 and 2001, also representing NSW in State of Origin. In 2013, with a young family, Mark was diagnosed with high grade brain-cancer, aged just 36. While in hospital recovering from surgery, he promised his wife, Kirralee that he would make a difference with whatever time he had left. In 2014, the Mark Hughes Foundation was formed to raise awareness and funds for research into this disease. In 4 years MHF has raised over $10 million through its 'Beanie for Brain Cancer' campaign, and increased awareness of a cancer that takes around 1,200 lives each year. The foundation has funded many research projects and the first Brain Cancer Care-Coordinator in the Hunter region. Mark has been in remission for the last five years and sold his business to focus his time on the foundation as a volunteer. In 2018, he was awarded the 2018 Newcastle Citizen of the Year.

Joanne McCarthy, 58 Investigative journalist

A warrior for truth throughout her career, journalist Joanne McCarthy was a key catalyst for the creation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Joanne wrote over 1,000 articles documenting shocking sexual abuse of children in the Catholic and Anglican churches; the cover-ups and the appalling treatment of survivors. She was the driving force behind the Newcastle Herald’s Shine the Light campaign, calling for a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse within the Church and other institutions. When first breaking these stories, Joanne was making bold claims against powerful organisations, and speaking for the voiceless when no one else would listen. Joanne’s body of work played a vital role in former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s decision to launch the Royal Commission. The Commission received almost 70,000 responses; held face-to-face sessions for over 8,000 survivors and reported more than 2,500 individuals to authorities. Joanne is a loud-hailer for our community; tenacious in calling wrongdoers to account.

Professor Salah Sukkarieh, 45 Robotics researcher

Professor Salah Sukkarieh is helping to transform the future of farming, finding new, efficient and sustainable ways for Australian farmers to grow their crops and animals, strengthen global food security, and better the environment. As Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the University of Sydney, Salah’s internationally-renowned work is helping to make Australia a world-leader in intelligent farm systems. Heading a team of researchers and engineers, Salah is deploying drones and self-driving farmbots that can collect data, herd animals, undertake precision seeding, intelligent spraying and chemical free weeding. Salah uses his research to support both large and small-holder farmers; reducing their costs, increasing their yield, and improving their quality of life. He is also developing digital STEM tools for rural schools and developing countries, to help close the digital divide. Using robotics and intelligent systems, Salah is giving farmers the tools and solutions they need to face one of humanity’s biggest challenges: sustainably feeding the planet.


Barbara Baikie, 63 Advocate for women

An advocate for women's issues for many years, Barbara Baikie is concerned about domestic violence, gender equality in positions of leadership, and the growing problem of homelessness of older women. As president of the National Council of Women of Australia, in 2018 Barbara was invited to speak at the 70th meeting of the United Nations Committee for ending all forms of Discrimination Against Women. With an amazing ability to connect with young people, Barbara sought to inspire a new generation of Australian women. In 2017, she founded the National Council of Young Women of Australia, and proudly introduced the inaugural team to former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Barbara served as a member and past president of Hall Rotary Club, ran the annual Rotary Youth Leadership Program for three years, and is a past president of the Canberra Chamber of Women in Business. Barbara is currently undertaking her PhD on the long-term effects of child sexual abuse.

Heather Lee OAM, 91 Athlete

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.

Professor Gordon Parker AO, 76 Psychiatrist and creative writer A gifted psychiatrist, Professor Gordon Parker founded the Black Dog Institute in 2002 to reduce the incidence and stigma of mental illness, the suicide rate, and to empower people to live mentally healthy lives. As Executive Director of the Institute, Gordon increased community awareness of the differing depressive and bipolar disorders, developed diagnostic tools and translated research findings about their causes and treatments into educational programs for health professionals and the community. For two decades Gordon was also Head of the School of Psychiatry at UNSW and Director of the Division of Psychiatry at Prince of Wales and Prince Henry Hospitals. In 2004, Gordon received a Citation Laureate as the most highly cited in the field of ‘Psychiatry/Psychology’. He has published 20 books and more than a thousand research papers. Alongside his psychiatric career, Gordon has been a successful creative writer, newspaper columnist, science broadcaster, and television script writer. He is also a published novelist (last novel 2017) and a playwright.


Angelina Arora, 16 Scientist, inventor and philanthropist

After being asked to pay for a plastic bag at a shop, 16-year-old Angelina Arora committed herself to finding a better solution to single-use plastics. Her vision is to prevent the wastage of 1.2 trillion tonnes of plastic each year, the majority being single-use plastic bags and packaging. Angelia went on to develop a new type of toxic free, strong and flexible plastic. Using her profile Angela now empowers young women to engage in STEM subjects and careers. Not only confining her time to scientific pursuits, Angela also conducts charity work both nationally and internationally. As a result, she was acknowledged for leadership in social justice by the Hon Dame Marie Bashir for promoting peace and harmony within Australia. Angelina has received multiple awards for her innovative research, and in 2018, showcased her project at the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She believes her generation is the one that will make a difference and discourages silence in the face of injustice amongst young people.

Gidon Goodman, 15 (will be 16 before 25 January 2019) Health activist A passionate activist at age 15, Gidon Goodman has run two national campaigns on important health issues, despite suffering from a rare blood disorder himself. In 2016, Gidon began campaigning on the issue of expensive hospital parking fees. After achieving 70,000 petition signatures and appearing in over a dozen media publications and TV programs, he had the opportunity to meet with senior politicians to win their support. He succeeded: today, families in NSW pay around $20 per week for hospital parking, instead of $200 per week. Gidon is now advocating for a national approach to screening newborn babies for treatable conditions. Australia currently screens for just half the number of conditions as the US – which means that babies with rare conditions are not being diagnosed – resulting 4/5 in unnecessary illness, disability and deaths. Gidon is also a founding member and head of advocacy for the Gaucher Association of Australia and New Zealand, which supports people, like Gidon, with Gaucher disease.

Nicole Seebacher, 29 Cancer researcher A medical student and researcher at the University of Sydney and Harvard Medical School, Dr Nicole Seebacher has played a key role in developing ground-breaking new chemotherapy agents for drug-resistant cancers – creating new treatment options for cancer sufferers. Having lost family and close friends to cancer, Nicole hopes her work will stop others from having to experience the loss of a loved one to the disease. These agents target the most aggressive and hard-to-treat types of cancer, responsible for the majority of failed chemotherapy attempts. In 2018, one of these chemotherapy agents entered clinical trials, treating patients with advanced tumours. Internationally recognised, Nicole’s work has been published in 16 medical journals and presented at over 24 conferences. While still engaged in full-time study, she also works long hours to self-fund her research. Nicole is an active member of the professional medical community. She is a Women in Leadership Mentor for the Australian Medical Students Association and a volunteer mentor of young female Indigenous students.

Jarrod Wheatley, 30 Social entrepreneur 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.


John Dyball, 63 Retired teacher

As a school teacher, Deputy Principal and Head of Student Welfare at Shoalhaven High School, John Dyball saw the desire in many of his Indigenous students to break the cycle of inequality and intergenerational trauma. Throughout his teaching career and into retirement, he single-handedly designed and managed an Indigenous boarding school scholarship program - What IF, the Power of Choice. The program arranged scholarships to outstanding boarding’ schools across New South Wales to hundreds of NSW South Coast Indigenous boys. Later, expanding the program to include girls. John has forged close relationships with local Indigenous communities, supporting and encouraging Indigenous students through countless trips to Sydney and telephone calls to families and students. He has spent his retirement expanding his scholarship program to be run by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people across New South Wales, and long term, nationally. To achieve this, John has engaged prominent Indigenous partners and mentors, including Greg Inglis and Theresa Ardler (lawyer, academic) and Dylan Farrell (former footballer) both his past students.

Mary Jo McVeigh, 56 Child-protection advocate For over 20 years, Mary Jo McVeigh has dedicated her life to helping children overcome abuse – and reach their full potential. A trained trauma therapist, Mary Jo believes that abused young people have creative sparks that can help them heal – waiting to be ignited by those who care. In 1998, she founded Cara House to provide a safe place for children and adults suffering from trauma. The first centre of its kind in Sydney, Cara House combines creative and traditional therapies, to heal mind, body, heart and spirit. Cara House also provides coaching to teams and individuals working in child services. In 2014, Mary Jo also established CaraCare, a grass-roots charity providing programs to help abused children and adolescents, through the healing potential of group activities. Mary Jo’s expertise has been sought by conferences and panels including the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and she is the author of several books about child trauma.

Sophie Smith, 48 Fundraiser and founder of Running for Premature Babies Foundation

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 5/5 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 life-saving 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.

George Tonna, 24 Founder of NSW Physical Disability Rugby League Association George Tonna says he is ‘lucky’ to a have disability – ‘because it’s made me who I am today’. He’s used his own experience of cerebral palsy as a catalyst for positive action – creating opportunities for others living with disability. A father of three and South Sydney Rabbitohs fanatic, George represented Australia as Vice-Captain in soccer at the 2000 Paralympic Games. Then in 2010, he formed the NSW Physical Disability Rugby League Association (NSW PDRLA), giving players with disability a chance to experience the exhilaration of playing football and celebrate their sporting ability. The NSW PDRLA now has five clubs across Sydney, made up of players with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury, vision and hearing impairments, and amputees. For the 2014 NAIDOC celebrations, George and Souths Cares set up the first physical disability representative rugby league match, between Combined Indigenous Nations and NSW PDRLA All-Stars. The event is now the highlight of the season, showcasing the abilities of both the teams.

Subscribe to our Newsletter