Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Indigenous leader named Australian of the Year

The 2009 Australian of the Year, Mick Dodson, exemplifies the values which have long characterised the award’s recipients – the courage and determination to bring about change and the hard work needed to make a difference.

Over a lifetime, Mick Dodson has used his great abilities as a leader, activist, academic and mentor, in the service of his people.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in his work as co-author of the Bringing Them Home Report.

Working with Sir Ronald Wilson, he crossed the country listening to the stories of the survivors and descendents of the Stolen Generations.

For many of these people, this was the first time their painful stories had been told.

Mick Dodson helped make sure the voices of the Stolen Generations would always be heard.

His achievements show us that our identity and strength as a nation lies in the vigour and diversity of our people – among them Aboriginal Australians whose cultures we celebrate as the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

The finalists in this year’s awards included many Indigenous Australians. Being named a finalist is a great honour in itself.

In the Australian of the Year category alone, three of the eight 2009 finalists were Indigenous Australians.

Finalist Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu is a gifted musician from the Gumatj nation in North-East Arnhem Land. He sings in a mixture of English and local language and his songs focus on the land, his love of country and the importance of ancestors.

Building on years playing in bands including Yothu Yindi and the Saltwater Band, Gurrumul’s solo album received critical acclaim and he has since performed for the Queen and the Pope.

Ivan Copley, also a finalist, has devoted his life to reconciliation and better outcomes for Indigenous Australians. He founded the Campbelltown Council Reconciliation Committee and established the first clean drinking water purifier in the Aboriginal community of Leigh Creek through his work with the Rotary Club.

Ivan is a descendent of the Peramangk people, the Kaurna people of the Adelaide plains and the Minang people of Western Australia.

Indigenous Australians including Patrick Dodson, Lorraine Peeters and David Wirrpanda were also finalists in the Senior Australian of the Year and Young Australian of the Year categories.