Treasured Wangkajunga/Walmajarri artist Ngarralja Tommy May has exhibited nationally and internationally for more than 20 years, with his work hanging in many major galleries.
But his contribution to arts and culture goes far beyond his own creations. Ngarralja is a fierce advocate for his art, his traditions and his people, serving on many boards and committees and encouraging others to keep culture alive. Through teaching and sharing ceremony, dance and song the respected elder plays an important role in inspiring and nurturing the next generation of Kurtal people.
Ngarralja is one of 16 West Australians nominated for the WA Australian of the Year Awards across four categories.
He shares the honours list with doctors and scientists, a rural tourism ambassador, the founder of Plastic Free July, a young advocate for voluntary assisted dying and the man who urged Australians to support healthcare workers during COVID-19.
World renowned neurologist Professor William Carroll has specialised for three decades in the area of research and treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS). He is among four West Australians nominated for the title of 2021 WA Australian of the Year for his efforts to improve the lives of those struggling with MS, a disease that affects a million people world-wide.
The award categories are Local Hero, Young Australian, Senior Australian and Australian of the Year.
Joining Ngarralja Tommy May in the Senior Australian of the Year category is 92-year-old Marion Blackwell from Mount Claremont. Marion was a pioneering conservationist in WA and helped create a number of Australia's national parks, including Purnululu (the Bungle Bungles). Her life's work has been in the pursuit of environmental protection, garnering respect for Indigenous Australians and speaking out for the rights of women.
Nominated in the Young Australian of the Year category is Belinda Teh, a passionate advocate for voluntary assisted dying legislation in Western Australia. Belinda's campaign was forged from personal tragedy after she watched her mother endure a painful death from breast cancer. Belinda has shown courage and persistence in retelling her own story to fight for compassionate choice in the wider community.
In the Local Hero category, we meet nominee Christopher Doohan, who started the original Adopt a Healthcare Worker group in WA . During the pandemic, Chris saw how his friends in healthcare were struggling to maintain the basics in their own lives, while working hard to help others. He worked with the AMA to help community members reach out to healthcare workers with practical and moral support, to let them know how much they were appreciated.
The nominees are among more than 128 people being recognised across all states and territories as part of the program, which began in 1960.
The WA award recipients will be announced in a ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Perth on the evening of Thursday, November 12. The ceremony will also be livestreamed on this website.
The WA award recipients will then join the other state and territory recipients as finalists for the national awards announcement on January 25, 2021.
Auspire - Australia Day Council WA Chairman Bradley Woods said: "Once again our Western Australian nominees do us proud.
"These 16 inspiring individuals are thought leaders and change makers for the benefit of others, and we are honoured to acknowledge them through these most prestigious awards."
The Western Australian nominees are making significant contributions not just here in the West, but on national and international stagesNational Australia Day Council CEO Karlie Brand
National Australia Day Council CEO Karlie Brand said the WA nominees were all leaders in their fields or community champions with extraordinary leadership qualities.
"The Western Australian nominees are making significant contributions not just here in the West, but on national and international stages," said Ms Brand.
The 2021 Western Australian award nominees are:
2021 WA Australian of the Year
Professor William M Carroll - Leading neurologist
Professor Helen Milroy - Australia's first Indigenous doctor
Emeritus Professor Chemmangot Nayar - Clean energy pioneer
Clinical Professor Mark Newman - Cardiothoracic surgeon
2021 WA Senior Australian of the Year
Marion Blackwell AM - Environmental scientist and landscape architect
Ron Manners AO - Miner, businessman and philanthropist
Ngarralja Tommy May - Painter and printmaker
Dr Richard Walley OAM - Champion of Aboriginal culture
2021 WA Young Australian of the Year
Grace Forrest - Founder and director of Walk Free
Ashleigh Small - Founder of Hello Initiative
Dylan Storer - Journalist and social advocate for climate action
Belinda Teh - Advocate for voluntary assisted dying
2021 WA Local Hero
Denise Brailey - Consumer advocate
Christopher Doohan - Creator of Adopt A Healthcare Worker campaign
Annette Green - Tourism Ambassador, The Australian Silo Art Trail
Rebecca Prince-Ruiz - Founder of Plastic Free July
Get to know Western Australia's nominees
The following biographies and photographs of the 2021 Australian of the Year nominees from Western Australia have been supplied by the organisers of the annual awards, the National Australia Day Council.
Australian of the Year
Professor William M Carroll (aged 71): Leading neurologist
Professor William Carroll is a leading national and global neurologist, former president of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Neurologists and current president of the World Federation of Neurology. For more than 30 years, William has been influential in multiple sclerosis (MS) research and treatment. His work has helped to identify reparative cells in the human nervous system and to steer the International Progressive MS Alliance towards solving progressive MS, affecting more than one million people worldwide. William was a founding director of the MS Research Australia Board, MS Research Australia and the founding chair of the Research Management Council for more than 10 years. He was instrumental in establishing MS Research Australia research governance structures, which have been adopted by many other not-for-profit organisations worldwide. He advocates the advancement of brain health via the Global Neurology Alliance and the World Federation of Neurology. In 2012 he was named Western Australian of the Year for Business and Professions.
Professor Helen Milroy (aged 61) Australia's first Indigenous doctor
Prof Helen Milroy was Australia's first Indigenous doctor and is now a highly regarded expert in child and adolescent psychiatry. For more than 25 years, Helen has been a pioneer in research, education and training in Aboriginal and child mental health, and recovery from grief and trauma. She has supported the Aboriginal and medical workforce in applying Indigenous knowledge and cultural models of care. Helen has played a key role on numerous mental health advisory committees and boards, including the National Mental Health Commission. She was appointed as commissioner for the Australian Government's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse from 2013-2017. Helen was also the first Indigenous commissioner to the Australian Football League. A talented artist and published author, Helen's books have been shortlisted for several major awards. In 2018, she received the Australian Indigenous Doctor of the Year Award, recognising her many achievements.
Emeritus Professor Chemmangot Nayar (aged 74): Clean energy pioneer
Emer Prof Chemmangot Nayar has dedicated almost four decades to advancing the clean energy industry.
Chemmangot has pioneered research and practical applications of technology, with a particular focus on remote communities and islands. He has successfully secured over $9 million in research and project grants. These have been used to design, build and implement renewable energy solutions in Australia and overseas. Chemmangot's innovative designs have contributed to economic growth by generating public awareness and tourism opportunities for remote communities. By implementing more than 40 projects in various locations worldwide, he has also created significant employment opportunities. He has held numerous leadership positions in the university sector and in renewable energy institutions, including Director of the Centre for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technologies at Curtin University. His significant contribution has been recognised with multiple industry awards. His expertise is frequently sought out by United Nations agencies, government aid agencies and related industries around the world.
Professor Mark Newman (aged 66): Cardiothoracic surgeon
Prof Mark Newman is an exceptionally skilled and compassionate cardiothoracic surgeon at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth. He oversaw the development of a second cardiothoracic unit at the hospital - from managing upgrades in infrastructure to securing trainee positions. Mark changed the face of patient management, introducing the concept of high dependency care outside the intensive care unit - which has now been adopted by other specialities. He drove collaboration between surgeons and other units to build a multidisciplinary and integrated approach to the surgical journey. He also mentors nurses and allied health and support staff to ensure better patient care and outcomes. In addition to his role as head of the clinical service unit, Mark has led groundbreaking research and championed patient safety and quality. His initiatives include a 'war on error' to investigate issues and work out strategies for continually improving service delivery. Mark also works tirelessly to educate and support the next generation of surgeons and caregivers.
WA Senior Australian of the Year
Marion Blackwell AM (aged 92): Environmental scientist and landscape architect
Marion Blackwell AM, is a renowned environmental scientist and landscape architect. Marion conducted a series of pioneering surveys in WA and helped create a number of Australia's national parks, including Purnululu (the Bungle Bungles). Guided by her deep respect for the knowledge of Indigenous Australians, she was instrumental in helping to identify the vast riches of the west of the continent, highlighting the importance of one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Amongst her many achievements, Marion played a key role in the design and landscaping of Murdoch University. She has contributed to an extensive range of organisations including the National Parks and Nature Conservation Authority. Throughout her life Marion has been a dedicated teacher and champion for women.
Her long and distinguished environmental career was recognised with her appointment to the board of the Environmental Protection Authority WA.
Ron Manners AO (aged 84): Miner, businessman and philanthropist
Ron Manners AO shares his time between running the 125-year-old family company, Mannwest Group Pty Ltd and as founder and chair of the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation, which sponsors students to receive internships and attend conferences across the globe. These students have the opportunity to learn about policy from international thinktanks - and bring new ideas back to WA. Hailing from a mining family, Ron launched Croesus Mining in 1986, one of the country's successful gold producers, during what has been called 'Australia's Great Gold Renaissance'. He also served two terms as President of the Kalgoorlie Chamber of Commerce. He also dedicated his free time to organisations such as the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC) and broader community interests including Patron of the Golden Mile Art Exhibition Group. In 1997, Ron established the Mannkal Foundation, a free market thinktank which promotes ideals of voluntary cooperation, personal rights, and individual resourcefulness. The foundation's Leadership Development Program is now a world-renowned education initiative, benefiting more than 2,000 Western Australian students. Ron has published seven books and numerous articles on mining and economic education. In 2020, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for his 'distinguished service to the minerals and mining sectors, and to youth through philanthropic support for educational initiatives.'
Ngarralja Tommy May (aged 85): Painter and printmaker
Ngarralja Tommy May is a Wangkajunga/Walmajarri painter and printmaker. He is a founding member of the Karrayili Adult Education Centre, which taught people to read and write English. This helped them communicate effectively with government organisations on behalf of their communities. Ngarralja is renowned as a keeper and teacher of Kurtal stories and ceremony and is skilled in traditional singing and dance. As an elder, he plays an important role in fostering the next generation of Kurtal people. He has significantly contributed to the growth and resilience of Aboriginal arts and culture - holding positions in numerous boards and committees. This includes 21 years on the Association of Northern Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists board of directors. Ngarralja utilises painting and printmaking to tell stories of his land, his dreaming and ceremony. He has exhibited nationally and internationally for more than 20 years, with his work represented in many collections including in the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria.
Dr Richard Walley OAM (aged 67): Champion of Aboriginal culture
Dr Richard Walley guides people and organisations on their journey of reconciliation through cultural awareness. A champion of Wadjuk and Noongar people, he shares his profound knowledge of language, cultural practices and historic injustices - cultivating a deeper respect and recognition of Aboriginal culture. Richard reinvigorated the practice of the modern-day Welcome To Country in Noongar Country, a ceremony that is now commonplace across Australia. He sits on multiple committees and is a consultant to both government and corporate agencies where he is engaged to provide cultural advice for major projects. Richard's expertise is also sought out by the private sector to provide Welcome to Country, undertake cultural awareness training and advise on Indigenous affairs. A musician, performer and artist, Richard's designs adorn jerseys in the Indigenous rounds of sporting events. He is creatively involved with many local festivals and events. Richard has received numerous honours including an Order of Australia, Honorary Doctorate, and WA Citizen Of The Year.
WA Young Australian of the Year
Grace Forrest (aged 27): Founder and director of Walk Free
Grace Forrest is the founding director of Walk Free, an international human rights organisation working to eradicate modern slavery, which affects over 40 million people globally. Together with the all-female Walk Free team, they develop the Global Slavery Index, the world's leading data set on measuring and understanding modern slavery - informing international legislation. In 2018, Walk Free successfully campaigned for the implementation of an Australian Modern Slavery Act, which received the support of both major parties and the business community.
A highly sought-after public speaker, Grace has presented at the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit, the CHOGM Women's Forum, and the United Nation's on multiple occasions, most recently to the U.N. Security Council on Walk Free's new report 'Stacked Odds'. In recognition of her work and impact, Grace was appointed the United Nations Association of Australia's youngest-ever Goodwill Ambassador, for Anti-Slavery.
She continues to be a voice for the UN in Australia and abroad.
Ashleigh Small (aged 25): Founder of Hello Initiative
Ashleigh Small is the founder of an organisation that helps young people in the youth justice system to create a better future. Hello Initiative (HI) provides practical tools to help empower these children and prevent re-offending, so they can leave the justice system for good. Ashleigh established the mobile support project, which provides recycled smartphones and credit to young people aged between 10 and 17 years. Having access to a phone enables them to keep up with court requirements and nurture community connections, while growing their digital literacy. Youth support workers have also reported a positive impact on their ability to build relationships with their clients.
Through HI, Ashleigh is tackling three interconnected social justice issues: the widening digital divide in Australia, socio-economic disadvantage and climate justice - as HI is a fully-sustainable initiative. HI is assisting more than 100 young people and is supported by the Perth Children's Court and frontline justice organisations.
Dylan Storer (aged 17): Journalist and social advocate for climate action
Dylan Storer is a young journalist with a passion for storytelling and social justice issues. For two years he has hosted The Edge, a weekly regional current affairs radio program - and the winner of the 2019 Community Radio Award for Excellence in News & Current Affairs. Dylan is committed to building a better future, with a particular focus on climate change and youth rights. He is has advocated for lowering the voting age to 16, giving evidence before the Commonwealth Parliament on this issue. He has contributed to Guardian Australia, telling stories from the Kimberley Region and the Foundation for Young Australians and has worked with UN Youth Australia. He has twice appeared on the ABC's Q&A program, where he called for Australia to become a renewable energy powerhouse.
He has spoken at numerous events including the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, and in 2018 received the Outstanding Youth Contribution Award for his contribution to public discourse.
Belinda Teh (aged 28) Advocate for voluntary assisted dying
Belinda Teh has been a passionate advocate for voluntary assisted dying legislation in Western Australia. After losing her mother to an agonising death from breast cancer, Belinda has been driven to save other families' loved ones from the same fate. She has shared her story many times, galvanising a groundswell of community support and inspiring people to be active in creating change. Belinda was instrumental in raising awareness about this issue, running a sophisticated social media campaign, hosting public events and addressing supporters on the steps of WA Parliament House. She also completed a 70-day walk from Melbourne to Perth in memory of her mother's suffering and to help convince MPs of the need for compassionate choice. Belinda's advocacy saw the successful passage of voluntary assisted dying laws in WA.
WA Local Hero
Denise Brailey (aged 72): Consumer advocate
Denise Brailey is a consumer advocate who devotes her free time to investigating financial abuse. She has dedicated several decades of her life to assisting elderly retirees who have had their life savings stolen through superannuation scams, banking fraud and PONZI schemes. Recognising the flaws in the banking and finance systems, Denise returned to university to study criminology and law. Between 1993 to 2001, she founded the Real Estate Consumer Association and the Banking and Finance Consumers Association to provide organisational support for consumers and help them recover lost funds. Through Denise's continued efforts and investigations, more than 11 enquiries have been held in parliaments across Australia. This includes five at a federal level and a Royal Commission into finance brokers in WA. She has also successfully lobbied to change federal and state legislation around consumer protection by organising rallies outside the offices of regulators in every capital city. Denise also works tirelessly to educate consumers around the world about their rights, empowering them to stand up to corruption.
Christopher Doohan (aged 35): Creator of Adopt A Healthcare Worker
Christopher Doohan started the original Adopt a Healthcare Worker group in WA and provided guidance for other groups to support healthcare workers amid COVID-19. At the start of the pandemic, Chris noted that his friends in healthcare were struggling to maintain the basics in their own lives, while working hard to help others. Wanting to support them, he set up a Facebook group which called on community members to 'adopt' nurses and doctors working on the frontline during COVID-19. It enables people to identify an 'adoptee' in their local area and provide practical support, like dropping off a care package, babysitting or cleaning. Chris worked with the Australian Medical Association to ensure that the site did not get hijacked or cause unwarranted issues for the people it aimed to help.
Under his leadership, the initiative inspired Facebook groups in most states and territories, mobilising a national movement that now boasts more than 150,000 members in Australia.
Annette Green (aged 59) Tourism Ambassador for The Australian Silo Art Trail
Annette Green created The Australian Silo Art Trail website & Facebook page to help struggling communities in regional Australia attract more visitors. While travelling across Australia, Annette first noticed silo art in Ravensthorpe, Western Australia. She quickly realised there was no central record of the artworks, so she set up a Facebook page and community group to help others discover these attractions. By mapping the large outdoor murals, Annette has showcased regional towns, encouraging more Australians to get out and explore their own country - boosting tourism in areas affected by drought and bushfires. As a result, a growing number of towns are now creating mural artwork
and joining the trail, bringing benefits to local businesses and residents. Annette has documented more than 150 sites and more than 7,500 kilometres of outdoor art trail. The artworks include 41 silos, over 70 water towers and many street art towns.
Rebecca Prince-Ruiz (aged 50): Founder of Plastic Free July
Rebecca Prince-Ruiz is the founder of a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution. Ten years ago, Rebecca became concerned by the amount of plastics going into landfill and encouraged her family to go plastic-free for the month of July. Her idea is now a global initiative, with an estimated 326 million people participating worldwide. Rebecca has worked with state governments and business leaders on reducing single use plastics and is on the board of the government's Container Deposit Scheme - a new recycling program for WA. At a local level, Rebecca engages with community groups by hosting presentations and workshops for schools, aged care facilities and other community groups. Rebecca has appeared on the ABC show 'War on Waste' to increase awareness of the plastics issue and the solutions available. She has published a book on the Plastic Free movement, and created a vast social media following - inspiring countless others to do more for the planet.
For more information on the Australian of the Year Awards, visit australianoftheyear.org.au
- ACM, the publisher of this website, is media partner of the 2021 Australian of the Year Awards