L-R; Australian of the Year Geoffrey Rush, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Young Australian of the Year Marita Cheng and Australia's Local Hero for 2012 Lynne Sawyers pose for a portrait outside Parliament House Canberra 25th January 2012.
L-R; Australian of the Year Geoffrey Rush, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Young Australian of the Year Marita Cheng and Australia's Local Hero for 2012 Lynne Sawyers pose for a portrait outside Parliament House Canberra 25th January 2012. National Australia Day Council / Stefan Postles

Australian of the Year recipients

ACCLAIMED actor and arts supporter Geoffrey Rush has been named Australian of the Year 2012 at a public event on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. 

Prime Minister Julia Gillard  presented Mr Rush with his Australian of the Year trophy on Wednesday evening and congratulated him on the honour.

Women in engineering advocate Marita Cheng was named Young Australian of the Year 2012, Murrungga Island elder Laurie Baymarrwangga was announced as Senior Australian of the Year 2012 and NSW foster parent Lynne Sawyers was honoured as Australia's Local Hero 2012.

Ian Narev, CEO of the Commonwealth Bank, which has been the major sponsor of the Australian of the Year Awards for more than 30 years, congratulated this year's award recipients.

"The recipients of the Australian of the Year Awards for 2012 remind us of the great diversity of achievements, talents and contributions in Australia," said Mr Narev.

"They inspire us with their commitment, passion and hard work.  We can all feel very proud to call them our fellow Australians."

Geoffrey Rush and Marita Cheng will take part in Australia Day activities by attending the National Flag Raising and Citizenship Ceremony in Canberra tomorrow morning and then joining Australia Day celebrations in Sydney, where they will participate in the celebrations in Darling Harbour ahead of the fireworks spectacular.

More than 5,000 nominations were received from the public for the 2012 Awards and nominations are already being accepted for the 2013 Australian of the Year Awards.  Nominate someone that makes you proud now at www.australianoftheyear.org.au.

Australian of the Year - Geoffrey Rush

The Australian of the Year 2012, Geoffrey Rush, has now celebrated 40 years as an Australian actor, achieving the rare international distinction of the 'Triple Crown' - an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy. 

He also has three Australian Film Institute honours, three British Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, four Screen Actors' Guild Awards, and last year was inducted into the ranks of Australia's elite with a Helpmann Award.

Geoffrey was born in Toowoomba, Queensland in 1951, moving with his family to Brisbane in his primary school years.  He completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Queensland and made his professional debut at the Queensland Theatre Company in 1971 where he worked as an ensemble member for three years. 

For the next 20 years he worked primarily in all the major theatre companies of Australia and, in the mid 1970s went to Paris to study at the prestigious Jacques Lecoq School of Mime, Movement and Theatre.

In the mid 1990s he began his film career. His performance as pianist David Helfgott in the film Shine put him firmly on the world stage and earned him his Oscar for Best Actor.

At the time he received his fourth Academy Award nomination playing Australian therapist Lionel Logue in The King's Speech, which he also executively produced, the revival of Belvoir's The Diary of a Madman played to acclaim in Sydney and in New York. 

In the past year, he also starred in and executive-produced Fred Schepisi's film of Patrick White's Nobel Laureate-winning novel The Eye of the Storm, and played Lady Bracknell in the Melbourne Theatre Company's celebrated production of The Importance of Being Earnest. 

Seen as a creative mentor by many, Geoffrey supports young actors and arts companies. He is Patron of the Melbourne International Film Festival; of Toowoomba's Empire Theatre Foundation distributing bursaries to young performers; and of the Spina Bifida Foundation Victoria. He is an Ambassador for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and UNICEF Australia.

In 2011 he was appointed as foundation President of the newly-established Australian Academy Of Cinema and Television Arts.An internationally acclaimed and recognised actor, Geoffrey remains extraordinarily grounded in his local community, his country and the Australian arts industry.

Senior Australian of the Year - Laurie Baymarrwangga

The Senior Australian of the Year 2012, Laurie Baymarrwangga, is an extraordinary elder from the island of Murrungga in East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

Now aged in her 90's, Laurie was unable to travel and attend the ceremony in Canberra.

Laurie has shown extraordinary commitment to maintaining her culture, the environment of her beloved Crocodile Islands and ensuring younger generations continue to keep their heritage alive.

During her lifetime, Laurie has seen the arrival of missionaries, exploitation by Japanese and European fishermen, war and tumultuous change. Undaunted, she has almost single-handedly nurtured the inter-generational transmission of local ecological knowledge through a lifelong commitment to caring for kin, culture and country.

In the 1960s, Laurie established a housing project on her homelands that has benefitted generations of kin. Speaking no English, with no access to funding, resources or expertise, she initiated the Yan-nhangu dictionary project.

Her cultural maintenance projects include the Crocodile Islands Rangers, a junior rangers group and an online Yan-nhangu dictionary for school children.

In 2010, after a struggle stretching back to 1945, Laurie finally received back payments for rents owed to her as the land and sea owner of her father's estate.  The great-great-grandmother donated it all, around $400,000, to improve education and employment opportunities on the island and to establish a
1,000 square kilometre turtle sanctuary on her marine estate.

Young Australian of the Year - Marita Cheng

The Young Australian of the Year 2012 is 22 year old engineering advocate Marita Cheng of Brunswick East whose leadership is changing the occupational landscape for women by encouraging girls to pursue engineering studies and careers.

The daughter of Chinese parents, Marita was born and raised in Cairns, Queensland and now studies at the University of Melbourne.

While still a university student, Marita Cheng has demonstrated vision and leadership well beyond her years and is dedicated to encouraging young women to become interested in an engineering career.

She founded Robogals Global in 2008, as a response to the traditionally low levels of participation by women in science, engineering and technology. Robogals Global uses fun and educational activities to teach secondary school girls about science and technology. By 2010, Robogals had run workshops for 3,000 girls in Australia and has now expanded to 17 branches across Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Marita's own career path includes studying for a Bachelor of Engineering and a Bachelor of Computer Science on a Paterson Scholarship. She has been a recipient of the Nancy Fairfax Churchill Fellowship, an International Youth Foundation Youth Action Net Fellowship and an Anita Borg Change Agent Award. 

Marita has also been a panellist on ABC TV's New Inventors and hopes to become the founder of a robotics company, creating robots that will take care of many everyday and mundane tasks. 

Australia's Local Hero - Lynne Sawyers

Australia's Local Hero 2012 is foster mother and carer Lynne Sawyers of Darbys Falls. Lynne has shared her home, her family and her love with more than 200 children. For 15 years, she has been on call to care for lost, abused and bewildered children in heartbreaking circumstances.

Lynne first became interested in being a foster mother when she'd heard about a young girl in the area who'd run away from home.  Her husband mentioned he'd seen the girl by the side of the road talking with authorities and they wondered what would become of her.  It was then, after gaining family agreement from her husband and four children, Lynne decided to take action. 

Having experienced a happy childhood herself, she wanted to give back.  It took three years to complete the required training and pass the authority checks before she welcomed her first foster child into their home.  Many of the children she has fostered arrived on her doorstep with a range of problems - physical, intellectual and emotional. They have ranged in age from a week old baby she brought home from a hospital to teens struggling with life's complications. 

Lynne lives near Cowra and, even though she has had up to six children at a time in her home (as well as her own youngest daughter Emma), she has given them a rounded, supportive and non-judgmental family environment, often their first such experience. Her warmth, humour and generosity have had an enormous impact on these children. Because of her, many are now leading fulfilled, happy lives and have adopted Lynne as their 'second mother'.

Lynne has worked tirelessly without leave, or overtime or penalties for difficult working conditions, but she could not imagine living them in any other way. At the age of 68, she continues to travel hundreds of kilometres every week, prepares up to 15 meals a day, washes clothes, sews, bakes and raises funds to help children and currently has three teenagers living in her loving home.




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