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Reception for Australian of the Year Awards finalists, Government House


This is Ngunnawal Country. Today we are all meeting together on this Ngunnawal Country. We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Elders.

Welcome, all, to Government House. Linda and I are absolutely delighted to host this celebration.

I say it every year: you are a special group of people!

You have inspired us, you continue to inspire us, and our nation is much the richer for your outstanding contributions.

Congratulations to the 2023 Australian of the Year Finalists.

What a wonderful moment it is in your lives and a thrill too for your families, friends and colleagues.

To the finalists and all previous award recipients, as both Governor-General and as a proud Australian, I say thank you.

This evening, we celebrate.

We celebrate particularly our State and Territory Finalists who have enriched the lives of others — in all manner of fields including human rights, health and wellbeing, child protection, volunteerism and the arts. They have big hearts for the community.

As many of you know the Australian of the Year Awards have been going for more than 60 years. 

This year in particular is the 20th year of the Local Hero category.

I am delighted to see so many past Local Hero national recipients here with us this evening.

I thank the National Australia Day Council for its foresight in establishing a category that recognises Australians who have made a significant contribution to their local community.

Linda and I have a special affinity with this award. In the communities that we visit, we see time and time again the impact of Local Heroes. They are extraordinary.

Each year, in the lead up to this reception, I find myself thinking about what it means to be Australian.

Linda and I are in a privileged position to be able to meet, literally, thousands of Australians as we go about our work and visit many places and organisations.

There is no simple answer.

My experience is different from yours and yours will be different from the next person’s.

Mine is informed by the people Linda and I have had the privilege of meeting. They and their experiences are as diverse as our country is big.

Let me give you just one example (I have many) of what I think being Australian means.

In October of last year, Linda and I attended the Special Olympics in Launceston.

My word, what an experience! It was both uplifting and inspiring. The smiles on the faces of the athletes after having achieved their goal of participating in the Australia National Games said it all.

My take from the experience was this: the athletes had a go. They trained and worked hard. They looked out for each other. They were not afraid to take on a big challenge.

That spirit — of having a go and getting stuck in and supporting your mates — encapsulates so much of what I think it is to be Australian.

Also last year, just months before her passing, I had the opportunity to introduce the four 2022 Australians of the Year to Queen Elizabeth The Second.

The same characteristics and values that Her Majesty exemplified were evident in Dylan, Val, Shanna and Daniel.

Commitment to others …

Tireless service …

Kindness and compassion.

They are evident across our community and, indeed, in this remarkable cohort.

A month before The Queen passed, we bade farewell to Judith Durham AO. Judith and her fellow Seekers were named Australians of the Year in 1967.

I want to end my speech by reciting the words of the sixth verse of The Seekers song, ‘I am Australian’, which given the challenges our nation has faced in recent years are particularly poignant.

I'm the hot wind from the desert
I'm the black soil of the plain
I'm the mountains and the valleys
I'm the drowned and flooding rains
I am the rock
I am the sky
The rivers when they run
The spirit of this great land
I am Australian.

Congratulations to our current and past recipients. You are very much part of the spirit of this great land.