An Indigenous entrepreneur hoping to reclaim a derogatory term became emotional as he was presented the ACT Australian of the Year award for 2018.
Mark ‘Dion’ Devow established clothing label Darkies Design in 2010, wanting to express pride in his Aboriginal culture and heritage.
The controversially named company collaborates with Indigenous artists and designers to produce mainstream apparel and sportswear.
Accepting his award at the National Portrait Gallery, Mr Devow fought back tears as he expressed how overwhelming and unexpected the honour was.
“I don’t know how to feel — I didn’t expect anything from this, it’s just what I do,” he said.
Mr Devow said he initially launched Darkies Design because he wanted to wear cool clothes with Aboriginal designs, but soon learned he could use it to help others celebrate their culture.
“The way we express our culture through our art and traditions is really powerful and beautiful,” he said.
“I wanted to put that on clothing to wear to really make Aboriginal people express how proud they were for being Aboriginal, not just me”.
Darkies Design recently supplied ceremonial uniforms for teams participating in Australia’s WWI centenary commemorations on the Western Front.
Mr Devow is an ambassador for Indigenous community volunteers and in 2014 created the Canberra Business Yarning Circle — an Indigenous business owners network.
He said the Yarning Circle had helped empower Aboriginal people to achieve their dreams, gain economic independence and contribute to their communities.
“Business is a great way of bringing black and white Australia together,” he said.
“I’m just happy and lucky I’ve been a small part of that.”
He has also set up multiple Aboriginal sports teams in the ACT.
This was Mr Devow’s message for Australia:
I think we just need to all join together no matter what colour, what creed and what nationality.
At the end of the day we are all people, we are all part of the community, we are all Australians; and that should be celebrated.
And I think we all need to really celebrate the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the first peoples.
It’s the oldest living culture in the history of the world and that needs to be celebrated and embraced by everybody, not just Aboriginal people.
Prize-winning biophysicist ACT Senior Australian of the Year
One of Australia’s most eminent scientists, Graham Farquhar, was named the ACT Senior Australian of the Year for his work protecting food security in a changing climate.
Earlier this year, the Australian National University biophysicist became the first Australian to win the 2017 Kyoto Prize — an equivalent to the Nobel Prize.
His work has improved world food security by developing strains of wheat that can grow with far less water, and has also helped to solve mysteries about why clouds and wind patterns were not changing as climate change models suggested they should.
Dr Farquhar said after growing up in Tasmania in a farming family, he used his love of mathematics and physics to find practical benefits for the agricultural sector.
His work remains on the frontline of some of the most profound challenges facing humanity and the environment.
Dr Farquhar said he felt like an “imposter” receiving the award, but that it was “amazing to be given an award for doing something you really enjoy”.
Homeless teen, soldier ACT Young Australian of the Year
Zack Bryers left home at 15 years old, couch surfing and spending time on the streets.
He set a goal to join the Army to turn his life around and served multiple tours on duty in Afghanistan.
Mr Bryers was medically discharged with post-traumatic stress and these days draws on his own experiences to support and inspire young people as an outreach worker.
In his ACT Young Australian of the Year acceptance speech, Mr Bryers said he was that poor kid in school “that people thought would amount to nothing”.
“The only thing that makes me different is that I was afforded opportunities by people who saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself.
“And I think that’s the value that anyone can leave in the world — when you see that kid in the ill-fitting suit, you take a second look, because you don’t know what he has in him or what he’s fought to get to that point.”
Mr Bryers helps teens find temporary accommodation, attend court or hospital, overcome drug addictions or transform their lives after time in jail.
He also played in Australia’s gridiron team and competed in the World Cup in the United States.
Fundraiser for sick children named ACT Local Hero
A mother who created a foundation for sick children in honour of her baby daughter who died from congenital heart disease has been named this year’s ACT Local Hero.
Suzanne Tunks’ daughter, Stella, died at nine-months old, with most of her short life spent in hospital.
Her death prompted Ms Tunks to create the Stella Bella Little Stars Foundation — providing support to families of sick children.
She has raised more than $720,000 to provide support and financial assistance for families, covering everything from food and petrol to emergency accommodation.
Ms Tunks said she would not have made her achievements without “the beautiful and horrible experience” of losing her daughter.
“She put me on a whole different trajectory,” she said.
“On the occasions I get to tell the story of Stella and the families that we support … people are always so kind and generous and it’s good to know that in hard times there are really great people in our community.”
The Little Star Beads Program also provides a bead to seriously-ill children for every specific medical procedure they undergo, which them becomes a symbol of their journey and courage.
Ms Tunk has already touched the lives of almost 1,000 children facing tough times, and is planning to expand the Little Stars Bead Program to hospitals all around Australia.