NMA's 2017 Australian of the Year Exhibition

15 December 2016

The National Museum of Australia has, in collaboration with the Australian of the Year Awards, created an exhibition to give an insight into the 2017 nominees from the States and Territories for the coveted awards with special items that represent a very personal representation of how they see themselves. And it gives us a look at the lives of these people who’ve contributed in many and varied ways while finding objects that tell us the intimate and interesting aspects of lives we don’t get to learn in the media releases that accompany their nominations.

To launch the exhibition five of the eight nominees attended to enjoy the flurry of photographers, cameramen and journalists on hand to record the event and to be interviewed by NMA Director Matthew Trinca about their reaction to the nomination, aspects of their work and achievements and why they chose the items now on show.

 A chance for us all to get to know them a little better before the presentations at Parliament House on 25th January.

For the NT Australian of the Year Andrea Mason the small and much loved sports trophy she won in 1972 at the North Kalgoorlie primary school sports day represents her early years as a young girl striving for her personal best and sits at home on her bookcase. Tiny but significant to this Indigenous leader and business woman it sits alongside a family photo of her father as a baby with his mother and Andrea’s grandmother.

ACT’s Alan Tongue chose a bronzed football boot presented to him in 2008, a white ribbon, the symbol of the fight against domestic violence and a small wooden cross representing his faith. A NRL champion and now a youth mentor and educator, Alan Tongue is a man of his convictions.

Victoria’s Australian of the Year is Paris Aristotle whose ‘mind map’ at first glance looks like a family tree but it is a detailed plan for Foundation House created in 1987 by John Gibson, who established the house – the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture- that Paris Aristotle now heads.

Kate Swaffer is from South Australia and her wooden seagull represents her advocacy for living beyond dementia by “following your own path to truth and freedom” and is inspired by the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Living with dementia and refusing to be defeated by the diagnosis she is an example to all who are defeated by this insidious disease.

An impressive fibre glass nose is the choice of Queenslander Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, but it’s not his, though he does have an impressive one sitting above a moustache and beard, and certainly represents his work researching nasal stem cells, in his work treating spinal cord injuries.

Not present but with significant choices were the displays for WA’s Andrew Forrest with a brick from India given to him by villagers who had survived the exploitation of bonded labour, NSW’s Deng Adut, former child soldier and now a lawyer chose the collection of speeches by Thomas Erskine the British lawyer and politician that helped him in his studies.

And for something unexpected it was the perfume bottle – Davidoff’s Cool Water – and two golden cowrie shells from Fiji that speech pathologist Rosalie Martin from Tasmania chose to represent a special and formative time in her life.

Intriguing and diverse. This exhibition is a peek behind the smiles and humility of a fascinating cross section of our chosen finalists.