Australians of the Year announced

By AG Staff with AAP 25 January 2011
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Businessman and philanthropist Simon McKeon, and Jessica Watson have been awarded Australia Day honours.

BANKER AND PHILANTHROPIST Simon McKeon has been named 2011 Australian of the Year.

The 55-year-old beat a strong field, including the bookies favourite, indigenous rights lawyer Larissa Behrendt, to earn the prestigious title, which was announced at a ceremony in Canberra on Tuesday.

Simon, from Brighton, Victoria, decided in his early years that a successful corporate career didn’t have to come at the expense of community work. So in the midst of his lucrative investment banking career, he moved into a part-time position with Macquarie Group, allowing him to spend more time elsewhere.

He joined the board of World Vision Australia, and continues his association with its international partner to this day. Currently, he is the chairman of the CSIRO and the Business for Millennium Development, which fosters links between businesses and the developing world. He also is involved with the Global Poverty Project and indigenous charities.

“A leading social entrepreneur, Simon demonstrates how business and philanthropy go hand in hand, giving tremendously of his time and energy to many organisations,” the National Australia Day Council said in a statement.

Jessica Watson, Young Australian of the Year

Accomplished schoolgirl sailor Jessica Watson can add another feather to her cap, having been named 2011’s Young Australian of the Year. In October 2010, Jessica was awarded the Australian Geographic Society Young Adventurer of the Year.

At just 16, the youngster captured the nation’s attention during her 210-day odyssey to become the youngest person to sail non-stop and unassisted around the world. She sailed into Sydney Harbour to a hero’s welcome on May 15 last year, having finally completed a 23,000 nautical mile-journey seven months after setting off.

But it was never easy – critics argued she was too young and that the task would fail; dangerous weather and even a run-in with a 60,000-tonne coal carrier threatened to derail the journey.

The National Australia Day Council paid tribute to the teenager’s maturity and dignity at a ceremony.

“From the age of 12, Jessica Watson dreamt of sailing solo, unassisted, non-stop around the world, and at the age of 16, she made it happen,” the council said. “Her voyage has inspired thousands of people of all ages, and has shown that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve what may at first seem impossible.”

The Queensland teenager – who turned 17 three days after the end of her voyage – has since published a book about her travels in her sloop, Ella’s Pink Lady.

Senior Australian of the Year

Equal rights campaigner and academic Ron McCallum has been named the 2011 Senior Australian of the Year.

The 62-year-old was recognised for his fervent pursuit of equal rights for people all over the world, having been the first totally blind person to be granted a full professorship at an Australian university.

He was the foundation professor in industrial law at the University of Sydney, presided over the Australian Labour Law Association for almost a decade, and is currently one of two deputy chairs of Vision Australia.

Schooled in Canada, Prof McCallum chairs the NSW-branch of Radio for the Print Handicapped, which reads newspapers and magazines over the airwaves.

He is also one of 12 members of the first monitoring committee for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.