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Deborra-lee Furness, NSW

2015 Australian of the Year Awards

Deborra-lee Furness

Child advocate and adoption campaigner

Australian of the Year 2015, New South Wales

Deborra-lee Furness is leading the campaign to overhaul Australia’s anti-adoption culture and lobby for national adoption law reform.

Deborra-lee Furness
Deborra-lee Furness, child advocate and adoption campaigner, New South Wales. Photo: Russell James.

An actor, director and producer, Deborra-lee Furness is fighting for the rights of children in Australia and around the world. Recognising the great need to help abandoned and vulnerable children, and the mother of two adopted children herself, Deborra-lee established National Adoption Awareness Week in 2008, building the campaign from a volunteer-led, grassroots organisation to the active advocacy group it is today. In 2014, Deborra-lee launched Adopt Change, and is leading the campaign to overhaul Australia’s anti adoption culture and lobby for national adoption law reform.

As a World Vision ambassador, Deborra-lee has worked with world leaders, travelling through Asia and Africa to raise awareness of the global orphan crisis. Determined to use her profile to support causes close to her heart, Deborra-lee is focused on helping the thousands of Australian children who need loving homes. A passionate patron of the arts, Deborra-lee also established the Jackman Furness Foundation for the Performing Arts in 2014 with a broad mission to nurture Australia’s rising stars.

Transcript of video

Deborra-lee Furness: I am so sorry I can't be with all you awesome people that are doing amazing things but I just wanted to introduce my part of the exhibition, which is representative of how my journey started when my then five-year-old son would watch the World Vision ads on a Saturday morning instead of cartoons and could see what was happening in the world. Then one day I am sitting there and he walks across the living room with his wagon full of bottled water and I said, 'Oscar, what are you doing? You took that out of the fridge?’ And he goes, 'Mum, I’m on my way to Africa because they’ve got dirty water.' And I sat there and thought if my five-year-old is willing to stand up and do something great for the world, I’ve really got to do something too. So that’s how my journey began.

Child’s cart and water bottles

For this display, Deborra-lee Furness recreated a small child’s cart that once belonged to her son. This cart and the bottles of water represent the life-changing moment that prompted Deborra-lee to advocate for vulnerable children all over the world.

Child's toy cart containing water bottles.
Child's cart and water bottles. On loan from Deborra-lee Furness. Photo: George Serras.

Compassion

'Speaking up for vulnerable children started because of my son, Oscar. When he was five years old, we would watch television on Saturday mornings and as I would flick through the channels … Oscar always made me stop at the World Vision advertisements – they were more like half-hour infomercials. I used to say, "Are you sure you don’t want to watch Scooby Doo?"'

Inspiration

'Then one day I found Oscar walking through the house with his cart filled with the water bottles from the fridge. Of course I asked where he was going with all our water supply and he said … "I’m going to Africa, Mum, because the kids there have no clean water." Seminal moment. OK, if my five-year-old has enough gumption to want to do something to make the world a better place, I really need to step up.'

Action

'Through Oscar’s school in Vancouver, I met some like-minded people and we formed a group called RAFIKI to assist an orphanage in Kenya for kids with special needs. That was my first foray into creating a relationship with kids who lived far away on the other side of the world, but close enough that I could connect with them. The rest, as they say, is history …'