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Hetty Johnston, QLD

2015 Australian of the Year Awards

Hetty Johnston AM

Child protection activist

Australian of the Year 2015, Queensland

Hetty Johnston AM is a child protection activitist who has dedicated her life to child protection since 1997.

Hetty Johnson
Hetty Johnston AM, child protection activist, Queensland. Photo: Brendan J Doyle, Broken Yellow.

Founder of child protection charity Bravehearts, Hetty Johnston is determined to make Australia the safest place in the world for children. Hetty established Bravehearts in 1997 after learning her daughter had been sexually assaulted. Since then, Hetty has dedicated her life to creating awareness of the fact that child sexual assault is largely preventable and encouraging the nation to prioritise the safety of children. Today, Hetty leads a team of more than 70 employees who provide therapeutic, educational and advocacy services across the nation. Hetty has worked tirelessly to bring attention to a topic that was once taboo, and her work has resulted in major policy and legislative changes. Hetty has compelled the Australian community to address child sexual assault and support the thousands of children who are sexually assaulted each year. She remains passionate and determined in her fight for children and her legacy will be a safer nation in which to raise a child.

Talking stick

This is a Native American talking stick: whoever holds the stick has the right to speak. It represents the empowering,protective and educational mission of Bravehearts, an organisation that supports victims of child sexual assault. Hetty Johnston founded Bravehearts in 1997 following her young daughter’s disclosure that she had been sexually harmed by her grandfather.

Native American talking stick
Talking stick. On loan from Hetty Johnston AM. Photo: George Serras.

Trailblazer

'This was left to me by Bravehearts’ first ever counsellor, Cheryl Keyes, who died of cancer in January 2009. Cheryl was an avid campaigner against child sexual assault and a specialist therapist working with survivors at a time when no one even spoke the words … Cheryl used the talking stick to mediate group discussions – if you had the stick, then the floor was yours and others listened. It was empowering.'

Speaking out

'Our then seven-year-old daughter trustingly and bravely spoke out and told my husband what was happening. My husband in turn courageously told me … I spoke out to the family; we spoke out to police, the courts. Ultimately it was revealed that [her grandfather] has offended against almost every female member of his family across 40 years and two generations.'

Talking saves lives

'Breaking the silence – talking – speaking up, is paramount in preventing child sexual assault. Whilst I have the "Talking Stick", I will continue to speak up, to break the silence and to protect children. When I am gone, this "Talking Stick" will be passed on to another for the same purpose.'

Transcript of video

Jeremy Lasek: Could I welcome to the microphone Hetty Johnston from Queensland. Hetty, if my maths is right, it's 17 years since you founded Bravehearts, a remarkable organisation that’s there for kids, to support kids and kids in great need. You’ve made tremendous progress over the 17 years, but the job is sadly ongoing.

Hetty Johnston: It is ongoing. I guess it's been a journey from silence to speaking about it. We’re a nation now who are well and truly able to speak about it and are speaking about it in more and more numbers. Sexual assault is actually preventible. Child sexual assault is preventible for the most part. It really is about changing the culture and changing the think and what we do every day to make sure that we’re all participating in keeping kids safe, because we can do it. We can be the safest place in the world to raise a child and we will be, while my feet touch the floor, by 2020. Because it’s possible - we’ve done the research; we know how to make it happen. A whole bunch of us are very determined to make it happen.

Jeremy Lasek: And we all thank you for that. Your special object comes from another part of the world. In fact, I think it's the most travelled object in terms of distance. It's from North America. Can you tell us about the object and why it is special to you?

Hetty Johnston: When we first started Bravehearts we started White Balloon Day, which was about breaking the silence on child sexual assault. It was wonderful. People were breaking the silence, but there was no counselling for them. There was nowhere for the children to go. So a very dear friend - Cheryl Keyes was her name - was a therapist and she came to us and offered her help voluntarily and also brought others with her, psychologists and what not, who would all donate half a day, a day or whatever they could to help us meet this amazing demand that was back then. She passed away sadly a number of years ago.

Before that she went to America and brought this talking stick back. It is a talking stick. It is permission to speak. She always looked at it as though she was out there fighting the good fight to protect children. So when she passed away she had her husband give it to me. It is very dear to me, and I will hold it dear until such time as I pass it on to somebody else.

Jeremy Lasek: Ladies and gentlemen, Hetty Johnston from Queensland.