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14 December 2022

Poignant personal objects on display at National Museum of Australia

An historic pair of clapsticks, a deeply personal artwork, a celebratory coffee mug and a career motivating medal are among the objects chosen by the 2023 Australian of the Year state and territory recipients, who include a former Socceroo fighting for human rights, a body image activist, a First Nations leader, and an insect farming pioneer.

The National Museum of Australia and the National Australia Day Council today launched an exhibition of significant objects chosen by the eight extraordinary 2023 Australian of the Year state and territory recipients, which tell personal stories about their lives, aspirations and experiences.

National Museum director Dr Mathew Trinca said the recipients had chosen objects that are deeply personal, reflecting their life’s story, work and experiences.

‘We are thrilled to feature these captivating objects selected by eight extraordinary individuals. Objects underpin the biography of a person, reveal significant moments in a person's life, and connect to the broader social or political impact the person has had. We invite all Australians to see the objects on display, discover the remarkable stories of the Australians who selected them and reflect on the issues they raise,’ Dr Trinca said.

National Australia Day Council CEO, Ms Karlie Brand, commended the outstanding achievements and work of the recipients.

‘Each and every one of these exemplary Australians is making a difference and taking action to help others or bring about change. Their endeavours remind us of the power we all have to make a difference,’ Ms Brand said.

National Museum Curator, Mikhala Harkins-Foster, admired the way the selected objects help everyone to connect with the life journeys of the recipients.

‘It makes their achievements more inspiring and relatable. These objects have been kept or created for a reason and now, in being shared, enable us to connect with the recipients in a personal way. They help us to see the people behind the achievements,’ Ms Harkins-Foster said.

This year’s exhibition also features an artwork titled Order of the Teaspoon created by 2010 Australia’s Local Hero and founder of OzHarvest Ronni Kahn to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Local Hero category. Introduced in 2003, the award acknowledges everyday Australians who make a significant contribution to their local community.

Each year, the Australian of the Year Awards celebrate the achievements and contributions of eminent Australians who are role models for us all.

The 2023 Australian of the Year exhibition will be on display at the National Museum until Sunday 12 February 2023 and will then tour nationally.

Olympia Yarger

2023 Australian Capital Territory Australian of the Year


Olympia always wanted to be a farmer, but the cost and the impact on the environment held her back. She could afford to farm insects, creating a sustainable feed source for animals. She founded agritech business Goterra and soon began experimenting with rearing her insects on food waste. Olympia and her team have developed a Modular Infrastructure for Biological Services powered by robots. It has prevented more than 1 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere. Olympia even has a soldier fly named after her, Hermetia Olympea.

Object: ‘Maggot Robot’ control panel

Olympia’s ‘Maggot Robot’ system houses larvae of the black soldier fly inside portable units. Food waste is fed to the maggots and the larvae’s excretions become fertiliser. The maggots become protein-rich feed for livestock and aquaculture. The process takes just 12 days. The control panel comes from one of the earliest Modular Infrastructure for Biological Services built by Olympia and the Goterra team.

Craig Foster AM

2023 New South Wales Australian of the Year


One of Australia’s most powerful voices for the disadvantaged. The former Socceroo captain and award-winning sports broadcaster has spent the past decade campaigning for marginalised communities and refugee rights. He also promotes anti-racism and what he calls ‘active multiculturalism’ – communities standing together and supporting each other. Craig has worked to free refugees detained by Australia, on and off shore. He also assisted the Afghan women’s national football team, other athletes, and girls and women to escape Afghanistan when the Taliban regained power in 2021.

Object: #SaveHakeem t-shirt

In 2018 Craig led a humanitarian campaign to free Hakeem al-Araibi from detention in Thailand. Hakeem fled Bahrain in 2014 and was given asylum in Australia. He settled in Melbourne and played soccer for Pascoe Vale FC. He was on his honeymoon when Thai authorities acted on an Interpol notice issued by Bahrain. Craig rallied international support and petitioned the Australian government to intervene on behalf of a fellow footballer. The t-shirt is signed by Craig and Hakeem.

Samuel Bush-Blanasi

2023 Northern Territory Australian of the Year


Mayili man and Chair of the Northern Land Council, Samuel was instrumental in securing sea country rights for Yolngu Traditional Owners of Blue Mud Bay in eastern Arnhem Land, where his mother was born. In 2022 he helped establish the Aboriginal Sea Company so Traditional Owners can oversee commercial fishing and aquaculture along the Northern Territory coast and support profitable and sustainable fishing practices. Samuel has supported many Aboriginal land and native title claims, and is proud of his role in helping to develop the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Object: T-shirt and family photographs

Samuel wears the shirt as a leader of the successful Learning on Country program. Established by the Northern Land Council in collaboration with 15 remote Top End schools and Aboriginal ranger groups, the program focuses on ‘both ways’ learning, combining Aboriginal culture and Western- style learning. Samuel’s work with the Land Council and with Indigenous children is inspired by his mother, Clare Bush Warripanda, and stepfather, David Blanasi, who feature in the photographs.

William Barton

2023 Queensland Australian of the Year


Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, didgeridoo player and renowned classical composer. A Kalkadungu man, William learnt didgeridoo from his uncle and was so certain of his future in music that he left school at the age of 12. He has since appeared in concert halls around the world, performing with orchestras, string quartets, rock musicians and his mother, singer, songwriter and poet, Delmae Barton. Despite having little formal musical training, he has recorded several albums and won multiple awards – and introduced the didgeridoo to new audiences.

Object: Clapsticks

In 2022 William debuted his newest work, Of the Earth. It marked the reopening of the Sydney Opera House and featured the Sydney Children’s Choir and the Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir. The children used clapsticks made from wood salvaged from the Concert Hall stage during renovations. The clapsticks are William’s personal set from the performance.

Taryn Brumfitt

2023 South Australia Australian of the Year


Leader of the Body Image Movement, an organisation teaching people to appreciate their bodies. Taryn's documentary, Embrace, explored women’s body loathing and her own path to body acceptance. Watched by millions of people across the world, it created a ripple of positive change. In 2022 Taryn released Embrace Kids, a documentary that aims to teach young people to move, nourish and respect their bodies. She co-founded The Embrace Hub with body image expert Dr Zali Yager – a website filled with free, evidence-based, body image resources for kids, parents and teachers.

Object: Embrace Unpuzzled 2022

Since 2012, Taryn and the Body Image Movement team have been encouraging people to embrace their bodies. Much of their recent work has focused on helping young people appreciate their bodies in order to enhance their physical and mental wellbeing. The artwork features the faces of children from the Embrace Kids film.

John Kamara

2023 Tasmania Australian of the Year


John escaped war-torn Sierra Leone and started a new life in Tasmania in 2004. He now works to assist migrants, refugees and people from culturally diverse communities. He highlights the disadvantages they face, such as racism and labour exploitation, and helps with their search for jobs and housing. John co-founded the Culturally Diverse Alliance of Tasmania to promote social cohesion, and the African Communities Council of Tasmania. He and his wife, Mavis, also established Kamara’s Heart Foundation, a charity to support the education of children in Sierra Leone.

Object: Embracing the Human Struggles 2022

John’s niece created the artwork for him. It emphasises the difficult journey John made and the pain of leaving behind everything he loved to avoid being killed and survive a brutal war in Sierra Leone. While acknowledging past pain and the ongoing challenges of addressing hurt in the resettling community, it also highlights new opportunities, resilience and hope.

Dr Angraj Khillan

2023 Victoria Australian of the Year


Dr Khillan migrated from India in 2004 and became the Royal Darwin Hospital’s paediatrician in 2007. He quickly made a difference, extending the fly-in fly-out paediatric service for Aboriginal children in remote communities. In 2018 he co-founded the Health Awareness Society of Australia to dispel taboos, myths and misinformation about health. Its volunteers deliver sessions on topics from mental health to Covid-19 vaccinations in English, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and Arabic. Dr Raj also works to increase awareness of domestic violence and dowry abuse, and raises funds for philanthropy in India, East Timor, Australia and beyond.

Object: Coffee mug and photograph

The coffee mug was given to Angraj by Millie, one of his patients. His work with children across the country, especially in remote and culturally diverse communities, has earned him the affectionate title, ‘King of the Kids’. Dr Raj, as he is known, began his journey to paediatrics while his own family was expanding. This photo shows him caring for his infant daughter while studying.

Professor Samar Aoun

2023 Western Australia Australian of the Year


An advocate for a person-centred approach to end-of-life care. Samar focuses on poorly represented groups, such as those with motor neurone disease, dementia, terminally ill people who live alone, and family carers. She is the Perron Institute Research Chair in Palliative Care at the University of Western Australia and an international leader in the advocacy of public health approaches to palliative care. Samar’s work supports and strengthens the Compassionate Communities movement, assisting people to better support those facing death and bereavement.

Object: Medal awarded to Dr George Aoun

Samar was inspired to pursue a career in health by her grandfather, Dr George Aoun. Renowned as a compassionate and selfless healer, Dr Aoun was awarded the medal by his country, Lebanon, in recognition of his services to medicine. It is a reminder of her grandfather’s empathy and care of those in medical need and motivates Samar to continue his legacy of community service.

Ronnie Kahn AO

2010 Australian Local Hero of the Year


Ronni was stunned by the vast amount of food thrown away at the events she organised. In 2004 she started delivering leftover food to a local homeless shelter. Enlisting the help of others, Ronni turned her desire to fix a problem into OzHarvest, Australia’s leading food rescue organisation. She has created a lasting legacy that now inspires and educates people around the world about food waste, food security and sustainability. Ronni received the 2010 Australia’s Local Hero Award.

Object: The Order of the Teaspoon 2022

Ronni was inspired to create the artwork by the parable of the same name by Amos Oz. The parable is about the power of many people making small contributions that, when combined, have a huge impact. This is the philosophy behind Ronni’s organisation, OzHarvest, and applies to many of the Local Hero recipients. The artwork references and celebrates the 20 Local Heroes on the 20th anniversary of the Local Hero Award.

For more on Australian of the Year 2023 exhibition

Media contact: Matthew Heap 02 6208 5148 | 0459 949 172 or

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