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Valmai Dempsey announced as 2022 Senior Australian of the Year

Valmai Dempsey has been announced as the 2022 Senior Australian of the Year for her over 50 years of dedicated voluntary work for the St John Ambulance service.

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Senior Australian of the Year, Valmai Dempsey, with her husband, Lindsay. [Source: Australian of the Year Awards facebook]

Valmai was named the ACT Senior Australian of the Year for 2022 for her long-standing voluntary service in the Territory and was the winner of the national category of the award at the Australian of the Year Awards ceremony on Tuesday night.

She started as a cadet volunteer while she was in primary school and has dedicated most of her life to the St John Ambulance service. She is currently one of the ACT's longest-serving volunteers and she dedicates more of her time than any other volunteer.

Val has faced big challenges at St John Ambulance as a volunteer, including during the Black Summer bushfires in 2020, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She led 40 volunteers through fire-affected communities during the bushfire emergency over many weeks.

When the pandemic hit, Valmai showed her commitment to St John's even though the two events were huge hits to the team morale. She personally contacted every volunteer at St John's to check in and see if they were okay in terms of their welfare, mental health and morale.

Her compassion and hard-working nature at St John is what led to her nickname of 'Aunty Val' in the community.

Chair of the National Australia Day Council, Danielle Roche OAM, congratulated the 2022 Australian of the Year Award recipients.

"The 2022 Australians of the Year are great examples of the Australian spirit. Their courage, determination and fearlessness are an inspiration to us all," says Ms Roche.

"Val Dempsey embodies the Australian spirit of volunteering. She has donated her time to the service of St John Ambulance for more than half a century, helping countless Australians."

Val will be attending the National Flag Raising and Citizenship Ceremony in Canberra on Australia Day morning, before travelling to Sydney for the evening's Australia Day events.

State and Territory Senior Australian of the Year award winners that were finalists for this award were:

NSW Senior Australian of the Year: Abla Tohamy Kadous

Abla received the NSW award for her commitment to supporting Muslim women in Australia and over 35 years of voluntary work, including the creation of the Islamic Women's Welfare Association (IWWA) of which she is currently President.

After moving from Egypt to Australia, Abla set up the country's first welfare service dedicated to assisting Muslim women, all while raising her five children.

Abla managed to overcome financial constraints and other issues to create the not-for-profit organisation and assist Islamic women to feel comfortable and to participate in their communities.

IWWA provides anti-discrimination forums, school-readiness programs, youth camps, cooking classes and events, as well as providing essentials to people in need.

In her 70s, Abla leads 50 volunteers and staff and is very active in the organisation. Over her time at the helm of IWWA, she has raised enough funding through a range of different initiatives - like sewing, cooking and sourcing items to sell - to buy a function centre for the organisation.

Additionally, Abla works hard to bridge the gap between other religions by organising inter-faith forms in Western Sydney.

NT Senior Australian of the Year: Robyne Burridge OAM

Robyne received the NT award for her tireless work as a disability leader, activist and advocate, and as the Founder of Focus-A-Bility.

In 1980, Robyne move to the Territory for 18 months to organise its International Year of People with Disability events and ended up loving that place so much, she is still living there today!

She advocates for greater equality, accessibility and quality of life for people with disability in the Territory and was the founding member of Integrated DisAbility Action and a member of the governance committee on the Northern Territory Primary Health Network.

For 20 years, Robyne served as an Alderman with the Darwin City Council and also was Deputy Lord Mayor for one year.

Focus-A-Bility was established by her in 1997 to provide people with disability access to advocacy, case management and information.

As a person living with cerebral palsy, Robyne has a lot of experience in disability advocacy which she has passed on to executives in the sector through mentorship.

Robyne has received a lot of awards over her lifetime, including an Order of Australia Medal for her advocacy service for people with disability in 2020.

Queensland Senior Australian of the Year: Dr Colin Dillon AM APM

Colin received the Queensland award for his long-standing service as a police officer, including being Australia's first Indigenous police officer.

He entered the Queensland Police Force in 1965, which was two years before the 1967 referendum that introduced counting Aboriginal people in the nation's census, as well as being a decade before the ratification of the Racial Discrimination Act.

In 1987, Colin showed great courage as the first police officer to step forward and give first-hand knowledge under oath at the Fitzgerald Inquiry into Police Corruption. His evidence resulted in corrupt officers going to prison, including the police commissioner and several politicians.

Over the years, Colin has received the Australian Police Medal, an honorary doctorate from the Queensland University of Technology, and was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his service to the Indigenous community in 2013.

After retiring from the force, Colin became the Chairman of Indigenous radio station, 98.9FM, and was the former Director of the Queensland Heart Foundation. He currently sits as a community member on the Parole Board of Queensland.

SA Senior Australian of the Year: Mark Le Messurier

Mark received the SA award for his dedicated work as an educator and counsellor, as well as being an author of an important literacy education program.

During his 20-year teaching career, Mark was devoted to improving the lives of students by encouraging self-worth, wellbeing, mental health and positive life outcomes.

Mark was focused on assisting the 'tough kids', who were struggling in some capacity, including children with disabilities, global development delays, disadvantage, disorders, neglect, or a combination of issues.

Following his retirement from teaching, Mark opened a consultancy practice to mentor children who needed extra support outside of the school system, while also coaching their parents.

He aimed to create positive environments that would help children and adults be successful in their endeavours.

Mark has also authored many books for both teachers and parents, including co-authoring What's the Buzz? - a social and emotional literacy education program. This program became a standard course in the training of teachers and other professionals in over 90 countries.

TAS Senior Australian of the Year: Bruce French AO

Bruce received the Tasmanian award for his work as an agricultural scientist and as Founder of Food Plants International.

His work collecting and distributing information about edible plants has made a practical difference in enhancing food security, nutrition and health outcomes in developing countries.

Bruce founded Food Plants International in 1999 with the aim of documenting edible plants around the world, which are now logged on the organisation's website with over 33,500 species of edible plants identified.

The idea for Food Plants International came from Bruce's time in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s. He met many villagers who lived with disease and malnutrition, however, they were often surrounded by nutritious edible plants.

That was a defining moment for Bruce, who made it his mission to document the plant species in Papua New Guinea, which eventually expanded to include plants around the world.

In 2007, Rotary Tasmania teamed up with Food Plants International and other organisations to create the Food Plant Solutions project, which aimed to provide regions with information on growing nutritious and viable food plants for their particular environment.

VIC Senior Australian of the Year: Gaye Hamilton

Gaye received the Victorian award for commitment to social justice, equity and respite through her position as Deputy Chancellor of Victoria University.

She has held many jobs and voluntary roles that showcase her commitment to Melbourne's West, including as Chancellor or Deputy Chancellor of Victoria University, Chair of the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation, and Board Member of Western Chances.

In 2020 and 2021, it was a particularly challenging time and COVID-19 hit Melbourne's West hard. Gaye used her experience to enable the area's institutions to navigate those difficult years successfully.

Victoria University was voted the number one education institution for employability in Australia, which was a huge achievement for a sector impacted by COVID-19.

In her role at the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation, she directed all programs to digital platforms to engage with the community and those in need during the Melbourne lockdowns.

WA Senior Australian of the Year: Janice Standen

Janice received the WA award for her role as President of the volunteer-run organisation, Grandparents Rearing Grandchildren WA (GRGWA).

She has advocated for grandparents carers who are often an ignored community in Australia.

Jan joined the organisation in 2013 after her three grandchildren came to live with her. She has firsthand experience of the day to day battles that grandparents experience when they become primary carers.

Despite obstacles in the way, Jan managed to rapidly expand the organisation and secured a fit-for-purpose premise that raised the profile of GRGWA and increased the membership and outreach by over 40 percent.

More than two-thirds of grandparent carers live in poverty in Australia, which is something Jan has worked hard to assist with. Under Jan's guidance, GRGWA offers free legal and counselling support, a food bank pick-up centre, a donations distribution service, and an op-shop for free clothing and toys to assist grandparents in need.

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