A woman who survived sexual assault to fight for others, a Kenyan refugee who became a multicultural liaison officer, a young advocate hoping to end period poverty, and a renowned Aboriginal educator are the recipients of the 2021 Australian of the Year awards.

After an extraordinary year, the awards celebrated four equally extraordinary Australians, all united in a desire to help others find their voice.

The 26-year-old who helped lead the fight to overturn a law preventing sexual assault survivors from speaking out has been named the Australian of the Year for 2021

It is the first time in the program’s 61-year history that a Tasmanian has won the award.

At 15, Grace Tame was groomed and raped by her 58-year-old teacher at a private girls’ school in Hobart.

Her abuser was jailed for his crimes, but Ms Tame was not able to speak about her experience publicly under Tasmania’s sexual assault victim gag laws, despite the perpetrator and media being free to do so.

She became the hidden face and catalyst of the #LetHerSpeak campaign, a victim who could not be shown or named in the media.

Assisted by the campaign, Ms Tame applied to the Supreme Court for the right to publicly self-identify as a rape survivor and won, before going on to advocate for others.

Tasmanian Grace Tame survived sexual assault and became a campaigner on behalf of others.(AAP: Mike Tsikas)

Her work has focused on helping others understand how grooming works, and to break down stigmas associated with sexual assault.

“She is a regular guest speaker for high-profile events and television programs and uses her media profile to advocate for other vulnerable groups in the community.”

Ms Tame became emotional when she received the award, paying tribute to other survivors.

“All survivors of child sexual abuse, this is for us,” she said.

She spoke about the importance of breaking down stigma and empowering young people to speak out.

“I lost my virginity to a paedophile,” she said.

“I was 15, anorexic. He was 58, he was my teacher.

“Publicly he described his crimes as “awesome” and “enviable”. Publicly I was silenced by law. Not anymore.

“Australia, we’ve come a long way, but there is still a lot more to do.”

Describing herself as a “proud Tasmanian”, Ms Tame talked about the journey she had been on in the years since suffering trauma, in the hope of inspiring others.

“Eleven years ago, I was in hospital, anorexic … last year I won a marathon. We do transform as individuals,” she said.

“I remember him saying, ‘Don’t make a sound.’ Well, hear me now, using my voice amongst a chorus of voices that will not be silenced.”

Top End’s first Aboriginal teacher recognised

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Senior Australian of the Year Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann AM was the Northern Territory’s first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher.

A passion for art and education led the Senior Australian of the Year for 2021 to a career as an educator and activist.

In 1975, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann AM became the Northern Territory’s first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher, becoming a principal in her community of Nauiyu, 143 kilometres south-west of Darwin.

She visited schools through the Top End as an art consultant for the Department of Education, advocating for the inclusion of visual art as part of every child’s education.

Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann, 69, is also a renowned writer, public speaker, activist and artist.

She has served on the National Indigenous Council and founded the Miriam Rose Foundation to drive reconciliation at a grassroots level, and bridge the divide between Aboriginal culture and mainstream society.

“I’m very excited about what’s happened tonight, I can’t breathe,” she said.

Writer, public speaker, activist and artist Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann.(AAP: Mike Tsikas)

Accepting the award, Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann spoke about the importance of connection between the cultural groups of Australia.

“Two hundred years ago we began to interact with white fellas and Australia has become multicultural,” she said.

“Since then … we learnt to speak your English fluently. For years we have walked on a one way street to learn the white man’s way.

“Now is the time for you to come closer to understand us.”

It is the third time Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann has been nominated for an Australian of the Year award.

Isobel Marshall honoured for charity tackling period poverty

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Isobel Marshall has been honoured for her charity tackling period poverty.

Millions of girls and young women around the world face period poverty, which often forces them to drop out of school.

For South Australia’s Young Australian of the Year Isobel Marshall, that reality is unacceptable.

At 18, the now 22-year-old crowdfunded $56,000 in 2018, alongside Eloise Hall, and established the charity TABOO, a brand of ethically sourced organic pads and tampons.

All TABOO’s net profits are sent to its charity partner (One Girls) in Sierra Leone and Uganda, where they are used to fight period poverty.

Locally, Isobel and TABOO have partnered with Vinnies Women’s Crisis centre, providing free access to pads and tampons for women who require emergency accommodation in South Australia.

South Australia’s Isobel Marshall co-founded the charity TABOO.(AAP: Mike Tsikas)

It was a trip to Kenya that served as the motivation for her work, Ms Marshall said.

“We met girls who walk three hours everyday to get to school with nothing but dirty rags to soak up the blood and dealing with period cramps but nothing to help the pain,” she said.

“We met girls who had dropped out of school at 13 because of their gender and biology.”

At the ceremony, Ms Marshall called on others to assist in fighting on behalf of young women and girls.

“The reality is that 30 per cent of girls in developing countries still drop out of school because of menstruation,” she said.

“We have a responsibility to acknowledge our privilege and use our resources to lift others up.

“Our mission is simple: to fight period poverty … to fight menstrual stigma overseas and at home.

Local Hero advocates for migrants facing domestic violence

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Rosemary Kariuki has supported other refugees struggling due to isolation.

Rosemary Kariuki emigrated from Kenya to Sydney in 1999, carrying only a few hundred dollars, some clothes, and gifts for strangers.

She made her first friend at the airport — an Ethiopian woman who was dropping off a friend for a flight — who listened to her story about escaping tribal wars and domestic violence.

But her first years in Australia proved lonely, motivating her to go on to support other refugees who were also struggling due to isolation.

That work earned her the title of Australia’s Local Hero for 2021 at a ceremony in Canberra on Monday evening.

Now the multicultural community liaison officer for the Parramatta Police, Ms Kariuki specialises in helping migrants who are facing domestic violence, language barriers and financial distress.

For the past 15 years, she has used social setups like morning teas, dinners, dances and road trips to build trust across various cultural groups.

“[After] fleeing Kenya alone in 1999 to escape family abuse and tribal clashes, her early years in Australia were terribly lonely,” the judging panel said.

“Her experience helped Rosemary recognise that isolation is a huge issue for many migrant women.

“So [she] devised ways to help women leave their house and meet women in similar circumstances.”

At the awards ceremony, Ms Kariuki spoke about her love of Australia after struggling at first with the language and cultural differences.

“Sometimes we don’t realise the difference the smallest gesture can make,” she said.

“Together we can make this wonderful country that I call home even greater.

“I would like to encourage every one of you to meet someone from a different background this week, and see what opens up to you.”

Isobel Marshall, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, Grace Tame and Rosemary Kariuki at the 2021 Australian of the Year awards.(AAP: Mike Tsikas)