To celebrate the Qantas Centenary, we’re honouring 100 extraordinary people who epitomise the spirit of Australia in 2020. 

Game-changers and quiet achievers, big names and local heroes – these leaders represent the best of our country. The criteria for inclusion? The 100 must identify as Australian and be impacting our nation in a positive way, whether they’re reshaping their industry, leaving a legacy or doing something innovative and inspiring. These are our first 23 inspiring Australians.

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1/100: Judith Neilson

Judith Neilson

Image credit: Getty/Scott Barbour.

Founder and owner of Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery and founder of the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism & Ideas

On contemporary art: “It’s how individuals make sense of the world around them. In doing so they help all of us see things that might not be immediately apparent. It encourages us to think differently and consider other points of view. Contemporary art often tells stories that no-one would ever read – it’s a document of the day.”

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2/100: Louis Li

Louis Li

Image credit: Rick Liston.

Hotelier and entrepreneur

The son of Chinese property developers, Li is an unlikely hero. He moved to Victoria in 2007 to study film before designing Mornington Peninsula hotel Jackalope at the age of 25 in 2007. The hotel is so unusual it could have been dismissed as an over-the-top fantasy. Instead it’s garnered coveted awards and praise from locals. 

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3/100 & 4/100: Robert and Bindi Irwin

Robert & Bindi Irwin

Image credit: Russell Shakespeare.

Wildlife conservationists

Robert: How much of what you do is continuing the legacy of Mum and Dad and how much is striking out on your own?
Bindi: When I was little I’d say, “I want to be just like Dad when I grow up.” He was a superhero, a living hurricane. That’s why I love him so much. But while we’ve carried on in Mum and Dad’s footsteps, they always encouraged us to become our own people.

Bindi: You’re 16. How would you like to see the world change by the time you’re 26?
Robert: I’d hope for more consideration for unsustainable human population growth. It’s the overarching problem with any conservation issue: the demand for specific resources with mining, say, or traditional medicine; or habitat degradation to plant crops. Hopefully in 10 years we’ll be having a wider discussion that takes into consideration the needs of both people and wildlife. 

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5/100: Rinaldo Di Stasio

Rinaldo di Stasio

Image credit: Mark Roper.

Restaurateur 

Ronnie Di Stasio is Melbourne’s answer to the Medicis. He’s a Renaissance man celebrating the nexus of food, wine and art. A bon vivant, vineyard owner and proud Italophile, his St Kilda institution, Café Di Stasio, has been an unofficial home to politicians, artists, business leaders and glitterati for more than 30 years; a place where white-jacketed waiters set the mood and champagne corks mark the ceiling. “Passion does not come in vanilla flavour,” says Di Stasio, the son of Italian immigrants who grew up in working-class Thornbury. Eating carpaccio at Café Di Stasio or sipping a Negroni next-door at Bar Di Stasio, added in 2013, are true Melbourne experiences. In 2019 he opened Di Stasio Città, a slick, art-inspired restaurant on Spring Street in the CBD, now dubbed the city’s “Milan end”. 

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6/100: Abigail Allwood

Geologist, astrobiologist and principal investigator on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission

Allwood's latest project, Mars 2020, takes off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in July. The mission? To determine if Mars has ever contained microbial life. “The job of the science team is to select samples and we’ll have six instruments at our disposal – one of them PIXL, which I’m in charge of – to help make decisions,” says Allwood, who’s based at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. If the mission is successful, it won’t be the first time Allwood has made history. Between 2003 and 2005 she discovered the oldest signs of life on our own planet: microbial fossils dating back nearly 3.5 billion years inside geological formations called stromatolites in Western Australia’s Pilbara.

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7/100: Glenn Murcutt

Glenn Murcutt

Image credit: Getty/Mariana Silvia Eliano.

Architect, lecturer and author

Comedian and design buff Tim Ross: “I once wrote Glenn Murcutt a quick note asking a question. A week later, the most delightful and considered two-page handwritten letter arrived in response. A thoughtful and considered man, who still designs by hand and doesn’t use a computer, Glenn, now 83, creates buildings that reflect our identity as well as build on it. What makes him a truly great Australian architect? He not only understands the bush but loves it. I cherish Glenn’s letter like a piece of art.” 

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8/100: Yasodai Selvakumaran

Humanities teacher and professional practice leader

The Sri Lanka-born daughter of Tamil refugees who moved to the NSW Riverina in 1988, Yasodai Selvakumaran was just a preschooler when the seeds were planted for her teaching career. She recalls her feeling of frustration at not being able to speak English. Almost three decades later, the now 32-year-old is harnessing that same power to assist her own students at Rooty Hill High School in Sydney’s western suburbs, as well as mentor more than 200 of her fellow teachers. In 2019, she was the only Australian to make the final short list of the Global Teacher Prize, which awards US$1 million (about $1.45 million) to an outstanding educator. 

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9/100: Dina Petrakis

Dina Petrakis

Image credit: Damian Bennett.

Global manager of Ignite Small Business Start-Ups

“People talk about helping refugees and asylum seekers become independent and confident but Ignite does more than that – we give them agency,” says Dina Petrakis. It’s a subtle yet crucial distinction of the Sydney-based refugee business initiative the 57-year-old established in 2013 for not-for-profit organisation Settlement Services International. “We not only help people find financial independence but also their voice so they’re able to represent themselves, their families and their communities.” Ignite’s one-to-one model pairs an entrepreneur with a facilitator for anywhere from six weeks to three years. “We coach, support, advocate – whatever needs to be done to start their business,” she says.

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10/100: Brendan Cullen

Rural mental health advocate

Although having a yarn had never been a problem for Brendan Cullen, there was something he was struggling to verbalise in 2015 when he climbed the steps of the local hospital to ask for help. A combination of factors led the Broken Hill grazier to that moment. His family farm – and his dream to be part of its succession – had been sold. The 60,000-hectare Wiltipoll sheep station that he managed in far-west NSW was being ravaged by drought. As he worked dawn to dusk, missing out on time with his wife and kids, Cullen’s then undiagnosed depression became insidious, tipping evening beers into double digits and permeating his thoughts. The father of three has since become a conduit between rural communities and clinical support as an ambassador for Lifeline and a champion for the We’ve Got Your Back collaboration with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Now he’s the go-to guy for anyone wrestling with a similar sense of unease.

SEE ALSO: What do the Queen and ABBA Have in Common?

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11/100: Ashleigh Barty

Ashleigh Barty

Image credit: Getty/Paul Kane.

Tennis champion

Tennis great Evonne Goolagong Cawley: “I never enjoyed watching tennis until Roger Federer and I wished there was a woman out there who had the same skills. Then along came Ash. It’s such a pleasure to watch her play – some of the shots she makes, I think, ‘Ooh, that must have felt good’. Ash is the second Indigenous player to represent our country and I’m so proud of her. She’s such a great role model and has done amazingly well, not just for Indigenous people but for everyone around Australia.” 

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12/100: Neil Shankly

Neil Shankly

Image credit: Julian Kingma.

CFA strike team leader, Victoria

When Neil Shankly arrived in Mallacoota, a Victorian coastal holiday town near the NSW border and the site of one of the most harrowing episodes of the bushfire crisis, he understood why people were shaken. “I could see how far the fire had travelled, right to the shore,” the 55-year-old says of the flames that overtook the town on 31 December, forcing thousands of people to the water. “I like to help others,” he says. “But it’s not about me. There are many who do more than me. When you’re a volunteer, you see the effort people put in. It’s quite amazing.”

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13/100: Ilora Godwin

Ilora Godwin

Image credit: Naomi Jellicoe.

CFS volunteer firefighter, South Australia

Godwin, a fly-in, fly-out refinery technician at BHP’s Olympic Dam mine, has been a volunteer firefighter for nearly five years. “The fires were difficult but the spirit of the communities is incredible. I got lots of hugs.”

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14/100: Nathan Barnden

RFS divisional commander, NSW

 Barnden lost his uncle and cousin in the fires but his grief spurs him on. “I don’t want any other family to deal with what we’re going through,” he says. “That’s what drives me to get up and put the uniform on. I don’t want anyone else to feel that pain.”

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15/100: Curtis McGrath

Curtis McGrath

Image credit: Damian Bennett.

Paralympian

It started as an ordinary day for former Australian Army combat engineer Curtis McGrath during a tour of Afghanistan in August 2012. It didn’t end that way. As the then 24-year-old was sweeping an area for improvised explosive devices, a blast tore though him. Fully conscious, McGrath guided his colleagues through the first steps of emergency care – morphine, IV fluids and attempts to halt blood loss. “I knew the extent of my injuries and that my legs weren’t coming back.” Despite his trauma, McGrath offered his team solace. “I said, ‘You’ll see me at the Paralympics,’” he recalls. “I felt that whatever I said was in some way going to help their traumatic situation.”

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16/100: Trent Dalton

Trent Dalton

Journalist and author of Boy Swallows Universe

What’s something you wish the world better understood about Australians? "We come across as knockabout but we also have a deep intelligence. We have incredibly bright people who punch above their weight in things like science and literature. Growing up, my family was rough as guts but all we ever wanted to do was play Trivial Pursuit and become the smartest people we could."

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17/100 & 18/100: Robert de Castella & Zibeon Fielding 

Zibeon Fielding

Image credit: Rohan Thomson.

Champion marathon runner and founder and director of the Indigenous Marathon Foundation; Runner, cyclist, fundraiser, health worker

Robert de Castella: "[Zibeon]’s a natural athlete. When he runs, he glides. But more than that he has this strength of purpose and drive. He works as a qualified nurse practitioner and is about to start studying medicine. He ran a 62-kilometre ultramarathon through the Australian desert to raise $50,000 for a dialysis clinic in his community. He then cycled 700 kilometres to build a gym for Mimili. And he does it all with incredible passion and infectious enthusiasm.”

Zibeon Fielding: "Robert de Castella is an all-round legend and when he speaks I tear up. He speaks really deeply and I relate to the things he talks about because they’re issues from where I’m from. I look up to the bloke like he’s my dad.”

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19/100: HY William Chan

Urbanist and entrepreneur

Where others see a building, HY William Chan sees a facility for empowerment. By using his expertise to help people in vulnerable communities, the urbanist is working to create social change. “The best way to empower people is to share skills so they can build capacity to create solutions for their problems,” he explains. 

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20/100 & 21/100: James and Hayley Baillie

James and Hayley Baillie

Image credit: Peter Mathew.

Owners of Baillie Lodges, which includes Longitude 131° at Uluru, Silky Oaks Lodge in Tropical North Queensland, Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island and the soon-to-be-rebuilt Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island 

In January, Southern Ocean Lodge was destroyed by the bushfires that ravaged Kangaroo Island. “We both had lots of tears,” says James. But the couple has committed to rebuilding the property and making it even more spectacular than before. “It’s so important that it comes back,” says Hayley. “For Kangaroo Island and for Australian tourism.”

SEE ALSO: The Qantas Ad that Changed Paul and Ell's Lives

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22/100: Kylie Kwong

Chef

"With my restaurant Billy Kwong, I always said I wanted to go deeper, not broader. I was able to create an authentic and meaningful version of Australian-Cantonesestyle food, while learning about the rich cultural heritage of our First Nations people – it was an absolute privilege.”

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23/100: Rebecca Johnson

Rebecca Johnson

Image credit: Damian Bennett.

Chief scientist and associate director of science at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

In late 2019, Johnson was named the new chief scientist and associate director of science at what is widely considered to be the museum of all museums, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. “To many people, museums are the places you go to see an amazing dinosaur skeleton,” says Johnson. “I want that skeleton to help you think about the environment it lived in and how climate changed naturally over time then put that into context with the pace of climate change now.” 

SEE ALSO: Watch Qantas’s New Inflight Safety Video

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24/100: Adam Flaskas

Director of Howard Smith Wharves, Brisbane

Howard Smith Wharves went from being derelict to a destination thousands of people visited every day. How does that feel?
It’s fun but there’s also a sense of responsibility and pride that the city believed in me to deliver this precinct. And then gratitude for the people I work with. Now, Brisbane people feel Howard Smith Wharves is theirs and that’s really satisfying.

Did your work as a property investor give you early insight into how Brisbane was changing?
Absolutely. I’ve lived in New Farm for two decades, 50 metres from Howard Smith Wharves, and my skill set is helping activate underutilised sites. I felt like I knew what the city wanted.

Hospitality has suffered such a blow from COVID-19. Does this reinforce the importance of community spaces like Howard Smith Wharves?
Enjoying a meal with family and friends makes people happy. None of us could have predicted this situation and right now I just want our customers and staff to be safe. But we will reopen – with a bang – and people will enjoy getting back out there after being cooped up at home.

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25/100: Nick Cave

Australian singer, songwriter and author, Nick Cave

Singer, songwriter, screenwriter and author of The Red Hand Files

“Nick has inspired me both as an artist and a person so it’s difficult for me to frame him in an objective cultural context. There is certainly no other artist who has had a bigger influence on me; I put him up there with the all-time musical greats.

But the most profound influence Nick has had on me has come as I’ve watched how he handles the tragic death of his son. We’ll all suffer loss and much of our lives will be defined by how we negotiate these losses. To watch someone embrace his situation and the people around him and drag us all to a place that’s richer, more meaningful and filled with more beauty than the world we knew before is truly inspiring.”

ANDREW DOMINIK, DIRECTOR OF ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING
Image credit: Michael Friberg

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26-27-28/100: Jeremy Bear, Ryan Tate and Taylor

Jeremy Bear, Ryan Tate and Taylor – Koala rescue team

Koala rescue team

Thanks to his surname, Jeremy Bear from the NSW Central Coast (left) has always felt a connection with Australia’s eucalyptus-munching marsupials. (“Not that koalas are bears!” he hastens to remind people.) But it wasn’t until he took a redundancy from his engineering job in 2019 and began volunteering full-time with the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital that he turned his passion for the unique animals into his life’s work.

During the recent devastating summer bushfires, Bear banded together with Ryan Tate of Tate Animal Training Enterprises and his specially trained English springer spaniel, Taylor, to scour burnt-out bushland around Port Macquarie and the Snowy Mountains in the state’s south for koalas that needed their help. Taylor was a critical member of the team, hunting down the scent of koala scat so the humans knew where to look.

“I remember the first koala who came in to the hospital – we called him Paul,” says Jeremy. “He had pretty severe burns around his bum and his hands and feet but luckily he’s still with us, unlike some of the others we lost along the way.” It’s always hard, he says, when a koala slips away or has to be put down but the joy of releasing the rehabilitated ones back into the wild makes it worth it. “They find a tree they like and bolt right up it. Sometimes they even give you a little look over their shoulder before they go.”

Image credit: Lindsay Moller

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29/100: Cyan Ta’eed

Founder of tech marketplace Envato and social enterprise chocolate company Hey Tiger.

Envato is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars; do you still have to explain to people what it is?
All the time. To sum it up in one line, it’s a series of marketplaces where people buy and sell digital goods but only people who work in tech and the type of people who read the Australian Financial Review would know that. No one else does and why would they? If you’re not a designer, developer or tech-savvy small business owner you’d really have no reason to have come across it.

What’s it like being a female leader in the male-dominated digital space?
For a number of years there was only one female developer I ever came across. We tried to hire her but she declined because everyone wanted to hire a female developer. It’s a blokey environment and for a long time I was trying to find that balance of how to lead while also backing myself. To learn to trust myself when I was getting pushback took some time and energy; it was consistently challenging for a few years. One of the lessons we learnt was how to create a culture that will facilitate inclusion but it took a bit of work to get there. I’ve mostly gotten over imposter syndrome but it’s taken 14 years.

What do you want to achieve with Hey Tiger?
I knew I wanted my next venture to be a social enterprise, something to really lean into and create a positive impact. I don’t take a salary from it; Hey Tiger is owned by a charitable trust and we make a donation for each bar sold to development projects in cocoa farming communities in West Africa. I find it fulfilling that my team and I are putting our hearts and souls into something that we believe in.

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30/100: Susan Kurrle

Geriatrician and Curran Chair in Health Care of Older People in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney

In 1979, when Susan Kurrle was a locum GP, a mentor urged her to consider a career in geriatric care. Decades later, the geriatrician says she’s “never regretted a minute of it”. 

Last year, Kurrle became a senior geriatric consultant on Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds, an ABC documentary series based on research into intergenerational care that she’d overseen. The merging of aged- and child-care facilities saw chair-bound seniors up making slime and singing rhymes. Elderly wisdom and infant naivety combined on topics as complex as war and death, narrowing the gap between age groups and sending wellbeing soaring. “The children had no ageism,” says Kurrle. “They were non-judgmental. It was lovely.”

More than simply making for must-watch TV, the regular interaction between old and young showed positive outcomes for both groups. “If you looked at it purely as a medical intervention, it was very effective,” says Kurrle. “And relatively cheap – with no side effects!”

She believes the multi-generational family living model that was once the norm should help shape the future of aged care. “In our family and with friends it’s the relationships between us that are important. I think we need to keep that going in residential-care facilities; we have to make it much more home-like,” she says. “I would love to see the acceptance that older people need to be part of the community.”

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31/100: John Olsen

Portrait of John Olsen by Nicholas Harding

Painter, ceramicist and printmaker

“I first saw John’s work in 1965, shortly after my family settled in Australia from the United Kingdom and my parents gave me a book about Australian artists. I was 10 years old and soaked up the powerful images full of vigour and invention. John sat for me for a portrait in 2017 and I thought I had three hours to complete the study for the painting. An hour-and-a-half in, he gleefully declared, ‘Rosé time!’ 

As a fellow artist, John understands the challenges of portrait painting. Looking me straight in the eye he told me to be brutal, freeing me from the tyranny of vanity that can impose itself on the process. Back in my studio this fed into the portrait, which was a finalist in the 2017 Archibald Prize competition and is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. John is 92 and continues to have a vibrant enthusiasm for art, love, landscape, literature, food and sex, all transfigured in the luscious stuff of paint.”

ARCHIBALD PRIZE-WINNING ARTIST NICHOLAS HARDING
Image credit: Archibald Prize 2017 finalist Nicholas Harding, ‘John Olsen AO, OBE’, oil on linen, 198cm x 138cm © the artist, Photograph by Jenni Carter, AGNSW

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32/100: Molly Steer

Founder of Straw No More

“I started Straw No More after I saw a movie with my mum about plastic in the ocean. I’ve been so inspired by the other kids who’ve joined the campaign; they’ve gone to schools, shops and cafés and asked them to stop using plastic straws and many have. It’s great to see I’m not alone in caring for the environment and it’s amazing how open people are. Doing something small can start a conversation and create change.”

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33-34/100: Sophie Pollitt and Alexia Spalding

Good Day Girls

Co-founders of sustainable fashion business Good Day Girl

“We were at an outlet centre doing a sample sale together. Everywhere we looked we saw piles of unwanted stock being sold at a discount,” says Sophie Pollitt of the moment she and Alexia Spalding (left, with Pollitt) realised the fashion industry they’d been part of for years wasn’t working for them anymore. “We both thought, ‘No, we have to shift.’”

Once the pair put their heads together, the answer came: they would create a new kind of fashion business, one that started with the customer rather than the clothing.

Seven successful years later, Good Day Girl shows two collections a year in a Sydney studio and online, and Sophie and Alexia conduct one-on-one styling sessions to help each customer choose exactly what she wants to wear. Garments are then made to order – no waste and no more sample sales.

The concept works and not only for the customers, who rarely return their buys. The company has achieved B-Corp certification, which means it meets the highest standards of sustainability.

For Sophie and Alexia, the gamble has paid off. “Getting to spend time with our clients gives us so much joy,” says Alexia. “Seeing their enthusiasm and knowing that they are interested in a different, low-waste way of shopping is incredibly satisfying.”

Image credit: Justin Alexander

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35/100: Mark Wenitong

Indigenous health professional

Mark Wenitong

Mark Wenitong only had to look at his mum, Lealon, to decide what he wanted to do with his life. Having survived domestic violence while Wenitong and his four siblings were growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Lealon (known as Aunty Lorna) went on to work in the first Indigenous health service in Queensland.

“She was a bit of a trailblazer,” says Wenitong, who saw what his mother was doing and began to ask questions. “Why is our mob doing so badly? What can I do to help?” He went on to become one of the first Indigenous men to earn a medical degree from The University of Newcastle and today he works as an Aboriginal health GP and public health medical officer in Far North Queensland.

He turns to reggae music to help him through the more challenging parts of his work. “Indigenous health can be really intense; it can eat you up. Music gives you that balance.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic proves virulent around the world, housing conditions in remote communities and pre-existing illnesses make Indigenous Australians especially vulnerable. “It’s our biggest critical issue at the moment,” says Wenitong, though he believes that management of the virus is achievable “if we remain strict with our criteria around testing, isolation and quarantine”.

Despite the problems, Wenitong is optimistic. “We’re becoming more sophisticated about what causes excess mortality in our population. As long as we keep up with new developments, I think we’re in a good place.”

Aunty Lorna would be proud.

Image credit: Brian Cassey

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36/100: Sam Kerr

Sam Kerr

Football Player

When did you start playing football and were you good right away?

I was 12 years old and I don’t think I was very good at all. I grew up playing Aussie Rules so a round ball was a bit off for me.

You’re now captain of the Matildas and one of the best players in the world. How do you handle the pressure?

It’s natural and I feel the most pressure from myself. When something doesn’t go right, I tend to stew on it but I try not to let my highs be too high or my lows too low. I surround myself with people I love as a reminder that it’s just a game.

What would pay equity mean for women’s sport?

Female athletes deserve the opportunity to put everything they have into being the best they can be. When I was young I always imagined being a professional athlete and in the early stages of my career I quickly realised how tough it would be. I couldn’t have imagined where women’s sport is now – but there’s still more to go.

You’ve competed at the Olympic Games and FIFA Women’s World Cup and are now signed to Chelsea in the FA Women’s Super League. What drives you?

My love for the game and my will to win. So much sacrifice goes into being a top-level athlete that once I lose the love, I’ll hang my boots up. 

Image credit: Frances Andrijich 

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37/100: Dr John Gerrard

Gerard and Li

Infectious diseases physician at Gold Coast University Hospital 

You worked in Sierra Leone in 2014 during the Ebola outbreak. Did you ever expect a pandemic to affect Australia?

Since I started training in infectious diseases in 1988, we’ve spoken about a pandemic of this nature in theoretical terms and this hospital was built with the concept of one in mind. So it’s something we’d been thinking about for a long time. In some ways, coronavirus is justification for the thought and planning.

What has being on the frontline of the pandemic shown you about our healthcare system?

I’m incredibly proud of the way in which individuals have stepped up with enthusiasm to manage these patients. I wasn’t sure if clinical staff would shy away but people from different departments want to volunteer.

What have you found most challenging about the crisis?

It may change soon but as of today we don’t have an effective treatment or vaccine and it’s difficult to talk to a patient who’s had a high fever and breathlessness for eight to 10 days when there’s no specific treatment for them. That’s been the hardest thing.

Are you optimistic about the development of a vaccine?

In this situation, what I find gets me through is to focus on what I know and what I do, which is treating patients. Obviously we wish for a vaccine but who knows.

I’m sure you can’t talk about treating Tom Hanks but how does having a high-profile patient affect your job?

We treat all patients exactly the same. Whoever they are, they’re treated the same. 

38/100: Catherine Li

Renal nurse at Gold Coast University Hospital

You usually work on the renal ward. Did you volunteer for the infectious diseases team?

Dr Gerrard was looking for someone who spoke Mandarin and I was on that night – it was good timing. When they asked me I said, “Yeah, I can speak Mandarin” and then I thought, ‘Wait, what’s this for?’ Because I’d heard we had a confirmed case. It was confirmed at 8pm, I went to work at 9pm and got called at about 10.30pm.

Were you nervous? 

I was but when I got to the infectious diseases ward, Dr Gerrard was there and a person from infection control told us what to do, like how to put on and take off PPE [personal protective equipment] in the correct order. There was a team of people, everything was calm and I felt really supported.

What was the biggest challenge?

Treating patients in separate rooms. You can’t wear the same PPE with multiple patients so I had to change every time I went into a different room. There were eight patients, including three children, and they had so many questions. I was there to keep them calm and tell them it was okay. 

Image Credit: David Chatfield 

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39/100: Stan Grant

Stan Grant

Journalist, author and writer of The Australian Dream

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a journalist. My earliest memories are of watching momentous events play out on the television news: the Vietnam War when I was a young boy; man landing on the moon. There were no Indigenous journalists for me to look up to then but what I did have was a deep connection to stories. My family are storytellers, readers and writers, that’s what we do.

"Telling Adam Goodes’ story in The Australian Dream [which focuses on the racial abuse he suffered as an Indigenous AFL player] was like telling my own; the racism that threatened to break him apart is something I’m very familiar with. Adam has a profound sense of who he is and a profound sense of right and wrong and he took the many fights and struggles of Indigenous people and gave them a voice. The film tells us something deeper about Australia, about how far we have come as a nation but where we still fall short. It’s about what we can aspire to, speaking out against injustice and demanding we do better and be better.” 

Image Credit: Jay L. Clendenin 

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40/100: Adam Goodes

Adam Goodes

Retired AFL player and co-founder of Indigenous education charity GO Foundation

“When Stan Grant came to me, it had been a couple of years since I’d retired and a bit of water had gone under the bridge. His idea was to make a documentary that would tell the story of why I felt the need to stand up like I did but also to tell the history of Australia. That was a positive reason for me to dig it up – to help educate others.

"I remember when I was about 18 or 19 a reporter asked me how it felt to be an Indigenous role model and I actually didn’t even know what it meant to be an Indigenous person. It was really tough; I had to go on my own personal journey to find out who I was. Now, for me, being a role model is about acknowledging the good things but also admitting your mistakes and learning from them. The Australian Dream is out there for people to learn from. It’s not up to me to keep the conversation going anymore. Hopefully, it helps build empathy and a bit more understanding.” 

Image Credit: Jay L. Clendenin 

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41/100: Bruna Papandrea

Bruna Papandrea

Film and television producer 

A number of the stories you’ve produced come from Australia – Big Little Lies, The Dry and Penguin Bloom. What makes our stories interesting?

Australians are natural storytellers, it’s part of our culture and we have so many great stories. Plus, Australia is my home. I grew up in Adelaide; it’s where my family is from so it’s important to me.

Women’s stories are also a focus for you.

I’m always interested in putting women in the centre of the narrative, instead of the “girlfriend” or “wife”, and telling stories that haven’t been told before. That’s what you’re seeing in Big Little Lies and Wild and Gone Girl, characters that are complex, original and even a little dark because that’s what women are. They inspire me; there are so many incredible women.

How do you make your voice heard in such a noisy industry?

It’s all about relationships, whether that’s with literary agents, authors like Liane Moriarty, other producers, such as Reese Witherspoon, or directors and actors, like Nicole Kidman. It’s about us feeling the same way about a project and coming together to make it work.

What drives you?

I have the best job in the world – that’s motivating. I’ve always wanted to tell stories; growing up I wanted to be Jana Wendt. Now that I have six-year-old twins, Roman and Avalon, if I have to be away from them it had better be a good project. 

Image Credit: Jesse Lizotte

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42/100: Ben Quilty 

Ben Quilty

Artist

On creativity

"I’ve always just made work for myself. It comes from a very protected, personal and honest place. There have been times when I’ve thought about finding a pretty spot and making paintings of a beautiful garden for the rest of my life – I tried when I got back from Afghanistan in 2011 – but it never lasted long. There’s so much to make work about."

On crisis

"I once read that the greatest art – Picasso’s Guernica, for example – is made in times of upheaval. It feels like the world is really fertile for artists right now; every artist on earth can create in response to COVID-19."

On activism

"Dad was into politics and I remember my mum marching against the invasion of Iraq and forcing my two brothers and me to do it with her. Our parents taught us to have a keen sense of injustice and that if you’ve got a voice you should use it to speak out."

On legacy

"I grew up in suburban Australia in the late 1980s and early ’90s and art wasn’t really accepted as a career path. Curator Lisa Slade put the Quilty exhibition together [last year] and it was both exciting and confronting for me – a retrospective is generally for dead people. Having a show at the Art Gallery of South Australia or NSW is something that I never dreamt of."

On optimism

"There’s so much that makes me optimistic: the beauty of being alive and having a conscience; being able to communicate with other people; looking at a blue sky. Humans have a lot to answer for but we’re also pretty resilient – able to laugh, to love, to create. Those are unique, extraordinary talents and to be human is a never-ending wonder."

Image Credit: Olivia Quilty

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43/100: Tan Le

Tan Le

Founder and CEO of Emotiv Artist

In 1982, after a dangerous journey by boat from Vietnam then three months in a refugee camp, Tan Le stepped onto Australian soil.

“I remember my mum walking my sister and me down the steps from the plane. At the bottom she said, ‘You’re on special ground. Bend down and touch the ground.’” To four-year-old Le, the tarmac didn’t feel special. “Make it special in your mind,” her mother said.

“That line was very symbolic of my journey to Australia,” says Le from her home in San Francisco. “It was a chance to start over. We made Australia special in our mind because we never took anything for granted.”

As her mother worked several jobs at a time, Le studied hard to graduate from high school, going on to study law when she was only 16. While still at university she was awarded the 1998 Young Australian of the Year Award for her advocacy work with the Vietnamese community in Footscray, Melbourne.

And today, the little girl who touched the ground all those years ago spends her days making things special in other people’s minds. Le is the founder and CEO of Emotiv, a groundbreaking company that designs headsets that measure wearers’ brain activity and uses that information to “control” tech in the external world. Her work has allowed a man who lost the use of his limbs to drive a Formula One car and a paralysis victim to communicate again. “There’s so much more to explore,” says Le. “It’s exciting and humbling at the same time.”

Image Credit: Andrew Miller

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44/100: Campbell Remess

Campbell Remess

Founder of Project 365 

On Christmas Eve in 2013, a nine-year-old boy from Hobart had an idea. “I asked Mum if we could buy gifts for sick kids in hospital,” remembers Campbell Remess, now 16. “But she’d just finished shopping for us – I’m one of nine kids – so it wasn’t possible. I decided to try to make them presents myself. I sat down at her sewing machine, googled some teddy-bear patterns and got started.”

Campbell has now made more than 3100 bears and donated them to people across the globe, many to sick or disabled children and some to those he feels need a pick-me- up – he sent one to former NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons after the recent devastating bushfires.

Certain recipients are close to his heart. “I heard about a little kid named Duke who lives on the north coast of Tassie,” says Campbell. “Duke had run out in front of a motorbike and suffered horrible head injuries. I made him a bear and wanted to give it to him personally. When I visited, his dad was holding him up as Duke couldn’t stand by himself. I leant over to give him the bear, he smiled and held up his hand for a fist bump, which he wasn’t expected to be able to do.”

In 2020, a leap year, Campbell has encouraged followers of his organisation, Project 365, to make a bear a day, with the goal of giving 366 toys to children in hospital this Christmas. “Being kind will change the world – and kindness starts small,” he says. “I make bears but for someone else it could be taking the neighbour’s rubbish out. It all matters more than we know.” 

Image Credit: Zak Simmonds

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45/100: Ian Frazer

Ian Frazer

Immunologist, professor at the University of Queensland and co-developer of the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) with the late Dr Jian Zhou 

“We started off in the early 1980s, trying to grow the virus in the lab but it wouldn’t grow so we had to build it from scratch. When we put the building blocks of the coating of the virus into a test tube and shook them up, they formed the coating of the virus on their own. That’s when we realised we could make something that looked like the virus but wasn’t infectious – the basis of the vaccine.

"It was another 10 years before the vaccine company got to the point of doing clinical trials and that’s when things started to get interesting. I was in New York when I got the call to tell me that the vaccine worked. The people at the company were really, really excited. They wanted me to talk to the TV channels so I went to Times Square and onto late-night chat shows. That’s when I knew it was actually real.

"My proudest moment was giving the first ever shot of the vaccine to my colleague’s 16-year-old daughter in 2006. I was pretty emotional but also very excited. It felt like the completion of the circle.

"The message that I hope gets out to research students – who can sometimes get despondent when things aren’t going well – is that my work relied on a lot of other people’s research along the way. Everyone in research is putting something useful into the picture and your work can benefit patients as much as a doctor can.” 

Image Credit: Robert Shakespeare

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46/100: Jennifer Irving

Jennifer Irving

Teacher at Nambour Special School and creator of the Emergent Literacy Assessment Tool 

Completing work experience at a special school usually isn’t high on the list for many Year 11 students – and Queensland’s Jennifer Irving was no exception. “I was the last one in class to write down what they wanted to do,” she recalls. “I wanted to do photography and all those spots were taken.” But chance led Irving to her calling. “I walked in and thought, ‘This is something else.’”

Starting her career as a sign- language interpreter and a teacher of the deaf, Irving began working with students with severe and multiple disabilities at Nambour Special School in 2006. Frustrated by a lack of quantitative teaching tools, she devised the Emergent Literacy Assessment Tool (ELAT).

“These are students who historically may not have had access to rigorous literacy learning programs,” explains Irving. “ELAT lets us track and assess them and make sure they’re engaging in learning experiences tailored to their needs.”

Learning to read and write or answering a question in class are basic milestones for most kids but finding a way to communicate is key to an enriched education and sense of agency for Irving’s pupils. “We have students who had no means to even indicate ‘no’ who now use alternative communication to express their opinions, thoughts, feelings and ideas,” she says.

“It’s a basic human right to be understood and understand others and we’re trying to make sure our students can do that as independently as possible.” 

Image Credit: David Chatfield

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47/100: Jefa Greenaway

Jefa Greenaway

Architect and co-founder of Indigenous Architects Victoria 

It was only on reflection that architect Jefa Greenaway realised he was unique. “Going through my tertiary studies I knew there weren’t any Indigenous people in the faculty at that time,” he says. “It wasn’t until I’d been in private practice for a number of years that I realised there were hardly any of us.” In 2004, he became the first Indigenous architect registered in Victoria.

Working alongside wife Cathy Drosinos at their firm, Greenaway Architects, he applies the history and stories of his cultural heritage to contribute a singular sensibility in the field. “When we move beyond the tropes and clichés to blend different perspectives, that’s where innovation happens,” explains Greenaway, adding that “it’s often through conversations with traditional custodians and then interpreting, innovating and adapting some of that thinking through a contemporary lens.”

It’s an approach that resonates with Greenaway’s clients. “There’s been a huge appetite and desire to engage with these stories as they relate particularly to the built environment,” he says.

As well as his successful practice, Greenaway established Indigenous Architects Victoria (IAV) to encourage more Indigenous Australians to pursue the profession. “It can be isolating at times because you don’t have a cohort to draw from,” he says of his desire to give back. “IAV is the only peak body that represents Indigenous built- environment practitioners.” 

Image Credit: Peter Casamento

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