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.” 

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