opinion

What leadership looks like in 2021.

Every year on January 26 we celebrate four carefully chosen Australians.

Australia's Local Hero, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Australian of the Year

Four titles amongst hundreds of Order of Australia accolades that are handed out to recognise exceptional individuals that have served our community. 

WATCH: Grace Tame's powerful Australian of the Year speech. Post continues after video.


Video via ABC.

On Monday night, in a glittering ceremony in Canberra, four powerful women stood on a stage side by side (socially distanced of course), accepting that honour. 

When a sea of white, middle-aged men is the kind of leadership we're used to, their smiling faces felt like a vision from the future. A future where leadership is diverse, inspiring and free of the constraints of a patriarchy that seems to always bustle it's way to the front. 

Not this time. 

Grace Tame.

Grace Tame was 15 when she was groomed and abused by her former maths teacher. 

He was jailed for his crimes thanks to her courage to prosecute, and last year the now 26-year-old fought tirelessly to give sexual assault survivors the right to speak out in her home state of Tasmania where laws prevented them from doing so.

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Thanks to her work with the #LetHerSpeak Campaign, Grace was the first woman in Tasmania to be granted the legal right to speak about her experience, and she has pledged to spend the next year advocating for better education on assault, grooming and psychological manipulation by abusers.

"I remember him towering over me, blocking the door. I remember him saying 'Don't tell anybody'. I remember him saying 'Don't make a sound'.

"Well hear me now, using my voice, amongst a growing chorus of voices that will not be silenced! Let's make some noise, Australia!" she told the audience on Monday night. 

She is our 2021 Australian of the Year.

READ: Grace Tame is officially the 2021 Australian of the Year. Here is her story.

"Publically I was silenced by law, not anymore." Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas 

Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann.

Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann became the Northern Territory's first qualified First Nations teacher in 1975. 

She later became a principal and a consultant for the Department of Education where she called for visual art to be part of education for all children. 

The 73-year-old now spends her days advising the federal government on the National Indigenous Council and has established a foundation that helps bridge the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal society. 

"I've learnt to walk in two worlds and live in towns and cities, and even worked in them. Now is the time for you to come closer to understand us and how - and to understand how we live, and listen to what needs are in our communities.

"When you come to visit or work in our communities and leave your comfort zones, I ask that you bring your knowledge and wisdom, but we ask you also to learn and understand how we live and function in our communities, and listen to what our needs are," Miriam-Rose asked of us on Monday night.

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She is our 2021 Senior Australian of the Year.

"For years we have walked on a one-way street to learn white people's way. I've learnt to walk in two worlds and live in towns and cities - and even worked in them. Now is the time for you to come closer to understanding us." Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

Isobel Marshall.

Isobel Marshall co-founded a menstrual product company called TABOO in highschool with a friend in Adelaide, with the goal of reducing stigma around periods and helping women access products. 

All of its profits help women in Sierra Leone and Uganda, and it partners with St Vincent de Paul Society's women's crisis centre to provide free pads and tampons to those who need emergency accommodation in South Australia. 

"Firstly, let's change the conversation around menstruation. Those on your period, expect respect in place of shame and be proud of what your body can do.

"Families and teachers, invest in creating an environment that understands the importance and the strength of the menstrual cycle, and don't shy away from the conversation. And, of course, let's all commit to fighting period poverty around the world," she said.

At the age of just 22, she is our 2021 Young Australian of the Year. 

"Periods should not be a barrier to education. They should not cause shame, and menstrual products should be accessible and affordable. They are not a luxury or a choice." Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

Rosemary Kariuki.

Rosemary Kariuki is a Kenyan refugee who helps female migrants combat loneliness, financial distress and domestic violence trauma as they settle into their new communities in Australia.

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When she arrived in Sydney alone in 1999, she knew no one. She's spent the last two decades making sure no one else feels that kind of isolation. 

She's also the multicultural community liaison officer for NSW Police, a role which sees her combat domestic violence by using social setups like morning teas, dinners, dances and road trips to disseminate information and build trust across various cultural groups.

"Together we can make this wonderful country that I call home even greater," she said.

"So let us share what we know and give each a helping hand. Let us embrace our multicultural nation, more building on it and looking for the opportunities and positives.

She is our 2021 Australian Local Hero. 

"I would like to encourage every one of you to meet someone new from a different background this coming week and see what doors open to you." Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

Rosemary, Isobel, Miriam-Rose, and Grace's stories are stories of courage, devastation and survival, determination, fierce compassion, and triumph. They are stories women have been trying to tell on a public stage for decades. 

Since 1960, men have dominated the Australian of the Year nominations, with the Financial Review reporting last year that 60 per cent of honours still go to men, including in traditionally female professions.

It makes this milestone even more important. To have all four spots occupied by not just women, but powerful leaders in change, 2021 is sending us a message.

This is what leadership looks like. 

This is what the future could look like. 

We'll have more of that, thanks.

Feature image: AAP.

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