Grace Tame on the unspoken reality of being Australian of the Year.

The following contains details of sexual assault, child abuse and eating disorders, which may be triggering for some readers.

When Grace Tame was crowned Australian of the Year in January, she was given a platform to champion the voices of sexual assault and child abuse survivors. But her time in the spotlight has also come with its own set of challenges.

Speaking to Mamamia's No Filter podcast, Tame shed light on the highs and lows that have arisen during her tenure. 

What Tame has ultimately realised is that two competing things can be true at once. She feels grateful for the incredible opportunity to be a representative of an often disempowered community: but Tame also acknowledges the toll of retelling trauma on a daily basis. 

Watch: Grace Tame acceptance speech after being named Australian of the Year 2021. Post continues below.

Video via ABC News.

“My mind was racing.”

When Tame first heard her name, announcing she was Australian of the Year for 2021, a million thoughts were running through her head.

She thought of her story. Her family. The other sexual assault and child abuse survivors around the country. 

“I was there as a representative of a community, the survivors of child sexual abuse who for such a long time have been stigmatised, marginalised and really disempowered,” she told Mia Freedman. “It was hugely symbolic and encouraging to get up on that stage.” 

But there was also an incredibly private part of that moment in front of the audience and cameras.

“Ten to 11 years before that exact moment, I was being abused. There was some guilt like, ‘why me? Why was I the one chosen? What about all the other girls and boys who have been through hell, and won't get this sort of opportunity’,” Tame said. 

“But ultimately, I was thinking about other people watching at home who hopefully could see it was possible to transcend and to transform.”

Then the whirlwind began. Tame was immediately thrust into the media storm, relying on her family and partner Max for emotional support.


As Tame said on No Filter, she doesn’t want to seem “ungrateful or complain”, but she would be lying if she said this experience wasn’t incredibly difficult for her.

“I believe in accountability.”

Ten months into her tenure, Tame has generated meaningful conversation and calls for action, ringing true to her speech on January 26 where she set off a rallying cry: “Let’s make some noise, Australia!”

There have been criticisms levelled at the 26-year-old for her ‘outspokenness’, often from shock jocks and conservative media commentators. 

But Grace has never been afraid to speak out, expressing what she says are “legitimate criticisms of the Federal Government.”

“I do have a tendency to call a spade a spade and believe in accountability. I have been disappointed by the responses of certain federal politicians,” she said on No Filter.

Listen to Mia Freedman's full chat with Grace Tame on No Filter. Post continues after audio.

In March this year, the Department of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet conducted a review into the nomination process for the National Australia Day Council. It was a decision announced not long after Tame’s Press Club speech and her public support for Brittany Higgins.


“I'm a little bit rougher around the edges. There’s a lot of people who really wanted me to just cut ribbons and be quiet and sit down,” Tame notes.

But as Tame highlights, her media-ready public persona and ability to articulate her feelings and messages means that some people think she is "fair game". 

“It’s not so much personal pain when I see the hatred towards me. It’s the concern that I have for other survivors who are watching really closely who might not have spoken out yet. And they see that vitriol towards me and the cause and it discourages them.”

“The trauma, it lingers.”

When Tame accepted her Australia Day award, many already knew a part of her story. But what some didn’t know was that Tame was recovering from an active eating disorder as well.

At the time she was very underweight, running obsessively and hadn’t had a menstrual period for a very long time. It wasn’t until later this year she finally had a period again, having never had a regular cycle her whole life due to her eating disorder. It was something her paedophile maths teacher also weaponised through coercive control. 

“Every time I look in the mirror, and I'm feeling down about my changing body shape, I hear his voice. And it’s f***ed,” Tame said.

“There is a trauma associated with reliving my past almost every day: it doesn’t just go away. Even if there’s a day I don’t do an interview and I don’t answer questions, there’s still a lag: it doesn’t dissipate immediately.”


Another factor Tame wasn’t prepared for during her tenure was how she would feel when being recognised by the general public.

In particular, when she meets a 15-year-old, it is always confronting for Tame given her abuse started at that age. 

“There’s an immediate shock of how innocent and physically small they are. No doubt when I reach other milestones in my life, like having children, which I hope to with Max eventually, that will be confronting. I’ve spoken to older survivors of child sexual abuse and they’ve all expressed that it was difficult because now all of a sudden, they can see it from the perspective of a parent,” she shared.

The trauma shows itself in another way as well: through Tame’s tattoos. 

Tame says she does regret many of them, as it represents the things she did to herself in the throes of emotional distress.

“I didn’t care about myself, I had no self-respect. And the tattoos remind me of that. I also have awful scars on my arms and legs and a big scar on my left thigh where I actually carved the word ‘f***’ into my skin.”

Tame is now in the process of getting the majority of the tattoos removed: except for one on her hand that reads ‘eat my fear.’

“I’ve developed a new association with the one on my hand: to me it was kind of like saying f*** you to negativity,” she said.


“He is my whole world.”

There have been many people close to Tame that she credits for helping her through her sudden ascent into the public spotlight. 

Only one week before her nomination for the Tasmanian of the Year Award, which led to Australian of the Year, Tame met her now partner Max Heerey.

“When we met, the connection was instant. We were already finishing each other's sentences on the first date,” Tame said. 

Up until meeting Max, Tame had never been in a stable, healthy relationship. In fact, she says many previous partners used and preyed on her as they knew she was vulnerable. 

“I tolerated a lot of bullsh*t,” she said. 

The first night she and Max met, she stayed with him at his parents' house, who were away for the weekend. 

“I remember lying there in bed and I was stiff as a board because I was very uncomfortable with physical contact. I remember him reaching out to hold my hand and I just thought, ‘Alright just tell me what you want.’ My default was just expecting someone was going to take advantage of the situation.”

But Max surprised Tame.

“He just held my hand and said, ‘Oh, no, I just want human connection’.” 

The pair have been together ever since.


So, what's next for Grace Tame?

She will be launching the Grace Tame Foundation soon. The ultimate goal is to end child sexual abuse and create an agreement between each of the Australian jurisdictions on legal definitions of consent and grooming, ensuring the voices of survivors are heard.

Tame also aims to raise further awareness surrounding coercive control and the “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender” (DARVO) method.

As Tame said on No Filter, the DARVO method is a pattern perpetrators often follow which means they deny their actions and then go on the attack, and by doing so reverse the roles of victim and offender. 

It's a pattern of abuse Tame aims to tackle head-on. 

“I’m not naturally a confrontational person. And I’m also going to point out injustice or failings, but I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t because that’s what’s got me here.”

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. Support is always available via Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Feature Image: Supplied.