Meet our Australian Local Hero finalists

The 2017 Australian of the Year Awards will be announced on Wednesday, January 25, in The Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra.

Find out about the 2017 Australian Local Hero finalists.

Anthony Edler.

Anthony Edler.

Anthony Edler – Youth worker teaching life employment skills (Risdon Vale, TAS)

A community leader and positive role model, Anthony Edler is driving a program that helps disadvantaged and at-risk young people in his community, while also expanding the possibilities for people in Namibia. The program coordinator of the Risdon Vale Bike Collective, Ant combines his knowledge and skills of mountain biking and youth work to help young people fix broken-down bikes while developing life and employment skills and making a positive contribution to society.

Over the years the bikes have either been given away or sold to fund community projects – an upgrade to the local BMX track and the development of bush trails among them. Since Ant kick-started the program, more than 440 bikes have been repaired and donated to people in Namibia, creating jobs, helping children get to school and supporting nurses to care for the sick.

With patience and passion, Ant has built links with funding bodies and businesses, schools and charities. He’s helped young kids gain support and confidence, as well as the satisfaction of giving to others in need.

Josephine Peter.

Josephine Peter.

Josephine Peter – Life-long volunteer, with seven decades of giving back (Broken Hill, NSW)

Seven decades of volunteer work began in 1940, when seven-year-old Josephine Peter knitted her first pair of socks for Australia’s troops. Over the course of World War II, Josephine made 450 pairs of socks, starting a lifetime of dedication to others. Since then, she’s been a stalwart on parents’ committees and arts societies. She’s handed out how to vote cards at elections for 54 years.

She sat on the board of Broken Hill’s Robinson College for 25 years, with seven years as president, and she was a volunteer tutor for more than a decade. She’s listened to people’s problems as a telephone counsellor, coordinated 22 debutante balls for Rotary and has supported the VIEW Club and Smith Family for 27 years.

She’s driven thousands of kilometres in car rallies to raise funds for kidney health and to build a children’s cemetery in her hometown. At 83 years of age, Josephine’s volunteer efforts have not diminished, and her influence on the community of Broken Hill is unmatched.

June Oscar AO.

June Oscar AO.

June Oscar AO - Community and social wellbeing campaigner (Fitzroy Crossing, WA)

A senior Bunuba woman from Fitzroy Crossing, June Oscar upset businesses and even members of her own extended family when she began the tough work of securing alcohol restrictions in her community in 2007. But those restrictions acted as a circuit-breaker for a town in crisis.

Frequent alcohol-fuelled violence and suicide had cast a shadow over Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley when June enlisted the support of West Australian Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan to lobby for a ban on full-strength takeaway alcohol. Since then, June has overseen the nation’s first study of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), discovering what many suspected: that her community has one of the highest rates of permanent brain damage from maternal alcohol abuse in the world.

With remarkable strength and an extraordinary commitment to collaboration, June has brought about constructive discussion between often conflicting groups to support Indigenous families affected by FASD, and to build a safe and healthy future for the generations ahead of her.

Reginald George Heading.

Reginald George Heading.

Reginald George Heading – International agriculturist promoting sustainable farming techniques (St Peters, SA)

Few people can claim to have coined a phrase, but Reginald George Heading can. In 1976, George was involved with air freighting hundreds of stud dairy cattle to India after they were gifted by the Australian Government to aid herd improvement.

George reported to the media that the Friesians travelled “cattle class” – creating the well-worn phrase that jetsetters know today. During his long career, George spent 25 years working in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain and Bhutan to equip local farmers with technical and practical knowledge, helping them apply modern Australian dryland farming techniques to improve the sustainability of their pastures and the health of their livestock.

He has lectured at colleges and universities around the world, making a tremendous impact on the viability of entire industries. George has also given his time in service to local community organisations around South Australia. He’s planted football ovals in Whyalla, established bowls clubs in Port Germein and rolled up his sleeves for the Rotary Club in Port Pirie.

Stasia Dabrowski OAM.

Stasia Dabrowski OAM.

Stasia Dabrowski OAM - Volunteer, feeding the homeless for over 40 years (Canberra, ACT)

Best known as the ‘soup kitchen lady’, Stasia Dabrowski has been serving Canberra's neediest for nearly four decades. Despite passing the 90-year milestone, Stasia shows no signs of slowing down. Born in 1926 in Poland, Stasia’s family lost everything during World War II.

Arriving in Canberra in 1964 with her husband and young family, Stasia remembered her own experiences when her teenage son came home talking about a homeless family needing food. They cooked pizzas for them and that began the helping of others. Stasia is up at 5am six days each week, driving her van around Canberra to collect donated food from companies, then distributes it.

Stasia runs a mobile soup kitchen in Civic – something she’s done relentlessly, rain, hail or shine since 1979. She peels and cooks 180 kilograms of vegetables Thursday nights, feeding up to 500 people on a busy Friday night. A Canberra icon, Stasia gives not only food, but love, kindness and compassion to all.

Tejinder pal Singh

Tejinder pal Singh

Tejinder pal Singh - Food van founder, breaking down racial prejudice (Malak, NT)

For the past four years, Tejinder pal Singh has dedicated the last Sunday of each month to feeding poor and needy locals of northern Darwin. After a gruelling 12-hour shift driving a taxi, Tejinder spends five hours cooking up a storm in his kitchen, preparing 80 kilograms of vegetarian curry and rice, which he then serves as a free lunch.

After arriving from the Punjab region with his family in 2006, Tejinder endured a racist tirade of abuse while transporting a passenger which inspired the humble man to break down the negative prejudice associated with turbans. Funding the feast each month from his own pocket, Tejinder attributes his generosity to his deep Sikh faith.

His work has inspired three other groups to take up the cause to distribute free food to the homeless on Sundays. And the hungry and thirsty come flocking when they see Tejinder’s van, emblazoned with the sign “free Indian food for hungry and needy people.”

Vicki Jellie.

Vicki Jellie.

Vicki Jellie - Community fundraising champion, bringing cancer services to South West Victoria (Warrnambool, VIC)

After her husband Peter died of cancer in 2008, Vicki Jellie found his plans for a local cancer fundraising event. His dream had been to bring radiotherapy services to the South West of Victoria. During treatment, Peter spent weeks away from home in Warrnambool, travelling to Melbourne for radiotherapy treatment.

Peter’s dream became Vicki’s passion. In 2009, Vicki brought together local leaders to initiate Peter's Project – a community group dedicated to fighting for better cancer services. Despite being told that a cancer centre in Warrnambool would “never happen”, Vicki relentlessly lobbied governments, rallying the community and raising funds. In May 2014, Vicki announced that the dream had been achieved: $5 million raised by the local community, $25 million to be funded by state and federal governments.

In July 2016, the new South West Regional Cancer Centre opened, offering radiotherapy treatment for regional patients. Vicki’s persistence has proven that ‘nothing is impossible’ and will continue to support “all the Peters” who are facing their own cancer battles.

Yasmin Khan.

Yasmin Khan.

Yasmin Khan – Diversity champion helping victims of domestic violence (Kuraby, QLD)

With an Australian heritage stretching back 130 years, Yasmin Khan creates connections and breaks down barriers to show how Muslims have made a great contribution to our nation. In 2005, Yasmin founded Eidfest – the largest Muslim gathering in Queensland to celebrate the end of Ramadhan and to showcase Muslim diversity and cultures.

A well-known speaker, Yasmin works with schools, the media and community groups to share insights into her religion and her life experiences. Yasmin represents her community on multiple reference groups, recently being elected as the Chair of the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland, and is a multicultural ambassador for the AFL and Asian Cup, and was one of the first female cricket umpires in Queensland.

A vocal commentator on domestic violence in multicultural communities, Yasmin has established a support centre for Muslim women and women from the Indian sub- continent, regardless of their religion. At the helm of many highly-successful events and community activities, Yasmin continues to demonstrate why diversity makes Australia a stronger nation.