If there is a silver lining to the remarkably tough year that the nation has been through it is that there will be no shortage of people deserving a nomination in the 2021 Australian of the Year Awards.
This is the belief of Sue Lennox, the 2020 NSW Senior Australian of the Year, when reflecting on the "weird journey" of crisis after crisis she, like the rest of the nation, had been on since receiving the award in November.
"What a ride it has been since the awards night. We've had fires, the worst ever, floods and now we're in the midst of a pandemic," she said.
"I think because of these significant events that it will be a hard call to determine the next Australian of the Year awardees. There are so many people who have worked hard in their communities during these crises that are deserving of recognition."
Mrs Lennox is an environmental educator and co-founder of OzGREEN, an independent not-for-profit citizen science organisation that assists communities in Australia and across the world with developing sustainable solutions to address issues they face.
The Bellingen resident established OzGREEN in 1992 with husband Colin who died in 2017.
On being named the NSW Senior Australian of the Year in Sydney late last year, Mrs Lennox paid tribute to her late husband and the "critical work" they undertook together. She said continuing OzGREEN's work, particularly on the back of the events of the past few months, was more important than ever.
"You could have pushed me over with a feather," Mrs Lennox said on her surprise at being named the winner. "It was wonderful to be recognised, to talk about the things I'm most passionate about, the issues I've dedicated my life to, about the work OzGREEN is doing.
"For me, the awards have been a platform to discuss the threats of climate change, the environment and importance of rapidly transitioning to a new way of living so we're in harmony with the earth and each other.
"OzGREEN tends to fly under the radar because we're not campaigning. We're quietly on the ground going about what we do which is educating and engaging young people in their communities to look after the environment. This work is even more important than ever. I know that in the depth of my being."
Following the Sydney ceremony Mrs Lennox flew to India to deliver an OzGREEN program. While in India she watched on the news and social media as bushfires raged across Australia. She arrived back at her Mid North Coast home with bushfires on her doorstep and fought to save her property.
When it came to attending the National Australia Day Awards ceremony in Canberra on January 25, which all state and territory winners are invited to attend, Mrs Lennox faced another dilemma - her plane almost being unable to land due to fires.
In March, the nation went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant the Australian of the Year winners were unable to attend the functions and events that they are typically invited to be part of.
Despite this, however, Mrs Lennox believes that being named 2020 NSW Senior Australian of the Year had brought further recognition to OzGREEN's work.
"It has been the most unusual year in the history of the awards," Mrs Lennox said. "But we've picked up some important funding opportunities. It's the credibility and recognition from the awards, I think, that's helped us to do that, enabling us to keep going."
Nominations for the 2021 Australian of the Year Awards close on Friday, July 31.
Mrs Lennox encouraged those who could think of someone deserving of recognition to nominate them in the awards.
"You don't actually have to know the person to nominate them you just have to know about what they're doing," she said. "I don't know who nominated me but I thank you to whoever did.
"I think people hold back from nominating because they think 'I don't really know them'. But if you know someone in your community that you think should be recognised then just nominate them. It will encourage them to continue the good work they're doing."
WHO WILL YOU NOMINATE?
Go to australianoftheyear.org.au by July 31 to nominate someone for 2021 Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year (65 years+), Young Australian of the Year (16-30 years) and Australia's Local Hero.
- ACM, publisher of this newspaper, is a proud supporter of the Australian of the Year Awards.