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Today, in a ceremony at the National Gallery of Australia, the 2022 ACT Australians of the Year were announced.
Basketballer Patrick “Patty” Mills (2022 ACT Australian of the Year), St John Ambulance volunteer Valmai Dempsey (2022 ACT Senior Australian of the Year), advocate and CanTeen Youth Leader Sean Dondas (2022 ACT Young Australian of the Year) and youth worker Luke Ferguson (2022 ACT Local Hero) have been named as Australians of the Year in their respective categories.
Basketballer Patrick Mills is the 2022 ACT Australian of the Year
Since leaving Canberra for the US in 2007 on a sporting scholarship, Patrick (Patty) Mills has had a legendary basketball career. He became an NBA Champion in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs, and recently competed in his fourth Olympics, leading the Boomers to their first-ever podium finish in Tokyo. Creating history, Patty was the first Indigenous Australian Olympics flag bearer.
Off the court, Patty uses his platform to inspire, support and enact positive change. Patty is the founder of the Team Mills Foundation – an organisation dedicated to supporting and championing culture, diversity and underprivileged families.
Using the power of sport to create pathways and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, he launched Indigenous Basketball Australia, whose programs, competitions and inspirational and motivational sessions are a national first.
In 2020, Patty donated his $1.5 million salary to organisations tackling racial inequality.
A proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian, Patty is inspiring the next generation to own their story.
St John Ambulance volunteer, Valmai Dempsey, is the 2022 ACT Senior Australian of the Year
Starting as a cadet volunteer while still in primary school, for more than 50 years Valmai (Val) Dempsey has dedicated her life to St John Ambulance. She’s one of the Australian Capital Territory’s longest-serving volunteers and, year after year, she still dedicates more hours than any other volunteer.
In 2020, Val faced her biggest challenge yet as a St John Ambulance volunteer—first with the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, she led 40 fellow volunteers as they supported fire-affected communities during the emergency that stretched over many weeks.
Then when the pandemic hit, Val displayed unwavering commitment to the St John team, despite heavy impacts on team morale. Without hesitation, she personally contacted every volunteer to check they were ‘doing OK’ in terms of welfare, mental health and morale.
It is these tireless commitments to St John that has led many in the community to know her lovingly as ‘Aunty Val’.
The 2022 ACT Young Australian of the Year is advocate and CanTeen Youth Leader, Sean Dondas
Sean Dondas has been an integral member of CanTeen’s leadership team, first as a Local Youth Leadership Group member, then secretary, vice president and president in Western Australia. He later joined the national Youth Advisory Team, before being appointed a director on CanTeen’s board in 2015.
Sean joined the organisation in 2008 at age 14 after his mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis. She passed away a year later, leaving him and his two younger brothers as wards of the state.
He’s spent the past 13 years helping many young people in similar situations cope with a cancer diagnosis in their family and been a staunch advocate for young people’s needs. His input has helped shape decisions on a range of vital strategies, including clinical trials, youth cancer services, community-based support, and an online support community and counselling service.
Sean has a keen interest in public policy and economics. In 2019, he moved to Canberra and now works as a senior policy officer with the Attorney-General’s Department.
Youth support worker at The Woden School, Luke Ferguson, is the 2022 ACT Local Hero
At The Woden School—a Canberra high school catering to the functional needs of students with disabilities—Luke Ferguson empowers young people with disability to increase their independence, achieve their goals, and engage with the wider community.
In 2019, Luke established Party Down Productions, an inclusive school-wide music program that engages students in all aspects of event planning. This includes teaching them to use Photoshop to make posters, set playlists and perform as DJs.
Helped by the students at The Woden School, Luke co-wrote and produced the music video ‘Labels Don’t Define Us’ – a song about accepting diversity. The video went viral with more than 120,000 views and was shared by the United Nations on their Social Development Network website.
Through the program, Luke helps to break down barriers, remove stigma and enhance the self-esteem of young people with disability, by shifting the focus to their innate ability to spark joy in the lives of those around them.
Photography: NADC/Salty Dingo