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Western Australia’s Senior Australian of the Year 2016: The finalists

Bill Bunbury from Margaret River.
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Bill Bunbury, 75 – Oral historian (Margaret River)

The doyen of oral historians in Australia, Bill Bunbury has given Australia a priceless archive of social history. As a broadcaster for almost four decades, Bill recovered valuable historical reminiscences which might otherwise have been lost. Bill’s documentary series covered historical events such as Cyclone Tracy, Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War and the granting of equal wages to Aboriginal stockmen in 1966. A pioneer in techniques for recording oral history, Bill earned a reputation as a tactful and perceptive interviewer. The unique combination of education and entertainment in Bill’s work has delighted three generations of listeners and inspired many young broadcasters. Retiring in 2007 has not slowed Bill down and he continues to contribute both on and off the air. The author of a number of well-regarded historical narratives, Bill’s standing as a historian has been recognised with an honorary doctorate from Murdoch University and he remains a patient and stimulating teacher and mentor to many practitioners of oral history.

The Hon Graham Edwards AM from North Beach

The Hon Graham Edwards AM, 69 – Veterans’ advocate (North Beach)While serving in Vietnam in 1970, Graham Edwards was hit by an exploding mine. Both his legs had to be amputated, but he never let his disability get the better of him. Returning to civilian life, he battled the aftershocks of war and fought discrimination before moving into public affairs and politics. Spending 14 years of service in the WA Legislative Council, including as a senior minister and nine years in the federal parliament, Graham actively contributed to defence, disability services and veterans’ policy. While juggling his parliamentary responsibilities, Graham devoted many hours to his twin passions: the Paralympic movement and veterans’ rights. Today, as State President of the Returned & Services League of Australia, Graham oversees a membership base of 10,000 people, sits by bedsides, lobbies government for funding and organises large events to commemorate the sacrifice made by many, particularly for the 2015 Centenary of Gallipoli. A board member of the Australian War Memorial, Graham is ensuring that the nation’s war heroes gain the recognition they deserve.

Lesley Reece AM from Freemantle.

Lesley Reece AM, 68 – Children’s literature champion (Freemantle)A devotee of children’s books, Lesley Reece has spent more than two decades improving literacy skills and promoting Australia’s authors and illustrators. In 1993, Lesley established the Literature Centre, a one of a kind working hub that ‘worships’ children’s literature. Lesley’s vision was to nurture authors and illustrators while encouraging children to read widely, to write and to be part of the creative process. The Literature Centre, which is nestled in Fremantle’s Old Prison Hospital, hosts exhibitions showcasing how books are created, in-residence programs for authors and illustrators, a young writer’s program and professional development initiatives for school teachers. More than 30,000 primary and secondary school students participate in Lesley’s literature workshops each year. Lesley’s unwavering support for creativity has helped many authors, including Shaun Tan, Isobelle Carmody and Jackie French, become success stories. Teaching is Lesley’s passion and she continues to inspire children and authors alike with her love of literature and her desire to foster a new generation of bookworms.

Rose Marie Vojakovic AM from Greenwood.

Rose Marie Vojakovic AM, 72 – Asbestos disease campaigner (Greenwood)After watching the devastating effects that mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer wrought on people in Western Australian mining communities, Rose Marie Vojakovic and her husband Robert established the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia in 1979. Today, Rose Marie has a worldwide reputation for care and advocacy of sufferers of asbestos-related diseases and she has grown the organisation to 15,000 members. As a volunteer social worker, Rose Marie has sat by the bedsides of countless sufferers, has supported grieving families and attended too many funerals. As the number of mesothelioma cases in Western Australia continues to escalate, Rose Marie brings comfort to families, raises funds for research and hosts regular support groups. With as many as 45,000 Australians expected to die from asbestos-related diseases over the next two decades if an effective treatment or cure is not found, Rose Marie remains unswerving in her determination to make life better for sufferers and their families.

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