First Indigenous doctor named 2021 WA Australian of the Year

West Aussies of the Year: Professor Helen Milroy, Dr Richard Walley, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Grace Forrest. Photos: Supplied.
West Aussies of the Year: Professor Helen Milroy, Dr Richard Walley, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Grace Forrest. Photos: Supplied.

The 2021 WA Australian of the Year Awards have been announced this evening, Thursday, November 12 in a ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Perth.

The WA award recipients will join those from the other states and territories for the national awards to be announced on January 25, 2021.

The 2021 WA Australian of the Year is Australia's first Indigenous doctor, Professor Helen Milroy.

Prof Helen Milroy was Australia's first Indigenous doctor and is now a highly regarded expert in child and adolescent psychiatry.

For more than 25 years, Helen has been a pioneer in research, education and training in Aboriginal and child mental health, and recovery from grief and trauma. She has supported the Aboriginal and medical workforce in applying Indigenous knowledge and cultural models of care.

Helen, aged 61, has played a key role on numerous mental health advisory committees and boards, including the National Mental Health Commission. She was appointed as commissioner for the Australian Government's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse from 2013-2017.

Helen was also the first Indigenous commissioner to the Australian Football League. A talented artist and published author, Helen's books have been shortlisted for several major awards. In 2018, she received the Australian Indigenous Doctor of the Year Award, recognising her many achievements.

"I think throughout my career I have seen both the frailty and strength of the human spirit and some of the best and some of the worst of humanity, and I think that's what's driven me to try to do better, to stand up, to speak up and to do better," Professor Milroy said.

"From an aboriginal perspective...children are a gift. They are born from country and culture that's as enduring as the universe and we are all connected for eternity through love, life and spirit. Let's stand up for the kids and we'll have a bright future."

Dr Richard Walley OAM, champion of Aboriginal culture, is the 2021 WA Senior Australian of the Year. Dr Richard Walley guides people and organisations on their journey of reconciliation through cultural awareness.

A champion of Wadjuk and Noongar people, he shares his profound knowledge of language, cultural practices and historic injustices - cultivating a deeper respect and recognition of Aboriginal culture. Richard reinvigorated the practice of the modern-day Welcome To Country in Noongar Country, a ceremony that is now commonplace across Australia.

He sits on multiple committees and is a consultant to both government and corporate agencies where he is engaged to provide cultural advice for major projects.

Richard's expertise is also sought out by the private sector to provide Welcome to Country, undertake cultural awareness training and advise on Indigenous affairs. A musician, performer and artist, Richard's designs adorn jerseys in the Indigenous rounds of sporting events.

Now 67, he is creatively involved with many local festivals and events. Richard has received numerous honours including an Order of Australia, Honorary Doctorate, and WA Citizen Of The Year.

Grace Forrest, the founder and director of Walk Free, is the 2021 WA Young Australian of the Year. Grace Forrest is the founding director of Walk Free, an international human rights organisation working to eradicate modern slavery, which affects over 40 million people globally.

Together with the all-female Walk Free team, they develop the Global Slavery Index, the world's leading data set on measuring and understanding modern slavery - informing international legislation. In 2018, Walk Free successfully campaigned for the implementation of an Australian Modern Slavery Act, which received the support of both major parties and the business community.

A highly sought-after public speaker, 27 year old Grace has presented at the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit, the CHOGM Women's Forum, and the United Nations on multiple occasions, most recently to the U.N.

Security Council on Walk Free's new report 'Stacked Odds'. In recognition of her work and impact, Grace was appointed the United Nations Association of Australia's youngest-ever Goodwill Ambassador, for Anti-Slavery. She continues to be a voice for the UN in Australia and abroad.

Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, founder of Plastic Free July, is the 2021 WA Local Hero. Rebecca Prince-Ruiz is the founder of a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution. Ten years ago, Rebecca became concerned by the amount of plastics going into landfill and encouraged her family to go plastic-free for the month of July.

Her idea is now a global initiative, with an estimated 326 million people participating worldwide. Rebecca has worked with state governments and business leaders on reducing single use plastics and is on the board of the government's Container Deposit Scheme - a new recycling program for WA.

At a local level, 50 year old Rebecca engages with community groups by hosting presentations and workshops for schools, aged care facilities and other community groups.

Rebecca has appeared on the ABC show 'War on Waste' to increase awareness of the plastics issue and the solutions available. She has published a book on the Plastic Free movement, and created a vast social media following - inspiring countless others to do more for the planet.

National Australia Day Council CEO Karlie Brand congratulated the Western Australia award recipients.

"The 2021 WA Australians of the Year are an extraordinary group of people who contribute in diverse ways," said Ms Brand.

"Their achievements are inspirational and show us all how Australians can make a difference."

For more information on the Australian of the Year Awards visit australianoftheyear.org.au.