1. The three main criteria the panel considers when looking at nominees are:
• Demonstrated excellence in their field
• Significant contribution to the Australian community and nation
• An inspirational role model for the Australian community
2. A highly memorable Australian of the Year function occurred in 1994 - The guest of honour was the His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. The Australian of the Year, environmentalist (and republican) Ian Kiernan, sat on the stage after receiving his award, when a gunshot was heard and an assailant rushed toward Prince Charles. Kiernan jumped to his feet and wrestled the intruder to the ground with the assistance of New South Wales Premier John Fahey.
3. There was no award given in 1993 - In 1994 the dating system for the Australian of the Year award changed and winners were named for the year ahead rather than the year just passed, the result, no 1993 Australian of the Year.
4. The trophy presented to the winners has gone through several incantations – The first award was designed by Victor Greenhalgh, the head of the Arts School at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Greenhalgh designed a bronze medallion. In 1986 National Australia Day Committee commissioned artist Michael Tracey to produce a more appropriate trophy of a figure holding the Australian flag. In the early 1990s the NADC commissioned glass sculptor Warren Langley to create a new trophy based on the updated Australia Day logo. Melbourne-based artist Kristin McFarlane designed the Australian of the Year of the Year trophy from 2004 to 2014. In 2015 Lee Howes won the commission to design and make the award.
5. The Australian of the Year awards began in 1960 - The Victorian Australia Day Council introduced a new annual award, which would be known as the ‘Australia Day Foundation Award.’ As the VADC was always considered too Victoria-centric, the Fraser Government created the National Australia Day Committee in 1979, which was given responsibility for advising the government on all aspects of Australia Day. The Victorian council announced its last Australian of the Year in January 1980.
6. On four occasions - 1975, 1977, 1978, and 1979 - there were two Australian’s of the Year recognised. Challenging the authority of the Victorian Australia Day Council was the Canberra Australia Day Council who awarded the title in January 1975. It presented the first award to Major General Alan Stretton, the Director-General of the Natural Disasters Organisation who oversaw the response to Cyclone Tracey in Darwin. The VADC announced scientist John Cornforth as their winner. The impasse was resolved only when the Fraser Government created the National Australia Day Committee in 1979.
7. Since inception new awards have been added - Three companion awards have been introduced, The Young Australian of the Year award for 16-30 year olds, 1979, The Senior Australian of the Year award for people over 65, 1999, and Australia’s Local Hero awards, 2003, honouring the efforts of those who work at a grass roots level.
8. The current trophy - Artist Lee Howes said her design for the trophies seeks to capture the essence of Australia by representing the natural beauty of the country. In them she brings together the colours of Australia's desert, bush and forest areas and the sea which surrounds our island nation.
9. Nominations - A person only needs to be nominated once for one of the Australian of the Year awards to qualify. Self-nominations are not recognised. The number of nominations received per nominee bears no weight in the selection process.
10. At the national level a person cannot receive a second award in the same award category, but can be considered for recognition in a separate category in following years. For example athlete Cathy Freeman was named Young Australian of the Year in 1990 and then Australian of the Year in 1998.
And some words from those who know:
The Age newspaper reported the new Australian of the Year award was an indication of Australia’s growing confidence as a nation. They wrote: "The new significance of Australia day is a symbol of the rapid growth of national strength and national self-consciousness. We are beginning to count for something in the world and we should be intensely proud of this fact.”
Sir Norman Martin was the chair of the Victorian Australia Day Council from 1952 until 1970. He was a Country Party politician who had served as the Minister for Agriculture in Victoria during World War Two and as Agent General in London: “What I envisage is an award similar to the Oscar given to the best actor of the year in Hollywood. It would carry with it great prestige and honour rather than monetary reward.”
Fred Hollows Australian of the year 1990 had a unique view of the award: “If the Australian of the Year, with the automatic claim on a certain amount of media attention, can be relied on to be a bit of a stirrer rather than a yes-man (or woman) for the establishment, things might look up.”
Former NADC chairman Phillip Adams had this to say about the heated debates that decided the winner likening it to the election of a Pope: “We would go into conclave; there would be lots of hot air, then a puff of smoke.”
In 1984 Robert de Castella told the press that he was honoured to be named Australian of the Year, but his preparation for the Olympic Marathon was his priority: “To an athlete it’s nice to be accepted, but it doesn’t make you run any faster.”
Visiting journalist Mark McKenna commented on the Australian of the Year Walk in Canberra and said: “These blank plaques – memorials to the future – stand as if waiting for the years to pass before they can be filled in and become whole. Yet strangely they seem more intriguing than the plaques that precede them. It is possible to imagine the line of blank plaques stretching on endlessly, and their emptiness begs the question: What sort of nation will Australia become over the next few decades?”
Suzy Wilson, Queensland's Local Hero 2014 said of her experience: "Being surrounded by such seriously good people was an experience that I will treasure forever. I have come away feeling very grateful to have been part of it all."
To make your nomination go to Australian of the Year awards now.
Nominations close on August 3.
Fairfax Media is a partner of the 2016 Australian of the Year awards.