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HealthInfoNet consultant and former Advisory Board member Associate Professor Ted Wilkes was recognised on January 26 for his dedication to fighting for a better quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. He called for a new national holiday that celebrates every Australian and revealed that he was initially considering turning down the invitation to be named an Officer of the Order of Australia because of the hurt the day has brought his people.
'But since then, I've sat down and cleared my head, and I'm very proud to accept the honour,' he said. 'I'm a proud Australian; I'm just a very, very proud Indigenous Australian. I thought that if I accept this and it gives me a foundation for others to join me (that can only help). I know I can't do this stuff on my own - I do need others and I do need non-Aboriginal Australians to assist me, and I thought well if I get this award, I can use it to fight from within in a sense.'
Associate Professor Wilkes, a Prime Ministerial appointment to the Australian National Council on Drugs, said he was honoured by the recognition, which he would accept on behalf of his eight children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other Indigenous Australians. But he said Australia must change the way it celebrates Australia Day.
'I think one of the big hurdles we've got to overcome in this country is the indifference that we have towards each other and as we see other cultural groups coming into this country, we still note that there are reservations and a lack of compassion we're showing to one another,' he said. 'We need to develop our compassion for others who are different from us. If we can get that done, Australia will be a trendsetter in this world. That might then lend ourselves to allowing us to collapse the flag, and let's walk under the one banner. At the moment, Aboriginal people will be celebrating a Survival Day concert while other West Australians are sitting around on the river and celebrating Australia Day.
Ted Wilkes is one of 40 Australians to be awarded the honour - and just six West Australians, including geriatrics specialist Penny Flett, conservation biologist Andrew Burbidge, sustainability expert Peter Newman, public health advocate Mike Daube and the late Kieran McNamara, the former boss of WA's environment department.