Awards have been made by the National Australia Day Council since 1960. In that time the Award has been given to a sportsperson on fourteen different occasions. It has been given to an indigenous Australian on nine different occasions.
The Nobel Prize winners appear in the list, along with people who represent classical or popular culture - Joan Sutherland, Robert Helpmann, the Seekers and Johnny Farnham. There are even a couple of times where entertainment or sport and indigenous culture have coincided - such as Mandawuy Yunupingu, Cathy Freeman, and Evonne Goolagong.
Lowitja O'Donohue (1984) and Mick Dodson (2009) were indigenous leaders honoured. Along with Senator Bonner (1979) they were people who had worked extremely hard for their fellow indigenous Australians and they used the honour to do even more to help.
In 2014 another indigenous Australian, a footballer named Adam Goodes, was given the title of Australian of the Year. This year it was a campaigner against domestic violence, Rosie Batty.
Yes, the award is often "political" in the sense that it is as much used to raise issues as it is to honour an individual. The appointment of both the last two people raised some concerns. I admit I was disturbed too. I was disturbed by the tone set by Adam Goodes acceptance speech. It seemed a little confrontational to me. I happened to see an indigenous friend in the city some time later and he expressed concern as well. My friend is a youth social worker. He is highly intelligent and politically astute. He would not have said something lightly. "He's using it, of course he is, but he needs to be careful how he uses it." I agree.
Subsequent events would appear to prove him right. Goodes has proved to be a divisive figure in some circles and that can make it harder for others in his beloved football.
Rosie Batty is not an indigenous Australian. She is a victim of the most unimaginable horror. Her son was killed by her estranged husband after years of domestic violence. Yes, he was probably "insane" but that makes no difference. There was a lot of publicity. She spoke out. She found herself catapulted into the position of representing other domestic violence victims. Looking at her occasionally in news items I suspect she finds her role difficult.
I looked at something else. The awards have been made since 1960. In that time at least forty-six of the recipients have been males.
So yes, Australian of the Year awards are not always a blessing or an honour that can easily be handled - and they would also appear to be sexist.