Celebrating three decades, NSW Australia Day Ambassador program stronger than ever

Celebrating more than 30 great years, the NSW Australia Day Ambassador program has grown from strength to strength with more than 100 remarkable Australians volunteering to participate in Australia Day 2021 activities around the state.

Despite the pandemic, many of the Australia Day Ambassadors will continue to celebrate Australia Day in local communities across the state in COVID-Safe ways. Others will, for the first time, connect with their host communities virtually for Australia Day events, showing their commitment to the program. 

The program started with just nine Ambassadors in 1990, following the hugely successful 1988 bicentenary celebrations. The original Ambassadors included Australian heart-transplant recipient Fiona Coote; pioneering Australian aviator, the late Nancy Bird Walton AO OBE; rock ‘n roll singer Col Joye AM; and former Australian cricketer Alan Davidson AM MBE. The program still attracts Australians of the highest calibre every year.

From Olympians and actors, inventors and entertainers, to humanitarians and local heroes – the 2021 NSW Australia Day Ambassadors come from all walks of life and will stand alongside the community on our national day, virtually or in person, following Health advice.

Since its inception more than 30 years ago, more than 900 individuals have participated as Ambassadors, with some remaining Ambassadors for many years – a testament to their passion for being involved. The program has also expanded to a national level.

Each Australia Day, these extraordinary people travel across NSW to diverse communities, from remote country towns to cities and along the coast to deliver poignant addresses that capture the true spirit of our nation, and to listen to the stories from people in the region.

Together, Ambassadors share the common goal of banding together in solidarity, sharing stories of optimism and showing support to communities across the state.

Original Ambassador Fiona Coote said: “In those early days, not a lot was happening out in those country regions so [the program] really was a brilliant idea. And to think it’s going all these years later is really a wonderful thing for NSW.” In 1984, Fiona became Australia's youngest heart transplant recipient when she underwent surgery at the age of 14.

Fiona visited Port Macquarie in her inaugural year as Ambassador, and then spent the following 15 years on Australia Day visiting lots of country towns including Wombat, Cobargo, Jamberoo, Temora, Young and Gerringong as an Ambassador.

“My preference was always to go to a small country region, the smaller the better. It was almost the highlight of my year - it was such fun and I really had some great experiences. It really was wonderful to celebrate the day not just as a public holiday but using the occasion to mark where we are as a nation and celebrate our community,” Fiona said. 

This year’s mix includes long-time Ambassadors such as humanitarian and former Socceroo Craig Foster; marathon swimmer Susie Maroney OAM; and entertainer Maria Venuti.

NSW Australia Day Council Chairman, Andrew Parker, says the Ambassador Program is truly remarkable and unique, and this year’s group are determined to gather with communities despite the pandemic.

“Marking Australia Day 2021 may be different due to COVID-19, yet the day more than ever before is about inspiring and unifying the community, which is why the Ambassador Program is as vital this year as ever. It is a time to Reflect, Respect and Celebrate the Australian spirit.

“This year’s impressive list of Ambassadors is diverse and dynamic. All our Ambassadors share common traits of achievement through hard work, talent and a strong sense of community.

“The NSW Ambassador Program aims to spread the message of national pride and inclusion, whether it’s in our cities, regions or remote country towns. I would like to thank our Ambassadors for volunteering their time and sharing their stories and also the more than 100 councils that continue to hold Australia Day activities for their community and adapting with some holding virtual events,” Mr Parker said. 

This Australia Day, Craig Foster is heading to the Blue Mountains, and said: “It's important that we celebrate all that is good about Australia, while also confronting important issues including the most appropriate date for an inclusive, respectful celebration, a discussion that is part of broader reconciliation with our First Nations.

“On Australia Day, I'll be speaking about these issues along with the extraordinary, multicultural nature of this country that I cherish,” Craig said.

Many councils will continue to hold their Australia Day events, creating COVID-safe events so communities can unite. From screening Australian films at new open-air cinemas to wildlife breakfasts – there are still so many wonderful opportunities to get out and about. The individual council websites remain the best source of local events.

First-time Ambassador, and internationally recognised sustainable material research scientist Professor Veena Sahajwalla is heading to Coolamon for Australia Day. Prof Sahajwalla, who was born in Mumbai, gained her PhD in the US, and became an Australian citizen in the 1990s, is looking forward to visiting the Riverina town for the first time.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be a new Ambassador. I want to chat to the community, hear what they are passionate about, what their concerns are. I’m excited to share stories,” she said.

Meanwhile, marathon swimmer Susie Maroney OAM who’s been an Ambassador since she was 18, will head to Ulladulla this Australia Day. “I love meeting the new citizens and how proud it is to be Australian and how we all come together in adversity and in tough times – we’re battlers, we’re always there for each other and we do the right thing,” she said.

A full list of 2021 NSW Australia Day Ambassadors is attached (but may change) and is listed on www.australiaday.com.au. Visit your local council website for updates on Australia Day.

Australia Day in NSW Partners