Australians of the Year reveal the achievements and challenges of community leadership

  • 29 June 2023

On Tuesday 27 June, Auspire – Australia Day Council WA held a Community Leadership Forum in partnership with the City of Canning, to hear from three Inspiring Australians on their successes and struggles in making a difference.

More than 100 people gathered at Hillview Intercultural Community Centre, to hear the stories of Craig Hollywood, Theresa Kwok and Amar Singh – all of whom have been recognised in the Australian of the Year Awards for their impact in making positive change. The results of their contributions have been felt across diverse communities. From people experiencing homelessness to first-generation migrants, and from people of different faiths and cultures experiencing racisms to those most vulnerable doing it tough during times of need.

Amar Singh talking into microphone
2023 Australia’s Local Hero Amar Singh speaking at the Community Leadership Forum

While we often hear the encouraging stories that can come from contribution, the three speakers were honest about the challenges they have faced. Craig, who founded Short Back & Sidewalks in 2015, recalled the initial reaction from some to the charity that was created to provide free haircuts to people experiencing homelessness. “Be prepared to hear the word no more than yes.” he said with his advice when first starting out on one’s own community leadership journey.

Theresa Kwok stressed that “change has to be the new normal and people need to be adaptable” based on her experience of helping first generation migrants settle in Perth, with her role as CEO of Chung Wah Community Care.

Amar Singh, who travelled from Sydney via Adelaide, Darwin and Alice Springs to speak at the forum, described change-making as “a relay, not a race”, to encourage all Australians to support each other. Indeed, Amar, who wanted to change perceptions after experiencing racial slurs, describes his charity, Turbans 4 Australia, as having “grown from a Sikh charity to a multicultural charity”, driven by his desire to help and befriend all Australians.

audience member taking photo of speakers

While there are always challenges and adversity in working in the space of community leadership, the three speakers demonstrated that overcoming these and staying committed to your cause can lead to amazing things. Short Back & Sidewalks is now recruiting to employ its first paid role – a CEO, while Amar shared that he is looking to bring Turbans 4 Australia to WA.

Each of their stories and causes have been amplified following recognition in the Australian of the Year Awards. Craig was named WA’s Local Hero in 2022, Theresa received the WA Senior Australian of the Year award in 2023, and Amar was announced as the national recipient of Australia’s Local Hero for 2023. Speaking about her award during the evening, Theresa commended it for being a platform to “voice the good work of the unsung heroes”, saying that the award “belongs to all behind the scenes.”

audience at event

In addition to inspiring speeches and an engaging Q&A, the audience received a moving Welcome to Country delivered by Auspire Board Member, Barry Winmar. Hillview Intercultural Community Centre Coordinator, Meagan Price, also welcomed attendees, followed by Yaz Mubarakai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education; Aboriginal Affairs; Citizenship and Multicultural Interests – who emphasised the need for such an event and for people to get involved in their community.

See all photos from the forum here.

Nominations are now open to find the 2024 Australians of the Year. Nominate at by 31 July 2023.

Auspire thanks the City of Canning and Chevron Australia for supporting this event, and acknowledges Program Partner, the Office of Multicultural Interests.

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