If you had to choose one item to represent your life, what would you choose? Something that reflected your chosen career, a treasured family heirloom, perhaps an object that inspired you?
Each year, the Australians of the Year recipients are asked this question, and the items they choose become an exhibition at the National Museum of Australia.
The exhibition's strength lies in the ordinary objects chosen by extraordinary Australians and the stories behind each of them, none are obvious, nor are they mere possessions.
NMA curator Dr Lily Withycombe said the 2022 exhibition is particularly poignant.
"There's such a depth of thinking and reflection with this year's items," she says.
"The objects are moving but at the same time relatable. Yes, the recipients are doing extraordinary things but through these objects you really get to know the story behind what they are doing, or why they are doing what they do.
"There's a real sense of integrity to these objects that speak to the individual on a personal level."
Leanne Liddle is the Northern Territory Australian of the Year recipient. When she was a young officer with South Australia Police, she found some handcuffs in an antique shop. They would have been attached to leg and neck chains and used to imprison First Nations people. Despite her distress, she felt compelled to buy them to teach future generations about Australia's history. They hung on a wall in her house to remind her why she had chosen her path in life, empowering Indigenous Territorians with justice solutions that will work for them.
"I love the contrast and the contradiction of her choice, the way they speak to First Nations people as both victims and offenders," said Dr Withycombe.
Paul Litherland, West Australian of the Year, works as a police officer in the Technology Crime Unit and much of his work centres on the vulnerability of children on the internet. His chosen item is a vinyl record, a recording of his mother Patricia who was a talented soprano. Litherland's father was a violent man and destroyed all of her recordings in a fit of rage and this one record survived, hidden under the debris. It was secreted away by the family and was never played again. The record is a reminder of his own vulnerable childhood which has helped him connect with the children he now works with.
In 2020 Hannah Clarke and her three children, Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, were murdered by her estranged husband, fatally burned in a petrol fire in her car. The Intensive Care Unit usually provides families with handprints of the deceased, but Clarke's hands were so severely burnt that they captured her footprints instead. Her parents, Sue and Lloyd Clarke, the Queensland recipients, turned their grief into their foundation, Small Steps 4 Hannah, educating people on the dangers of coercive control and domestic violence. The footprints have become the logo of the foundation.
There are some lighter items. ACT Australian of the Year Patty Mills is represented by a basketball singlet which belongs to his uncle Danny Morseu, worn at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Morseu was a founding member of the National Basketball League and the first Torres Strait Islander to represent Australia at the Olympic Games.
Victoria Australian of the Year, Dylan Alcott, chose the tennis racquet he used to win the Golden Slam in 2021. You can almost see the sweat ingrained into the handle's grip.
The Australian of the Year awards exhibition is created in partnership with the National Australia Day Council and the National Museum of Australia.
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