SHANNA Whan recalls how she felt when her work to raise awareness about alcohol addiction in rural Australia earned her recognition as Australia's Local Hero of the Year for 2022.
"For me, personally, it was a moment of intense relief and a beautiful validation that an essential conversation, so severely overdue not just for remote Australians like me - but also desperately overdue for recognition by state and federal leaders - was finally being heard," she said.
Ms Whan is the founder of Sober in the Country, a national grassroots not-for-profit that is changing the narrative around alcohol in rural Australia by spreading the message that "it's OK to say no".
After almost dying in 2015 after a long battle with alcohol addiction, Ms Whan has since dedicated her life to helping people in the bush talk about, and tackle, the issue.
In 2017 Ms Whan began publicly sharing her story and in 2019 Sober in the Country was granted national charitable status. The charity's focus is not anti-alcohol but sharing stories and experiences and highlighting the importance of mates supporting mates.
Ms Whan said being named Australia's Local Hero for 2022 had helped amplify her message about the benefits of putting mates before alcohol.
"The Australian of the Year title has definitely added serious clout for me, personally, as a national advocate - and that clout has allowed me to go around many of those historical roadblocks and get to the decision makers who can, and are willing, to take action," she said.
"Some of the highlights for me this year so far have included incredible honours and privileges such as meeting the Queen, but also to simply amplify our everyday work with those in the trenches in remote areas. Most valuable of all has been the chance to seriously put alcohol awareness on the national agenda as an urgent social issue."
Ms Whan said nominating someone for the 2023 Australian of the Year Awards was well worth doing.
"I think we all have a tendency to think 'oh, what's the point ... this won't go anywhere'. But it can and every single Australian of the Year story started with a vote."
Help find the 2023 Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Australia's Local Hero by nominating someone you admire.
Visit australianoftheyear.org.au before July 31
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