On criticism of the Australian of the Year awards

When Lleyton Hewitt followed Ian Thorpe onto the Statutes of Young Australian of the Year who were sportspeople, I was but a pup of an Australian Resident. To me the award was something like the “honours” in the UK which, when viewed from nearby as I lived in Ireland, seemed to be singularly bestowed on Royal Toadies, Lovely Actors and Nice Sportspeople.

I can’t help but imagine the reaction online if Twitter and Facebook were around in 2003. I bet, as with all human reactions, a diverse mixture of laudatory celebration of his prowess on the Tennis court and indignation that yet another person whose only notable feature is that he could behave like an entitled brat on the court had been chosen.

In 2011 we have a realtime equivalent of this wide-ranging reaction with today’s announcement that a young lady who sailed solo around the world had been chosen to be Young Australian of the year. As with any criticisms of anything these days, and especially on the internet, it’s practically impossible to fully explain the context of those critiques without someone first bagging your reaction. So let me use this opportunity to try to explain¬† what I am actually criticising.

Before I go on, we should probably remind ourselves of what the NADC considers when choosing the awards:

  • Demonstrated excellence in their field;
  • Significant contribution to the Australian community and nation; and
  • An inspirational role model for the Australian community.

Once you agree that anyone who was nominated fits the bill for all of the three above, the rest is an subjective choice of the committee members. And just like any decision made by any group of fallible humans, open to criticism by the populace.

So forgive me if I find the announcement tonight of Ms. Watson as Young Australian of the Year a bit bewildering, referring to selection criteria above and leaving aside the third as especially subjective, for the life of me I can’t see how she has met the second criterium. Feel free to educate me if there is something I am missing. For people like Lleyton Hewitt and before him Ian Thorpe, perhaps there is something to say they met all the criteria, but then I can’t see how Casey Stoner¬† fitted the bill or how Lee Kernaghan and Pat Rafter did in their day for the full award either.

And so to the nature of my criticism, sarcastic as it might have been on twitter today. Let’s be clear, while I find the efforts Watson is being rewarded for extravagant and silly, good on her for challenging herself and being successful. The fact she is being financially rewarded for it goes with any success, so no criticism there either. In fact, as I barely even noticed the whole hoo haa around her endeavours when it happened, I can’t really criticise her at all. Though the appropriation of her celebrity by various media and other companies since does give me cause to consider some trash-talk about them.

No my criticism is reserved for the committee that felt Ms. Watson was a better recipient than some of this years other nominees. Though, with a sportsman at the helm, perhaps we should be less surprised at the outcome than we are.

Perhaps you think she is above them all, perhaps you think another is more deserving. I guess the best we can say is that at least we are able to have these discussions, be they earnest, witty, sarcastic or just plain rude; and right there is possibly the best thing to celebrate about Australia.

Happy Australia Day.


7 thoughts on “On criticism of the Australian of the Year awards

  1. I don’t need to argue with anyone else about this, I’m conflicted enough myself. I’ll just mention to the positive here as devil’s advocate – I think she’s a good example that you don’t have to be the smartest, the fastest runner, the most popular or the best looking to be recognised for being passionate and motivated. (Sorry if that sounded like an insult Miss Watson!)
    As for sportsmen getting these kinds of awards, whenever we have teams or individuals kicking arse and taking names those sports swell in numbers and that’s a ridiculously important outcome for this nation that is disconnected from the healthy lifestyle we used to pride ourselves on.

  2. Mandi,
    Thanks for the comment. Good points which I can’t disagree with it, generally. On your first though, I still can’t see how that promotes here above her fellow nominees – I’d be pretty sure they’d have the same quality in spades as well. For the second, well as I said in the blogpost, sports awards come thick and fast around these parts, so unsure they’d need additional recognition unless they were, like for example Steve Waugh, also heavily involved in other initiatives

  3. Let me start by saying I’m not a sportsman by any stretch of the imagination. Sure I’ve been know to play the occasional game of tennis or volleyball although perhaps my greatest sporting achievement is a winning game of beer pong at some long forgotten uni party.

    Given my limited sporting prowess I can’t say I have much passion for the sporting interests of the nation. However, I’m constantly informed by friends, family members, bus stop strangers and the media who the latest Aussie sports star is or which match we won most recently.

    I can’t recall the last time someone came up to me in the pub and struck up a conversation about the great work of scientist X or the most recent group sex scandal within the CSIRO. It just doesn’t happen.

    So whilst I acknowledge @mandi ‘s point about promoting a healthy lifestyle by promoting sport, I feel that we recognise sporting figures enough in our day to day lives as Australians. Let’s share some of the spot light with the people who work tirelessly (and somewhat anonymously) in fields other than sport.

  4. Hmmm. You may have a point, but reading the bios of the other 2011 Young Australians, at least she had something there that might be described as a contribution to the Australian community: “Her voyage has inspired thousands of people of all ages to take up sailing”. On the other hand, the NSW finalist seems to have contributed to only the Cambodian community.

  5. Andrew, taking up sailing normally promotes teamwork. How do you reconcile that with solo sailing, which is an unusual form of the sport as far as I know, and surely promotes selfishness

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