Gold Coast Australian of the Year Awards


Gold Coast Australian of the Year Awards

City of Gold Coast wishes to recognise those people that are changing lives and our community for the better.

Those whose challenges and triumphs are manifested in their life achievements.

Those who go above and beyond with their career achievements.

Or those who are simply champions in one way or another and have an impact on those around them.

Previous winners

Gold Coast Australian of the Year

Awardee Achievements
2023 – Marco Renai Instrumental in establishing our city as an internationally recognised innovative centre for stroke diagnosis, treatment and research. Also responsible for founding Qscan Radiology Clinics, and is recognised for his continued efforts to bring international medical conferences to the Gold Coast which generate millions of dollars in revenue for the city.
2022 – Dr Hal Rice As founder and CEO of The Men of Business Academy, Marco Renai is the driving force behind building an alternate school that focuses on empowering young men with the skills, knowledge and confidence to be happy, healthy and successful in life. Over the past 10 years Marco has changed the lives of countless young men. He works tirelessly with the business & wider community to provide mentorship and work opportunities and he has been solely responsible for raising the funds to bring his vision to fruition.

Gold Coast Citizen of the Year

Note: The Gold Coast Citizen of the Year award became known as Gold Coast Australian of the Year award in 2022.

Awardee Achievements
2021 – Warren Young Warren Young was employed by City of Gold Coast as a professional lifeguard in 1973 and was stationed at Burleigh Heads. In 1975, he was promoted to Chief Lifeguard, a position he held until retiring in February 2021. Now one of the City's longest serving employees, Warren was responsible for facilitating beach safety, managing a budget of $9.5 million, employing 39 permanent staff and 140 seasonal staff – the largest professional lifeguard service in Australia. He is one of the City's greatest advocates and his skill and ability in his job was recognised internationally. The Gold Coast Professional Lifeguards are considered the best in the world and this is in no small part due to its prestigious leader.
2020 – Professor Mark von Itzstein AO FAA FAHMS FRACI Professor von Itzstein has international standing in glycoscience, medicinal chemistry and drug discovery, particularly in the area of anti-infective drug discovery. His research program focuses on the discovery of novel anti-microbial (anti-bacterial, parasitic, viral) drugs, including anti-influenza drugs, anti-parainfluenza and anti-cancer drugs primarily based on carbohydrate-related pathways.
2019 – Paul Donovan Paul Donovan has played a unique role in helping to make the Gold Coast a global tourism destination. As chair of Destination Gold Coast for more than a decade, and until recently a director of Tourism and Events Queensland, he has guided the city's image and reputation in its most successful era of visitor growth.
2018 – Karen Phillips Karen boasts an expansive career in media as a qualified journalist, and is an avid supporter of women's cancer charities and other causes, having assisted in raising more than $2 million for a range of not-for-profit organisations.
2017 – Vice Chancellor Professor Ian O'Connor Professor O'Connor has been instrumental in the outstanding achievements of Griffith University as well as volunteering his time in leadership and advisory roles to a wide array of organisations.
2016 – Gary Baildon Gary held the office of Mayor for three terms; he has also held senior roles in many government and community organisations. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2010.

Gold Coast Senior Australian of the Year

Awardee Achievements
2023 – Robyn and Lindsay Burch As the co-founders of Havafeed, Lindsay and Robyn Burch have been serving up meals – and hope – to the city’s most disadvantaged for the past 30 years. It is estimated that they have helped over 500,000 lives and raised almost $2 million since opening their doors. They continue to provide over 300 meals a week to those in need.
2022 – Claude ‘The Mower Man’ Harvey A real-life superhero for Australian kids who has spent his retirement trekking nationwide with his trusty mower ‘Moyra’ to spread awareness of child safety. To date he has personally raised over $1.3 million for Bravehearts (Australia’s leading child protection advocate).

Gold Coast Young Australian of the Year

Awardee Achievements
2023 – Emma McKeon At age 29, with 11 Olympic medals and 20 Commonwealth Games medals to her name, Emma is not only the greatest swimmer of all time, but the most decorated Australian Olympian. Emma is also a seven-time world record holder. She is one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen and attributes the Gold Coast’s great facilities to the success that she has achieved. As well as achieving those milestone records and maintaining her training schedule, she has completed a bachelor’s degree in public health and health promotion from Griffith University.
2022 – Bryce U’Ren Recognising his dedication, passion and commitment to ensuring all Australian children diagnosed with cancer receive a Super Max the Turtle night light. An inspirational example of a young Gold Coast boy who is spreading love, hope, happiness and comfort to those in need.

Gold Coast Young Citizen of the Year

Note: The Gold Coast Young Citizen of the Year award became known as Gold Coast Young Australian of the Year award in 2022.

Awardee Achievements
2021 – Elijah Palmer Elijah is an amazing young man who attends Mudgeeraba State Special School. Elijah has continued to train throughout COVID-19 lockdown. Despite having had several hospital admissions and some medical procedures, he has still smashed records in the sport of wheelchair racing. Elijah won all 5 races at the Queensland Schools Championships with 6 personal bests.
2020 – Amelia Anderson Amelia is a year 11 student at Lutheran Ormeau Rivers District School (LORDS). Amelia has been a surf lifesaver at Southport Surf Life Saving Club for the past three years, as well as volunteering her time for the past five years at the Gold Coast Inclusive Sports Program and volunteering for Rosie's – Friends on the Street.
2019 – Kaitlin Barwick Kaitlin Barwick at just 16 is already proving herself as an inspiring leader through the introduction of new voluntary community initiatives, fundraising and personal academic and sporting achievements. Kaitlin is currently completing her Gold 'Duke of Edinburgh' Award within the PCYC.
2018 – Madison Birtchnell Madison is just 17 and for the past 10 years has single-handedly organised empowering community events, generated funding, arranged sponsorship and guest speakers, created cultural and social change locally, raised awareness and broken down barriers surrounding important social issues.
2017 – Kane Elgey As a player of the Gold Coast Titans' squad, Kane is a most available and cooperative player for community visits, sponsor liaison and media requirements. He is also ambassador for the Tugun Seahawks where he began his career.
2016 – Tanya Diessel Tanya works as a community lawyer, providing free legal advice and assistance to the Gold Coast community, including the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

Gold Coast Local Hero

Awardee Achievements
2023 – Ross Lee As founder and president of My Community Legal, Ross and his team of 90 volunteers have provided free legal advice to over 10,000 vulnerable Gold Coasters since 2004. The countless hours, dedication, generosity and thoughtfulness he has for clients ensures they can all lead better lives as a result of his collaboration with members, volunteers and partners.
2022 – Carly Fradgley Recognising the tireless contribution as Founder of ‘Baby Give Back’ who provide safe and essential items to families in crisis. Now employing 16 staff and over 300 volunteers operating from two locations, the organisation has assisted in excess of 14,000 vulnerable children since 2014.

Selection panel

Marion Charlton, Gold Coast Airport

Marion has an impressive track record in business and aviation domestically and abroad. Since joining Queensland Airports Limited, she has held a variety of senior roles including her current position of Chief Operating Officer at Gold Coast Airport, where she manages the day-to-day operations of QAL group airports and is overseeing the transformational Gold Coast Airport terminal expansion. She worked at Atlanta and Sydney airports during the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and was in Glasgow during the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Marion has strong ties to the community and is a past Trustee with the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital Foundation, Chairperson of Placemakers* Gold Coast board (hosts of Bleach*Festival) and sits on the board of Bond University.

Marsha Graham, ARN (Hot Tomato)

Marsha Graham has been a permanent resident and a very active community member of the Gold Coast for the past 20 years and, as Regional Network Websites and Development Manager for ARN (the home of Hot Tomato), she has contributed greatly to the expansion into digital media with

Her proven and diverse background in communications, marketing, and business development, demonstrates in-depth knowledge and extensive experience in several industries including media and education.

Immensely passionate about grassroots change and empowerment, she has acquired qualifications in Partnership Brokering and Community Engagement and is always one of the first people to volunteer her time to help others. Her dedication is highlighted by her decade-long tenure as Parents & Citizens President for Caningeraba State School and seven years as a member of the school council.

Blending professionalism and relatability in all situations, Marsha Graham cares deeply about making a genuine impact in her community and beyond and supporting others to do the same.

Naomichi Hirano, Queensland Police Cross Cultural Unit

Since moving to Australia over 30 years ago, Nao has been actively involved in the multicultural community on the Gold Coast.

Previously the Multicultural Community Development Officer with Multicultural Communities Council Gold Coast, for the past 10 years he has been the Multicultural Community Support Officer at Queensland Police Gold Coast. The purpose of this role is to establish and maintain a positive rapport between culturally specific communities and the Queensland Police Service.

In 2019, Nao was instrumental in starting the 'Coffee with a Cop' program which allows the multicultural community members to get together with police and other government agencies to provide general crime prevention and personal safety advice and direction regarding tenancy disputes, bond issues, working conditions, workplace harassment and immigration issues which are then referred to the relevant counterparts for solutions.

Hilary Jacobs, The Pines Shopping Centre

Hilary has worked as the Centre Manager at The Pines Shopping Centre since September 2012 and was an active member of the Creek to Creek Chamber Committee since 2013, becoming President in 2015. Hilary guided the Chamber through its merger in 2016 with the Southern Gold Coast Chamber, and was then elected President of the newly named Greater Southern Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce.

The Pines Shopping Centre is a leading sub-regional retail centre on the Gold Coast, which includes both independent and national retail groups. Along with the owners of the Centre, Hilary represents these retail businesses at the Chamber.

Hilary has been involved in institutional retail shopping centre management for almost 20 years.

Clark Kirby, Village Road Show Theme Parks

Clark Kirby is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Village Roadshow Group. Clark was previously CEO of Village Roadshow Theme Parks and Village Roadshow Studios before his appointment to Group CEO in January 2020, expanding his portfolio to include the Village Cinema circuit and Roadshow Film and Television Distribution and Production. Prior to joining Village Roadshow, Clark worked for UBS Investment Bank in the Technology and Media M&A team in Melbourne, Sydney, and New York.

Clark completed a Master of Applied Finance and Investment at Macquarie University in 2005 and holds a Bachelor of Information Technology from Bond University.

He is the Vice Chairman of the peak Tourism Body of the Gold Coast, Destination Gold Coast as well as a founding Board member of Major Events Gold Coast. Other Board positions include the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and the My Room Children's Cancer Charity.

Maria Leebeek, Gold Coast Youth Service

Maria Leebeek has a long-standing commitment to working in the not-for-profit (NFP) sector on social justice issues. Maria has been employed in range of positions from direct practice, with a focus on housing and homelessness, through to organisational management.

This grounded experience has enabled her to undertake a range of project and policy work and to share this knowledge and advocate in a range of community and public settings.

Maria is passionate about the role of NFP organisations and is currently enrolled in a Research Master of Business at QUT exploring collaboration in the NFP sector. She also has a Bachelor of Social Work (Queensland University) and a Graduate Diploma in Business (Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies QUT).

Tamara Morris, Tamara Morris Media & Communication

Tamara has more than 25 years working in the Public Relations (PR) industry with an outstanding professional track record delivering major corporate and sporting events in Queensland.

She managed sponsorship and PR for the Gold Coast's iconic Gold Coast Marathon and Pan Pacific Masters Games before moving into a long-term role as Manager Communication and Media for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Currently Principal of Tamara Morris Media & Communication, she enjoys working with a mix of corporate and sporting clients with recent achievements including media management for the 2032 Olympics host city announcement in Brisbane.

Tamara has been Deputy Chair of the Gold Coast Eisteddfod for more than 15 years and has recently been appointed Chair of the Gold Coast Sporting Hall of Fame.

Marcus Ward, Griffith University

Marcus is an accomplished advancement leader and philanthropy expert with international experience at leading organisations. Currently Vice President for Advancement at Griffith University, Marcus previously held the position of Chief Philanthropy Officer at Monash University. There he oversaw their first ever comprehensive fundraising campaign 'Change it. For good', raising over $700M from a community of 43,000 donors.

Prior to moving to Australia in 2013, Marcus was Head of Major Gifts at Queen's University Belfast, where he worked on two comprehensive fundraising campaigns which redefined the importance of philanthropy in Northern Ireland.

Marcus also led the Corporate and Trust Fundraising Team at The Prince's Trust in London, the Prince of Wales's main charity, securing its largest ever philanthropic relationship with the English Premier League, still in place over 20 years later.

*In 2022, we updated our awards to enable greater recognition for these inspirational community role models. The Gold Coast Citizen of the Year awards are now known as the Gold Coast Australian of the Year awards.