Indigenous entrepreneur Dion Devow named 2018 ACT Australian of the Year
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Indigenous entrepreneur Dion Devow named 2018 ACT Australian of the Year

Indigenous entrepreneur Dion Devow hopes other Aboriginal people will take inspiration when they learn he is 2018's ACT Australian of the Year.

The clothing designer received the honour on Monday evening for his clothing enterprises and work championing Aboriginal people to achieve their business dreams.

ACT young Australian of the year Zack Bryers, ACT local hero Suzanne Tunks, ACT Australian of the year Dion Devow, and ACT senior Australian of the year Dr Graham Farquhar AO.

ACT young Australian of the year Zack Bryers, ACT local hero Suzanne Tunks, ACT Australian of the year Dion Devow, and ACT senior Australian of the year Dr Graham Farquhar AO.Credit:Jamila Toderas

"I just hope they can look at me and say, 'If Dion can do it, anyone can do it," he said.

"I want to help my people, that's all I've ever wanted to do."

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Dion Devow has been named  2018 ACT Australian of The Year.

Dion Devow has been named 2018 ACT Australian of The Year.Credit:Rohan Thomson

When choosing a name for his business, he wanted to reclaim a derogatory term and express pride in his Aboriginal culture and heritage.

Darkies Design, started in 2010, produces contemporary Aboriginal-themed clothes and print media for mainstream, sports and promotional use.

The business collaborates with Indigenous artists and designers to produce Mr Devow's designs, and he works with other Aboriginal people to build businesses and achieve economic independence, in 2014 creating Indigenous business owners network the Canberra Business Yarning Circle.

Zack Bryers, named the ACT's Young Australian of the Year, made a long journey from homelessness as a teenager to achieving his award announced at the National Portrait Gallery.

The 28-year-old former soldier in Afghanistan, gridiron player for Australia and Churchill Fellow adds the latest honour to his achievements after leaving home at 15 and living on the streets.

"I think the bad times is especially what made me who I am," he said.

"I don't know who I would be without those times."

A goal to join the army turned his life around, and he spent tours of duty in Afghanistan before he was medically discharged with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He set other goals later, travelling to the US to play for Australia in the gridiron world cup.

Mr Bryers later trained as a youth worker and is now YouthCare Canberra's first full-time outreach worker, helping teens find temporary accommodation, attend court or hospital, overcome drug addictions or transform their lives after time in jail.

He hoped his award would make employers take a second look when receiving a job application from someone without education, or unable to afford the best clothing for an interview.

"When you grow up in the gutter, you have the most minuscule self-esteem," Mr Bryers said.

"You have a feeling like you're not meant to be here, and the world rejected you."

His path to success started with a decision to believe he was worth something.

Prize-winning biophysicist Graham Farquhar was named ACT Senior Australian of the Year, winning the accolade in part for his work examining how water efficient crops can protect food security in a changing climate.

Dr Farquhar has worked to improve world food security by developing strains of wheat that can grow with less water, and in 2017 he became the first Australian to win a Kyoto Prize, the most prestigious international award for fields not traditionally honoured with a Nobel Prize.

Supporter and fundraiser for sick kids Suzanne Tunks was named the ACT Local Hero for 2018 after creating the Stella Bella Little Stars Foundation.

She was driven to create the foundation after her daughter Stella was born with congenital heart disease, spending half of her short life of nine months in hospital.

Since then, Ms Tunks has raised more than $720,000 to provide support and financial assistance for families, covering everything from food and petrol to chemist accounts and emergency accommodation, and has opened the Stella Bella Children's Centre.

The ACT award recipients will join others from interstate at the national awards on January 25 in Canberra, where the four Australians of the Year will be announced.

Doug Dingwall is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service and politics.

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