Grace Tame, the 2021 Australian of the Year, has become powerful advocate and activist for fellow sexual assault survivors, helping them find a voice against society's imbalances of power.
The 26-year-old Tasmanian sat down recently to talk about her first six months as Australian of the Year, how her lived experience has resonated nationally and what sort of community champions, quiet achievers and local heroes we should be nominating for the 2022 Australian of the Year Awards.
You can help find the 2022 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.
How has your life changed since becoming Australian of the Year and a national advocate for sexual assault and child sexual abuse survivors?
Personally, my life has and always will revolve around the people that I love, so that hasn't changed, but as an advocate my platform [as Australian of the Year] and therefore the platform of all of the survivors that I am representing has been elevated.
This is enabling us and empowering us to create further change, which is incredible.
What did you want to achieve when you became Tasmanian of the Year, and then again, when you became Australian of the Year? What still needs to be done?
What motivated me to come forward when I was 16 was the fact that I identified a pretty glaring gap in our collective understanding of the reality of sex crimes.
So much of the focus in our conversations, and in our media, is on the superficial details, the physical details; How bad was the rape? How bad was the violence?
And not enough focus is put on the psychological manipulation that underpins these things, and therefore in our language, in our legal language, we don't properly encapsulate the gravity of things like abuse of a minor.
For instance, the pedophile that abused me repeatedly when I was a 15-year-old, who was 58 ... he was charged with maintaining a sexual relationship with a person under the age of 17, and as a result of that charge being handed down to him the first media coverage of my case was "Teacher admits to affair with student".
The word "affair" implies that it was consensual, and that in turn affected people's attitudes in the community. So you can start to see how our legal language has a huge impact on our cultures ... we can start to understand why victim blaming cultures persist.
What remains are some poorly worded [legal] charges. We need to change those. And we also need to change the glaring inconsistencies in our legislation that pertain to sexual assault in general.
[In Australia] we have eight jurisdictions, eight different definitions of consent, eight different definitions of sexual intercourse, eight different definitions of what sexual assault actually is, and until we establish a uniform, standardised, consistent approach [in legislation] we cannot possibly educate properly around these issues.
What can everyday Australians do to instigate change?
It is about being consistent and persistent. Every voice matters.
It can be really uncomfortable to have these conversations but it is through these conversations that we start to develop our understanding and then properly educate others.
It doesn't have to be grand-scale education, it can be as simple as informal conversations with your friends and family at home that can create a ripple effect for change.
Did you ever think that your lived experiences would lead you to receive this recognition and allow you to influence such significant change?
I never anticipated this result. I was always motivated by a want to help and protect and educate others to create change for the benefit of the collective, not just my own personal healing.
I never saw this coming, and accolades are important but they are not the be all and end all.
Any advocate or activist knows we do meaningful work regardless of the promise of a certain outcome or achievement. We do it because it is fundamentally important to do so.
Why is it important that Australia continues to find and celebrate the stories and achievements of people like you, and your fellow award recipients, such as Young Australian of the Year Isobel Marshall, and Senior Australian of the Year Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann?
Programs like the Australian of the Year Awards not only allow us to recognise and celebrate the work of people from all walks of life.
They also enable us to elevate the platform so that further change can happen as a result.
What would you say to the people of Australia who are looking to nominate others for this title?
We all know someone who works tirelessly, who isn't recognised. That is the beauty of an awards program like this. There are no limits, anyone can be an Australian of the Year.
What should people be looking for in the next round of Australia of the Year Award nominees?
Diversity, and the voices that haven't been heard yet. I think we need to hear more from our First Nations people.
What are some of your biggest highlights and achievements, or even some of the challenges, you have experienced as Australian of the Year?
For me some of the biggest highlights have been the individual interactions that I have had with fellow survivors who have come forward with just heartbreaking stories of their own, which parallel mine in a lot of ways.
I'm talking about people who are in their seventies, who felt like they would take the shame of being a survivor to their graves.
Also, taking part in the Women's March, and getting to speak to my fellow Tasmanians.
Just generally being a part of this huge shift across the nation is a huge privilege and an honour. There are always going to be challenges along the way, I don't like to focus on those.
What would you say to the next Australian of the Year?
That depends on what they became Australian of the Year for. Take time for yourself. Remember that your cause is important, but whatever your cause is, you are no good to it if you don't prioritise self care.
ACM, the publisher of this masthead, is media partner of the Australian of the Year Awards. Nominations close July 31.
- Interviewer: Isabel Bird
- Photographer: Paul Scambler
- Vision: brokenyellow.com
- Production: Emma Horn
- Courage & inspiration: Grace Tame