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John Curtin Day
John Curtin Medallists

Mary Roskams (2001)

Mary Roskams epitomises the term volunteer during this, the Year of the Volunteer. Her contribution to the wider community has been quiet, self-sacrificing and, in a formal sense, largely unrecognised. Her vision for assisting international students in need has had a lasting impact on Australia’s diplomatic, trade and cultural relationships with a range of developing countries throughout the world.

The leadership she has demonstrated in both her professional and volunteer capacities has served to reinforce the commitment she has for those in need. Mary has worked for almost 20 years with Australian aid organisation AusAID, as the Social Worker and Community Development Officer for Overseas Students in Western Australia. She has organised overseas welcome camps, social events, international women’s groups, trained student leaders from Australia and overseas, and provided a support network for anyone in need.

Recently retired, Mary continues to exhibit true leadership, taking on the role of Executive Officer of the voluntary organisation, the Council for International Students of Western Australia (CISWA). In this role, Mary contributes to the promotion of cultural understanding within WA, working with representatives from local universities, technical colleges, schools, private colleges, service clubs and cultural and ethnic associations.

Most of the work Mary has undertaken, whether as a volunteer or working professional, has affected the wider community. Community Service  has  been  central  to  everything   she  has   done.  In addition to her work with AusAID and CISWA, Mary has  also been  heavily  involved  as  a volunteer  with  Scripture Union,  a  worldwide organisation offering programs and camps for children and youth. The awarding of the John Curtin Medal acknowledges not only the impact Mary’s lifetime of work has had locally but the impact of her work globally, reaching international communities through her involvement with their youth.

John Curtin Medallists

Barry Jones (2001)

Dr Barry Jones AO is Australia’s longest serving Minister for Science and has devoted much of his career to promoting the importance of science and technology in Australian education and industry.

Dr Jones has shown great VISION with his commitment to the expansion of science and technology programs throughout Australia, particularly within Australian universities. He has been and continues to be a strong and powerful advocate for scientific research. His lifelong interest in science has included fighting for the growth and development of science education.

Dr Jones has exhibited true leadership throughout his working life. He began his career in the public service, and has worked as a high school teacher, lawyer, arts administrator and university lecturer. He became a Member of Parliament in 1977 and has had a distinguished parliamentary career, including serving as Minister for Science from 1983 to 1990. Throughout his career, Dr Jones has continued to fight for the advancement of science in Australia. He has been a strong supporter of the CSIRO, and is credited for the establishment of the National Science Centre in Canberra. As Minister for Science he created the Australia Prize in Science and Technology, and the Commission for the Future.

Community Service has been central to much of Dr Jones’ work. His commitment to community service is demonstrated through his voluntary roles as a Board member of CARE Australia, as Chairperson of the Cooperative Research Centre for Coastal Zone, Waterway and Estuary Management, and as Deputy Chairperson of the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority.

Dr Jones has been the recipient of the Raymond Langford Award for his work in reviving the Australian film industry and the Redmond Barry Award for services to libraries. He has been awarded honorary doctorates by a number of Australian universities, and was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1993. Barry Jones Bay in Antarctica and Yalkaparidon jonesi, a rare extinct family of marsupials, were also named after him in recognition of his extensive contribution to science.

Work undertaken since receiving the John Curtin Medal

Dr Barry Jones has remained heavily involved in community work since he was awarded the John Curtin Medal in 2001.

Having once served as National President of the Australian Labor Party from 1992 to 2000, he again held office from 2005 to 2006.

His involvement in public affairs since 2001 has been extensive. In 2010, he was a Member of the Australian Delegation to the World Heritage Committee in Brazil. From 2008 to 2015 he was Director of Victorian Opera. He has served on numerous boards in various organisations, including as Chair.

Dr Jones became Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne in 2007 and, since 1999, has been Adjunct Professor at Monash University and a Visiting Fellow Commoner at Trinity College, Cambridge.

He has published numerous books, including Coming to the Party (2006), A Thinking Reed (2006), Dictionary of World Biography (2013; 2016), The Shock of Recognition (2016) and Knowledge Courage Leadership (2016).

He has been generously recognised since 2001, with Honorary Doctorates from the University of Melbourne (LLD, 2002), Australian National University (DLitt, 2004) and Griffith University (DUniv, 2011). He received the Research Australia Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 and was awarded an AC (Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2014.

Dr Jones continues to campaign for “rational, compassionate, evidence-based approaches” to key issues such as the refugee crisis, growing tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim societies and communities, meeting the challenge of climate change and moving towards a post-carbon economy, among numerous other causes.

John Curtin Medallists

John Embling and Heather Pilcher (2001)

John Embling and Heather Pilcher have devoted the last 25 years to helping young people who are victims of homelessness, drugs, racism, abuse and violence. Their vision for providing abandoned and alienated children with opportunities has made a huge difference to the lives of a generation.

Both John and Heather have shown selfless leadership. John trained and worked as a teacher of remedial English at a technical college in Melbourne, where he encountered adolescents, victims of abuse and neglect, who had minimal reading skills. Heather had already spent 10 years working with street kids when she met John in 1975. Impressed with her work, John decided to give up his paid teaching position to work with Heather in a bid to provide alternatives to children who might otherwise end up on the streets.

The early years of working together were extremely difficult. They had no income to support their work until John’s first published success, a story recounting his struggle to help a young student. John wrote his first book in 1978, entitled Tom: A Child’s Life Regained, describing how he battled, as a young schoolteacher, to save the life of an angry, brutalised young boy. The book was an overnight success and not only provided financial assistance but also the publicity and promotion needed to raise awareness of their ongoing project. In 1985 John completed Fragmented Lives: a darker side of Australian life, describing the Australia experienced by less fortunate members of our community.

As part of their community service work, John and Heather have established Families in Distress, a Foundation which provides emotional support for those in need, as well as comfortable accommodation for up to 10 children who would otherwise be living on the streets. Broadcaster and media identity Phillip Adams is a trustee of the Foundation and a champion of its cause; donations from readers of his columns have provided up to 90 percent of the money used to support the Foundation.

John and Heather have encountered many personal obstacles in undertaking their work, with both suffering attacks from gangs. John has also been beaten, stabbed and deliberately run down. The years of working 18 – 20 hours a day, in such difficult circumstances, have taken their toll, and both John and Heather have suffered very poor health in recent years. Despite this, they continue their commitment to improving the lives of homeless children. They have made many sacrifices and continue to battle against the odds to fulfil their vision for a better community.

John Curtin Medallists

Vanessa Elliot (2001)

Vanessa Elliott is the embodiment of community spirit. All that she does is motivated by her vision for improved opportunities for the Indigenous community, especially those within her remote north-west community of Halls Creek.

Vanessa went to school in Halls Creek and Geraldton, and has completed two years of a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Literature at Curtin. Vanessa has temporarily deferred this study to devote her time and energy to improving conditions in her local community by completing a Bachelor of Applied Science in Community Development externally. Vanessa has demonstrated true leadership, as at 25 years of age, she is one of the youngest Local Government Community Officers in WA. Her work involves raising the profile of her community and improving the quality of life for the residents of Halls Creek and she has achieved this through various means.

Vanessa was responsible for securing a $1.1 million grant from the Ministry of Sport and Recreation to build a Community Resource Centre and an Aquatic and Multi-purpose Centre in Halls Creek. She has also organised reconciliation activities in Halls Creek for the past two years, with more than 1,000 people attending last year. This event has been identified by the Reconciliation Council as achieving the highest attendance per capita in the state.

She has also secured $45,000 from the Federal Government for the implementation of a youth suicide prevention program for Halls Creek; established the Halls Creek Youth Advisory Council, consisting of 30 youth from her community; has conducted a skills audit, which resulted in the employment of Indigenous youth at local mines; has organised art exhibitions to boost the profile of Halls Creek and its artists; wrote and produced the 2001 Shire Directory; developed and produced a tourist map; has implemented a highly successful Youth Safe Sex Project; and works as a Youth Coordinator with two trainee youth workers.

Vanessa was the runner-up in the 2001 WA Young Person of the Year award. She was also named winner of the Leadership Award at the 2001 WA Youth Awards and was recently named NAIDOC Youth of the Year. Vanessa has served as a representative on the National Youth Roundtable, has developed Community Action Plans for the Federal Government and has recently been asked to serve on the newly formed National Indigenous Roundtable.

Commitment to community service is central to all that Vanessa does. Her leadership and vision for indigenous people has had an enormous impact on her local community, reinforcing the notion that one individual can make a difference.