Ita Buttrose AO OBE, who now dedicates her considerable energy and skills to the cause of medical education and health care, was tonight named Australian of the Year 2013 in a ceremony at Parliament House, witnessed by a crowd of thousands and a national television audience of millions.
Established in 1960, the Australian of the Year Award has throughout its more than 50 year history grown in significance to become Australia's pre-eminent award, profiling "leading Australians who are role models for us all." In her acceptance speech, Ita said that she was "truly honoured to receive this award" and "conscious of the fact that I am following in the footsteps of so many distinguished Australians", but noted that she felt "somewhat uneasy in that I'm being honoured for doing what I have enjoyed doing for most of my life: being a journalist and working for causes for which I have a genuine passion and commitment."
Saxton Managing Director Winston Broadbent argues that throughout her career "Ita has always challenged the status quo... quick to champion a cause, she is brave enough to speak up, often in the face of accepted public opinion. What stands out in my mind is the outstanding leadership that Ita brings to absolutely everything that she does."
Though very much still involved in the media, in recent years this leadership has shifted and in what she sees as the second stage of her career, Ita has become one of Australia's greatest champions of social and health issues. Ita is the current National Ambassador of Alzheimer's Australia having served as National President from 2011-2014, Patron of the Macular Disease Foundation and is also Emeritus Director of Arthritis Australia.
Ita's maverick media career began as a copy girl at the Australian Women’s Weekly before becoming a cadet journalist at the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph. At 23 she was appointed women’s editor at The Telegraph and in 1971 was promoted to founding editor of new women's magazine Cleo. An instant hit, becoming the top selling monthly women's magazine and propelling her to national celebrity status, Ita was three years later appointed editor of Women's Weekly and in 1989 became the first woman editor of an Australian metropolitan newspaper - the Murdoch owned Daily Telegraph and later the Sunday Telegraph - and was the first woman appointed to the News Ltd Board.
Crediting her parents with instilling in her a profound sense of the importance of giving back to the community, Ita remembers "there was always a place at our table for someone who had no place to go". Indeed it was the underpresentation of women's voices in Australia that drove much of her work as editor of The Australian Women's Weekly, and her much publicised media career that has given Ita the profile to raise issues sometimes neglected or at an impasse in public discourse. "Sometimes," Ita argues, "I think you've just got to shake people. You've got to make them aware."
In her speech Ita noted that if during the year she can "deliver on [Alzheimer's Australia's] Fight Dementia Campaign and put the spotlight on medical research" she will have "in some small way lived up to to this honour." Ita spoke passionately about the disease, noting the associated stigma, social isolation and lack of understanding, and the need to "break the shackles of this terrible affliction". Hope, Ita believes, lies in providing increased understanding in the community, better quality care, especially in the home, and research.
Ita's tireless work is driven by a belief that "if it weren't for committed people who share a passion, so many things wouldn't get done, so many issues wouldn't be resolved, people who needed to be pressured would not be pressured."
And, despite having achieved so much, Ita adds: "There are some other things left for me to do... I'm just not exactly sure what they are."
IF DURING MY YEAR I CAN CONTRIBUTE A LITTLE TO ACHEIVING A MORE POSITIVE APPROACH TO AGEING, DELIVERING ON THE FIGHT DEMENTIA CAMPAIGN AND PUTTING THE SPOTLIGHT ON MEDICAL RESEARCH I WILL FEEL I MAY HAVE, IN SOME SMALL WAY, LIVED UP TO THE HONOUR ÂÂÂÂÂ I HAVE BEEN GIVEN TODAY.