The Informer: We could be heroes just for one day (apologies, Mr Bowie)

HEROES: An exhausted firefighter catches some sleep on the NSW South Coast.
HEROES: An exhausted firefighter catches some sleep on the NSW South Coast.

Australia Day arrives with a sense of dread. The endless date debate. The utes festooned with flags, looking uncomfortably like ISIS trucks. The drunkenness. The drownings. The inestimable sadness for First Australians.

But put all that aside for a moment. Shelve the arguments over whether beaky pentecostal meanness should be honoured or not and take a look at those in the running for Australian of the Year.

Among them a fire chief in charge while most of the eastern seaboard was ablaze, a chief medical officer at the helm during the worst pandemic in a century, an expert in Indigenous health, an advocate for doctors with disabilities, an Indigenous leader pushing for constitutional recognition for her people, an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, a champion of homeless people and Australia's first Indigenous doctor.

There's a pretty diverse bunch here, who've done great work in their respective fields. Amid the raised voices, the hurt and the misplaced fear some longheld tradition is under threat - Australia Day as we know it now is neither a tradition (January 26 was only gazetted as a national public holiday in 1994) nor really under threat, if the polls are to be believed - we should take a breath, put down the beer, and think about our heroes.

Those heroes need not be the ones who made the honours list either. We all know people in our communities who year after year go above and beyond, never seeking recognition and often never getting it.

And we should look at the positive possibilities for our country in the year ahead. We have approval for our first vaccines, our COVID cases continue to decline, proof we are doing so much better than so many other nations.

There will be challenges. Climate change is still front of mind as a heatwave scorches south-eastern Australia and fires rage in South Australia. Progress on the vaccine front will face shortages and hurdles but we are in a great position to ride those out.

These challenges will produce another cohort of Australian Of The Year finalists in 2022, another clutch of heroes whose achievements we should admire.

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