Australian Humanist of the Year 1980 to 1999


Beginning in 1983, the humanist movement in Australia selects annually an Australian Humanist of the Year (AHoY). This award is given to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to public life, consistent with humanist principles and values. The award recipient is decided by State humanist societies with final endorsement by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies (CAHS). The annual AHoY Award assists in raising the profile of humanism in Australia by increasing public awareness of humanist values and activities.

1999 : Diana WARNOCK, 1940–

Photo of Diana Warnock

Journalist. In recognition of her commitment to humanist values in her extensive work on behalf of individual and community groups. Her determination and concern for the welfare of others was shown by her contribution to the passage of a most enlightened abortion law reform in the parliament of Western Australia. She is patron of the Humanist Society of Western Australia.

1998 : Dr Philip NITSCHKE, 1947–

Photo of Dr Philip Nitschke

Medical practitioner. Born in rural South Australia. Studied physics at Flinders University, gaining First Class Honours after creating, with lasers, what he thinks may have been Australia’s first hologram. Moved to the Northern Territory, where he worked as a park ranger. Acted as a white advisor to Vincent Lingiari when the Aboriginal Land Rights movement was taking off. Became, through his courage and determination, the person who made the Northern Territory “Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995” work, until it was extinguished by the Federal Parliament. His coma machine was the first in the world to legally assist the death of four terminally ill patients who made their own choice to end their lives. The claim by the Australian Medical Association in the Northern Territory that no doctor in the Territory would support the legislation was proved wrong when Philip Nitschke organised 20 Territory doctors to agree to a statement in support of the Bill. Sees little evidence that there is a god: “I haven’t seen any miracles at those last moments.”

1997 : Eva Maria COX, 1938–

Photo of Eva Cox

Social policy analyst, feminist and author, born in Vienna, Austria, just before the Nazi occupation. Spent the war years in England with her mother, and after two years in Rome arrived in Sydney aged ten. Completed a BA Hons at the University of New South Wales in the 1970s as a mature age student, a sole parent. Was a founding member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby in New South Wales in 1972, and an active abortion rights campaigner. Best known for her frequent media appearances as a commentator on social issues, especially those to do with women and families. Has worked as an academic, a director of a major non-government welfare organisation, a ministerial adviser, a senior public servant. Has run her own business. In 1995 was awarded an Order of Australia for advocacy and social policy analysis on behalf of women and the disadvantaged. In 1995 delivered the ABC Boyer Lectures, entitled “A Truly Civil Society”. The six lectures raised some fundamental questions about the way Australians live and work. Author of “Leading Women: Tactics for making a Difference”, published 1996.

1996 : His Excellency the Hon. William George ‘Bill’ HAYDEN, 1933–2023

Photo of William Hayden

Governor-General of Australia 1989-96, born Brisbane, Queensland. As a child lived in straitened circumstances. Joined Queensland public service, the police force, studied by correspondence, gained BEcon at University of Queensland. First entered Parliament 1961 (ALP). Minister of Social Security 1972-75, Treasurer 1975, Opposition Leader 1977-83, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs 1977, for Foreign Affairs and Trade 1977-78. As a Humanist and atheist took a stand on peace and human rights and condemned injustice, intolerance and discrimination whether in Australia or abroad. Spoke out in favour of voluntary euthanasia and other causes supported by Humanists without fear and despite criticism.

1995 : Professor Ian Rutherford PLIMER, 1946–

Photo of Professor Ian Plimer

Professor of Geology and Dean of the Faculty of Earth Sciences at Melbourne University, born Sydney, NSW. Educated University of NSW; became a senior tutor at Macquarie University and Head of the Dept of Geology Newcastle University 1985-91. Has published and lectured across the world in geology and the earth sciences. In an attempt to counter the influence of non-scientific beliefs purveyed by some fundamentalist religions in their attempts to undermine and overturn scientific education and debate, wrote his Telling lies For God (Random House, 1994), in which he exposes faults in the arguments and the dishonest tactics of some creationists.

1994 : Margaret Dorothy BAXENDELL, 1922–2012

Photo of Margaret Baxendell

Rationalist, Humanist, born Brisbane, Queensland. Was once a Congregationalist Sunday School teacher where she met “Tup” Baxendell. Member of Queensland Rationalist Society 1955 and secretary in 1968 when the Rationalist Society became the Humanist Society of Queensland. Foundation member of Abortion Law Reform Association which later became Children by Choice. Was a member of Save Our Sons, a group opposing conscription for the Vietnam War. As part of her community service, is secretary for a number of local organisations, including Australians for a Sustainable Population; Union of Australian Women; and the May Belle Association, a domestic violence service organisation. The building purchased as a Humanist headquarters has been named “Baxendell House”. This was a joint award with Cedric Harold ‘Tup’ Baxendell.

1994 : Cedric Harold ‘Tup’ BAXENDELL, 1922–2006

Photo of Cedric Baxendell

Rationalist, Humanist, born Brisbane, Queensland. Family Congregationalist, taught Sunday school where he met his wife, Margaret. Lost his faith and joined the Rationalist Society of Queensland. Moved the motion that the Society initiate a building fund and made the first donation of ten dollars. Commenced a monthly fund-raising “Marawah Bush Dance”, which up to 700 attended. Sponsored the formation of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Was elected a life member of the Humanist Society of Queensland. This was a joint award with Margaret Dorothy Baxendell .

1993 : Robyn WILLIAMS, 1944–

Photo of Robyn Williams

Humanist, scientist, journalist, broadcaster, born High Wycombe, Bucks, England. Arrived Australia 1972 and became ABC producer of the Science Show 1975, then Ockham’s Razor and many other radio and TV documentaries. President of the Australia Museum Trust and Chairman of Committee for the Future. Publications include Best of the Science Show (1983) and Uncertainty Principle (1989). Awarded United Nations Association’s Media Peace Prize (5 times), Order of Australia (AM) 1988, Australia Skeptics Journalist of the Year 1989.

1992 : Dr John Hans HIRSHMAN, 1921–2006

Photo of Dr John Hirshman

Humanist, health services consultant, born Sydney, NSW. Has made a special study of public health and tropical medicine. Was City Medical Officer in Sydney before joining the World Health Organisation. Foundation and executive member of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. Was a driving force in the formation of the Humanist Society of NSW and CAHS. Has written numerous reports, papers and publications of great value to Humanist and humanitarian causes. Was prominent in setting up and administering the Australian Third World Health Group, a health professionals group working with organisations such as Oxfam.

1991 : Professor Frederick Cossom (Fred) HOLLOWS, 1929–93

Photo of Professor Frederick Hollows

Humanist, professor, ophthalmologist, anarcho-syndicalist, born Dunedin, New Zealand. The son of a solid, Christian railwayman, intended entering the church but found that sex, alcohol and secular goodness were pretty keen instruments and they surgically removed his Christianity, leaving no scar. Pioneered identification and treatment of blinding eye diseases amongst Australian Aboriginal people. Developed a three-year model prevention program to train local technicians to perform eye surgery in Eritrea, Nepal and Vietnam. His work was recognised in 1990 with the Australian Government award of Australian of the Year. Has been described as a very Australian hero: egalitarian, not remote, a bit of a larrikin, but a professional who put his energies into social concerns rather than the accumulation of wealth, who spoke in the vernacular and spared no-one, least of all himself, when things had to be done. Saved sight in three continents. His legacy was to save sight not for a day or a year, but to do so continuously through a vision of justice. Lived and died with these beliefs: “I am a Humanist. I don’t believe in any higher power than the best expressions of the human spirit, and those are to be found in personal and social relationships. Evaluating my life in those terms, I’ve had some mixed results. I’ve hurt some people and disappointed others, but I hope that on balance, I’ve given more than I’ve taken.”

1990 : Senator the Hon. Gareth John EVANS, 1944–

Photo of Senator Gareth Evans

Humanist, atheist, lawyer, politician, born Melbourne, Victoria. Senator (ALP) for Victoria 1978-96; MHR since 1996. Leader of the Government in the Senate 1993-96; Deputy Leader of the Opposition since 1996. Cabinet appointments have included Attorney-General 1983-94, Resources and Energy 1984-87, Transport and Communications 1987-88 and Foreign Affairs 1988-95. Commissioner Australian Law Reform Commission, 1975; Vice-President Victorian Council for Civil Liberties 1970-84. Became a QC in 1983. A commitment to Humanism and a generally non-religious view of the world stems from his experiences of Billy Graham’s 1958 first crusade in Australia. At the age of 14 became a committed and comprehensive sceptic, then agnostic, shortly to become defined as a lifelong atheist. This transfer was assisted by the influence of a school-teaching neighbour introducing him to the ideas of Humanism and the enlightenment from reading Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian”.

1989 : Victor Henry LLOYD, 1921–2014

Photo of Victor Lloyd

Humanist, teacher, lecturer, writer, born Brisbane, Queensland. Active with the Rationalist Society; became the first President of the subsequent organisation, the Humanist Society of Queensland. Co-ordinated the Society’s policies on Civil Marriage Celebrants, the Abortion Reform Movement, the Homosexual Law Reform Movement, the Vasectomy Information Service and the Sex Counselling Service. Led the Society’s opposition to Australia’s involvement in Vietnam and the South African Rugby Tour. In 1969, managed State campaign for the Defence of Government Schools (DOGS). A frequent Humanist spokesperson on radio and TV. Contributed the chapter on “Rationalism and Humanism” to the bicentennial project Many Faiths, One Nation, edited by Dr Ian Gillman.

1988 : Professor Ian LOWE, 1942–

Photo of Ian Lowe

Humanist, scientist, born Bowral, NSW. Director of Science Policy Research Centre since 1980 and Director of the Commission for the Future. Makes frequent appearances on radio and television to discuss issues related to the role of science and technology in modern society. Active in a range of environmental groups. A member of the Council of the Australian Consumers’ Association and Scientists against Nuclear Arms.

1987 : Phillip Andrew ADAMS, 1939–

Photo of Phillip Adams

Humanist, iconoclast, author, columnist, broadcaster and film maker, born Maryborough, Victoria. Son of a Congregational Minister of Religion. Founder with Dick Smith and Mark Plummer of the Australian Skeptics, irreverent columnist for The Australian and the Bulletin. Frequently speaks and broadcasts on secular and Humanist topics. Books include Adams with Added Enzymes, The Unspeakable Adams, Uncensored Adams, Inflammable Adams, Adams versus God. Films include Jack and Jill: A Postscript, The Naked Bunyip, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Don’s Party, The Getting of Wisdom. Member of the Australian Film Council, making grants to performing artists, painters, sculptors and writers. Active in Amnesty International. Fundraiser for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. A supporter of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. A director of Families in Distress Foundation. His accolades include two awards in the Order of Australia (AO and AM).

1986 : Senator Alice Olive ZAKHAROV, 1929–95

Photo Alice Olive Zakharov

Humanist, senator, teacher, born Melbourne, Victoria. Involved in education counselling and establishing human relations courses, including units on sex education. Labor Senator for Victoria, from 1983. She was a noted participant to the peace movement being a member of the Campaign for International Co-operation and Disarmament and the World Parliamentarians for Peace. She represented the Australian peace movement in 1988 as a witness to the first destruction of a nuclear missile in the USSR, and was an Australian delegate to the Vienna Peace Conference in 1987. A long-time crusader for women’s rights she was well known for her stand against domestic violence. She was a strong supporter of sexual anti-discrimination legislation and was well known as an advocate for the rights of homosexuals.

1985 : Hon. Judith Anne Winstanley LEVY, MLC, 1934–

Photo of Judith Levy

Humanist, politician, born Perth, WA. Since 1975, Member of Legislative Council, South Australia (ALP). In 1986 became first woman to be elected as president of any Australian legislature. Minister since 1989. Patron and member of Humanist Society of SA since 1960. Committee member of the Council for Civil Liberties, 1973; Family Planning Association, 1971; Vice President of the Abortion Law Repeal Association of SA.

1984 : Rev. Theodore Delwin (Ted) NOFFS, 1926–95

Photo of Theodore (Ted) Noffs

Individualistic theologian, social reformer, born Mudgee, NSW. Ordained minister of the Methodist Church, began ministry in 1950 covering a vast area of the outback. Studied theology in the USA and ministered in a Chicago church at the same time. Returned to Australia, disenchanted with the orthodoxy, and founded in 1974 the Wayside Chapel, Kings Cross, Sydney. During the 1970s established Australia’s first Life Education Centre, which has been copied around the world, as well as a rehabilitation program for young drug addicts. Established programs for the aged, lonely, migrants and Aborigines. He encouraged radical action in social ethics and believed that “all religious, political problems must be given a human face”. Did not join the Humanists, but claimed to be a “non-believer in the Bible”.

1983 : Hon. Mr Justice Lionel Keith MURPHY, 1922–86

Lionel Murphy speaking at the International Court of Justice on 21 May 1973

Humanist, Justice of the High Court, politician, born Sydney, NSW. Honours graduate in science. He was an industrial chemist, completed a law degree course as an evening student. Admitted to the NSW bar in 1947; became a QC in 1960. Senator (ALP) 1962-75. Attorney-General and Senate leader in the Whitlam Government and responsible for reform of divorce law, trade practices, legal aid and racial discrimination legislation. Resigned from the Senate 1975 to become High Court Judge. Noted for his unorthodox and sometimes controversial judgments which reflected his enlightened zeal and concern for human rights.

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