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Award winners share inspiring tales


For Kurt Fearnley, Maitland students’ passion and positivity were highlights from his trip to the Lower Hunter.

The Newcastle-based former Paralympian and disability advocate, who was crowned 2019 Australian of the Year last November, shared his inspiring story last week as part of a state lap of honour.

He was joined by three other winners – NSW Senior Australian of the Year Heather Lee; NSW Young Australian of the Year Jarrod Wheatley; and NSW Local Hero Sophie Smith.

The group addressed students in a series of short speeches, as well as a question-and-answer session.

“I, and the three other NSW Australians of the Year, went to Bolwarra Public School, where we were able to meet some young kids from the Maitland area,” Fearnley said.

“We then came to speak at Maitland High School.

“Maitland is a rural area and, after experiencing years of drought, I’m just so impressed by the passion of the kids and the excitement, the positivity and the optimism.”

Some of Fearnley’s achievements include being a three-time Paralympic and two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist; crewing on the winning yacht during the Sydney to Hobart in 2011; and crawling the entire 96-kilometre length of the Kokoda Track to raise awareness of men’s health.

As for the other winners, Ms Lee is a 92-year-old world champion race walker, while Mr Wheatley is a social entrepreneur who founded a not-for-profit organisation that pioneers a new model of out-of-home care for foster children with high needs.

After losing their prematurely born triplets in 2007, Ms Smith and her husband Ash formed a running team called Running for Premature Babies to fundraise for life-saving neonatal equipment.

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