Graham Farquhar named 2018 Senior Australian of the Year

25 January 2018

I would like to see an Australia that values creativity of all kinds.

ANU congratulates distinguished scientist and ANU Professor Graham Farquhar AO for being named the 2018 Senior Australian of the Year.

A global leader in plant biophysics and photosynthesis, Professor Farquhar has helped develop new water-efficient varieties of wheat and improved global food security.

Professor Farquhar, who represented the ACT for the national Senior Australian of the Year Award, used his acceptance speech to urge Australia to struggle for creativity and honesty, and to learn from failures.

"Australia Day is a day when we celebrate, among other things, people who have grown old in this land for 60,000 years. Let nobody grow old in unnecessary loneliness on this continent," he said.

"My generation of seniors is probably the luckiest one ever. We can on average live longer and more healthily, and thereby contribute more.

"We can be creative. We can struggle for honesty, and we can deal with failures.

"We are all lucky because of our ability to embrace creativity, hence progress as a nation.

"Creativity is not limited to the arts, or to science, but can be applied to most activities that I can think of.

"I would like to see an Australia that values creativity of all kinds - scientific creativity of course, but also technical, sporting, artistic, organisational creativity.

"The other thing I'd like to emphasise is that we mustn't confuse hyperbole with creativity. Honesty demands that.

"Honestly also means acknowledging mistakes. And mistakes are an inevitable risk of embracing creativity. Failure is not necessarily final.

"Only by accepting, correcting and building on mistakes, can we eventually experience the satisfaction of doing something or seeing something that has never been done or seen before.

"Tonight I would like to emphasise for young and old the importance of creativity, of struggling for honesty, and accepting there will be failures along the way in any career. It is fundamental to our progress. We must treasure it.

"I thank the Australian of the Year family for this opportunity.

"I'd also like to point out the incredible breadth of talent that is here tonight with the other nominees in the Seniors. So I'd like to acknowledge Dimity (Dornan), Kathy (Guthadjaka), Catherine (Hamlin), Kathleen (Mazzella), Tony (Scherer), Barbara (Spriggs) and Paul (Zimmet).

"You can see that Australia's present is in good hands. And from what we've seen about the other prizes, the Local Hero and the Young Australian, then obviously the future is in great hands.

"So the final message from me is a simple one.  I just thought about what has made a difference to me - what things have worked and what things haven't worked.

"And to me, the most important things in life are to struggle to improve, to struggle to be honest, and to struggle to re-evaluate one's prejudices.

"Thank you everybody."

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Harding said the national recognition was a great honour for Professor Farquhar.

"On behalf of the University, I want to thank Graham for his work during his distinguished career and his ongoing contribution to environmental and food sciences," Professor Harding said.

"He sets a great example to the next generation of scientists."

The Senior Australian of the Year award caps a series of accolades for Professor Farquhar in recent years.

In 2017 Professor Farquhar, from the ANU Research School of Biology at the College of Science, was the first Australian to win the prestigious 2017 Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences.

He was recognised for his work in plant biophysics and photosynthesis, which has involved research on water-efficient crops and the impacts of climate change.

In 2015 he won the Prime Minister's Prize for Science and in 2014 he shared Britain's prestigious Rank Prize with CSIRO colleague Dr Richard Richards.

Professor Farquhar first came to ANU as an undergraduate, completing his Bachelor of Science in 1968. He returned to the University to complete his PhD in Environmental Biology in 1973.

He was appointed a Distinguished Professor at the ANU Research School of Biology in 2004.