Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jessica Watson Is Young Australian Of The Year 2011.

It was announced yesterday (Jan.25th) that Jessica Watson is Young Australian of the Year 2001 . This was no surprise despite a few other serious contenders. The announcement was not without the usual “knocker” criticism from the opinionated armchair brigade, but despite the dogs yapping at her heels, the incredible Jessica Watson sailing show moves on. Nevertheless, it’s interesting how Jessica has divided opinion for nothing other than fulfilling a childhood dream (and I’m accounting for much more than what I’ve written below). Today, January 26th, is Australia Day, which is supposed to be a day wherein:

... “we come together as a nation to celebrate what's great about Australia and being Australian. It's the day to reflect on what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation. It's the day for us to re-commit to making Australia an even better place for the future”. (Australia Day )

One thing we are not great for is our reputation as “knockers”, and they came out of the woodwork ever since Jessica’s successful solo circumnavigation (and before). But first, from the Courier Mail (Published in Jessica’s home state of QLD)

If his reward came as a surprise, Watson's Young Australian of the Year prize did not.
It was a dead-set gimme, given her towering bravery in crossing the oceans of the globe all on her own and only sweet 16.

Then some of the comments, both positive and negative:

”Congrats, Im 40 and would'nt do what you did. A worthy recipient. Kids all around Australia will now think a hell of alot differently about what they can achieve. Enjoy your time in the spotlight and smile at your knockers safe in the knowledge that they wouldnt have the balls to do what you did.” (gladys of Kenmore)

“Could not be a better recipient. if you have any doughts, go jump in a boat and sail out into the ocean for a night or two! Think this might change your mind.” (GEOFF THOMAS of CALOUNDRA)

“Yeah coz her sailing round the world does SO much for humanity ...” (Mel)

“@ Mel. Any positive role model is a help to humanity!! (well done Jess of Brisbane)

“Surely there must be a young person actually contributing to society that is more worthy...a medical engineer...” (Bob)

“Bob - get a life - she was a courageous young lady - an adventurer at a very young age that went out into a big world on the sea and proved that she could achieve her dreams. I am sure she could be whatever she wants to be ... a medical student, an engineer or ....Jess will achieve what she wants in life and I hope she can do it without worrying about the negative people out there who will not be able to enjoy the good fortune of what life offers even under the worst times. So sad for you, some advice - get out there with achievers like Jess and enjoy their life and stop putting them down .. life is better because of people like her, if you let it happen” (woody of sunshinecoast)

“To Bob: Are you serious!? This young lady sailed ALONE around the world! She endured we will never know what mental hardships! What about the southern ocean?? Oh, sorry, that's down south of us - ahhhh, forget it. Nothing can match what she did - Go Jess! (Kev of Dalby of Dalby)

“Mel and Bob, it's the fact that she showed young Australians that they can achieve their dreams! As the mother of kids who look up to Jessica and followed her journey, I am proud that she has set such an example for them! There is no greater contribution to society or humanity than to show others that dreams are worth following and that you don't have to be thwarted by critics ... there are young scientists, teachers, medical students who can follow her example and achieve great things in their chosen fields. Good on her!” (Proud Aussie of QLD)

“Mel Comment #6 .." Yeah coz her sailing round the world does SO much for humanity ..." Actually yes, it shows what ordinary people who are driven by a dream can achieve if they put their hearts and souls into it. And that, my dear Mel is the incalculable value of her achievement. I only wish there were 1000 more like Miss Watson.” (Neelie of Tenerifee)

“Congratulations Jess, it is well deserved. I note that since your voyage you have attended many functions and have been invited to speak at boat shows all over the world. On every occassion you have displayed your natural self, with grace and dignity and a maturity well beyond your years. Other celebrities should take note of your conduct. You truely are a role model for the young. Your parents must be so proud, I know I am proud to tell the world your Aussie.” (Neil Emerton)

“Seriously?? The various Australian's of the Year should be a recognition of contribution to Australian society as a whole. I applaud Jess Watson for her achievement sailing around the world - but that's just it, it is HER achievement. Not to the benefit of Australia. (and yes I know many of you will jump all over me for being negative and just putting her down for no reason, but I truly do appreciate what she achieved for herself). It's the same whenever sportspeople win the Australian of the Year award, it just makes me cringe and I love sport above pretty much all else. To Simon and Ron I say these are great choices for their respective awards. (Flutz)

“Well done Jess, but i'm afraid i would have voted for any of the other 7 finalists above you, your contribution was more about yourself while the others did alot more for community gave time and effort to worthy causes not so much about themselves. I don't think it sends a good message.” (Brian of Qld)

“I agree with Bob (Comment 8). Not taking anything away from what Jess achieved but I am sure there are more deserving young Australians who in their every day life have achieved and contributed more to Australian society than Jess.” (taxpayer of Brisbane)

The good news is that, overwhelmingly, the public supports Jessica Watson (and not judging only by the Courier Mail article and comments), and it is heartening to know this in a country generally notorious for its “tall poppy syndrome”. Her justified national honour is worthy and widely recognised. Sail World, one of her most ardent critics before and during her voyage, recently commented :

Everyone knows that the new Young Australian of the Year Jessica Watson has won her accolade with an extraordinary sailing performance.

A year ago no one could have imagined them making a comment like this.

I understand the feelings of people who feel that publicity aided Jessica’s achievement, and that there may have been “more worthy” recipients (who work “quietly”), depending on one’s personal views. I say all power to those who are the “quiet achievers”, but because millions more Australians now know who Jessica is, her potential for positive national influence is incalculable (and we so need it). To the critics who say that a “quiet achiever” was more worthy of Young Australian of the Year, my argument is that such a person, as significant as their work is, and not taking a thing away from them, that they would have come and gone with this award and forgotten (if even recognised) by the vast majority of Australians. And for me, I might add, it’s not just a matter of “publicity”, but a deserving honour given to a remarkable young human being who has become a role-model for millions of young Australians, and in particular young Australian women. Let us never forget Jessica’s words long before she set out on her solo circumnavigation (bearing in mind her description by some knockers as “the gap-toothed girl” destined to failure, or worse, death on the high seas):

"I wanted to challenge myself and achieve something to be proud of. And yes, I wanted to inspire people. I hated being judged by my appearance and other people's expectations of what a 'little girl' was capable of. It's no longer just my dream or voyage. Every milestone out here isn't just my achievement, but an achievement for everyone who has put so much time and effort into helping getting me here."

And she didn’t let down in the least in her award acceptance speech for Young Australian of the Year:

Even the most dim-witted observer should realise that this is more than just about sailing. It is about the triumph of the human spirit against almost insurmountable odds and adversity, and as Jess said in her speech, it doesn’t matter whether the summoning of courage is in regard to a driving or math test, or even sailing around the world. It is about getting up one more time than you fall down, and pursuing your personal dream until it is accomplished.

Heaven knows that we need more Australians like Jessica Watson.

Reminiscing: Only hours away from national and international recognition. The day Sydney will never forget:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

1 comment:

  1. I agree with all the positive comments. This award went to a girl who did some incredible and courageous at the age of 16. not many people think about doing that; but the thing that sets her apart from others is she actually achieved it. Good on you Jess, you have done a great job, achieved your dreams and become an icon for teenagers to do the same.