NSW/ACT Young Achiever Awards

2015 Winners of the NSW/ACT Young Achiever Awards

Overall Winner - Premier's Young Achiever of the Year Award

Rhett Burraston

The Freemasons NSW & ACT Community Service Award

Maddison O’Gradey-Lee, 17 of Bateau Bay is an extraordinary Indigenous Australian. She is juggling school, two part time jobs, various fundraising and leadership activities and has also create her own mental health awareness program for high school students called ‘It’s all about MI - mental illness'. After struggling with mental illness herself, Maddi wanted to create awareness and break the stigma surrounding mental health and also use her own story to help others. Maddie was invited to attend The Global Young Leaders Conference in New York and has won many awards including an Australian Youth Excellence and a Black Opal Award.



 The Australian National University Science Leadership Award

Sarah Verdon, 27 of The Rock is a dynamic speech pathologist and educator who is passionate about creating equality and embracing diversity. A PhD student at Charles Sturt University Sarah’s doctoral research is entitled Embracing Diversity, Creating Equality. The research supports the speech, language and communication of culturally and linguistically diverse children. Her thesis contains five different research projects (both quantitative and qualitative) resulting in nine research papers and multiple oral presentations at international conferences. Sarah also received the 2015 Endeavour Research Fellowship to undertake a project she designed to support the speech, language and literacy development of children in Fiji.  

The Santos Indigenous Achievement Award

Rhett Burraston, 23 of Airds is a dedicated father, leader and role model from the Mandandanji and Ngemba people. He works at a school located within a detention centre as an aboriginal education officer where he implements rehabilitation and leadership programs for incarcerated youth. He volunteers in many programs including Aboriginal Medical Services, and is passionate about breaking barriers of depression, racism and elitism in Aboriginals. Rhett advocates for Aboriginal youth on many committees including the NSW Youth Advisory Council, Oxfam’s Change Course program and National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples Party. He has twice been recognised with the NAIDOC MacArthur Youth of the Year. 


The Coffee Club Arts and Fashion Award

Daniel Monks, 26 of Newtown is an Australian Filmmaker, actor and dancer who is passionate about creating art to voice the stories of those underrepresented in society. Despite his physical disability, he received a grant from Accessible Arts to be mentored in his emerging dance practice by Philip Channells & Dance Integrated Australia. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the Young Filmmaker of the Year at the WA Screen Awards, and was honoured with having two short films selected for the Palm Springs International ShortFest 2011, making him one of only three filmmakers worldwide to receive that accolade. 


The Who Printing Environment and Sustainability Award

Jaden Harris, 19 of North Curl Curl is a passionate campaigner for Climate Action and at only 14, he co-founded the Sydney Youth Climate Action Network which has grown to more than 500 student members across Sydney. A volunteer with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Jaden formally met with the then former opposition leader, Tony Abbott MP and afterwards addressed a press conference, receiving coverage in the print media and on the 7:30 Report. On the board of OzGreen, a leadership and sustainability education organisation, Jaden is currently working on expanding the reach of its youth programs. 


The Bartercard Leadership and Innovation Award

Cheryl-Leigh Smith, 21 of Elermore Vale emigrated from South Africa when she was six. She has since overcome homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, family dislocation and cancer. Through persistence, Cheryl completed her Year 10 equivalent, worked as a group facilitator for the SHINE program at Warners Bay and Cessnock High Schools, mentoring young teens through the program. She is now employed in role focusing on empowering young women back into employment and education. As a mentor and role model for young girls and women, Cheryl-Leigh focuses on building their self-worth, strength and purpose and enabling them to make healthier choices.


The AustralianSuper Career Kick Start Award

Troy Tungai, 19 of Barrack Heights is an advocate for indigenous health and has implemented an innovative program called ‘Ngargin Doctors’ to help the disadvantaged. Along with Elders, community health workers and members, the project encourages healthy nutrition, health literacy, environmental health, hygiene and leadership. Troy has trained 30 ‘young doctors’ which has spread and invigorated the wider community, increasing school attendance, and health behaviours. Troy will also travel to South Australia and work in conjunction with Anglicare and the Port Power AFL Team to establish similar initiatives.