Posted on March 04 2022
Our Inspirational Women - Professor Helen Marshall AM SA State Recipient Australian of the Year 2022
Being the 2022 SA Australian of the Year has been an unexpected delight. From the moment my name was called out, seeing the smiles on my family’s faces and the flood of congratulatory text messages and emails appear, to sharing morning tea at the Lodge with other Australian finalists, my year so far has been extraordinary. Although we are reminded this is an award and not a role, there comes with it a sense of commitment to giving back to the community while making new and lasting contacts and friendships. I am continuously reflecting on what it means to be an Australian, being the first of my family to be born in Australia. Particularly moving for me was the Australia Day Citizenship Ceremony on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. I think every Australian should attend this ceremony once in their lifetime. We were privileged to have an Aboriginal Elder, Violet Sheridan, welcoming us to country that morning with the eerie silence of a completely still lake as backdrop. My most prized possession from our Canberra trip is a gum leaf presented to me by Violet, from the smoking ceremony, which still holds the scent. As a lovely way to finish off the Australia Day awards in Canberra, I was humbled to be awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to medicine in the field of vaccinology and public health, research and education.
As we celebrate the enormous contribution women make to society on International Women’s Day, I have been reflecting on the women who have paved the way for me to achieve this recognition. My Mother was so brave to leave her home country with my Father and 2 small boys to take the long sea voyage to Adelaide from Belfast. Motivated by the highly anticipated opportunities Australia provided, in her strong but quiet way we were never in doubt about her expectations for us to achieve in this new world. Sometimes that’s all it takes, someone having expectations you may not necessarily have had for yourself. Even the career counsellor advising me to aim for the top in a health related career, not middle ground. During my medical and academic career I have had the great fortune to be surrounded by inspiring women. Amongst them, Professor Jenny Couper, who led a national study to determine the cause of Type 1 Diabetes in children, gave me the courage to lead the largest study of its kind in the world, to assess the effectiveness of meningococcal B vaccine in young people. Our study findings have had global significance. Also, Prof Sarah Robertson who has always supported me and other emerging young women for promotion and opportunities. We have all strived for balance, being passionate about both our careers and our families. Being in a working environment that supports flexibility is key, something that has become integral to our lives during the COVID pandemic. Celebrating the achievements of women, highlights the trailblazers who are prepared to step up and step out and be role models for the next generation of women. I am very optimistic about the future; my daughters and son don’t see gender. There is still work to be done, but the promise of a more accepted diverse society and a fairer future for women is in reach.