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Meet Bruce French, Val Dempsey, Abla Kadous and our other inspiring national finalists for the 2022 Senior Australian of the Year Award

Bruce French's 55 years of research into edible plants has culminated in a global database. Mr French, below, is Tasmania's Senior Australian of the Year for 2022. Picture: Brodie Weeding
Bruce French's 55 years of research into edible plants has culminated in a global database. Mr French, below, is Tasmania's Senior Australian of the Year for 2022. Picture: Brodie Weeding

Bruce French has devoted 55 years to his life's work but he reckons it will take him at least another 55 years to finish the job.

Mr French is the founder of Tasmania-based Food Plants International, which collects and shares information about edible plants.

The database currently documents more than 33,500 nutritious species found all over the planet.

"I'm very close to having every edible plant in every country of the world documented in plain English that everybody can understand, illustrated with photographs," Mr French, Tasmania's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year, explains.

Bruce French, Tasmania's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture: Brodie Weeding

Bruce French, Tasmania's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture: Brodie Weeding

The 67-year-old Burnie-based agricultural scientist says the work has been his mission for the past 55 years, and he thinks he's close to completing the documentation of all of the edible plants he's helped identify.

"You've still got to find out how you cook it and make it taste nice," he says.

"We're still chasing food values for lots and lots of plants ... We're still chasing lots of information. It'll take me another 55 years at least."

A Christian not-for-profit organisation founded in 1999, Food Plants International's origins date back to the 1970s when Mr French was living in Papua New Guinea.

Mr French's work on edible plants began back to the 1970s when he was living in Papua New Guinea. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Mr French's work on edible plants began back to the 1970s when he was living in Papua New Guinea. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

He noticed villagers suffering from disease and malnutrition, often while surrounded by nutritious edible plants.

He began to document the many species in PNG, a mission that soon expanded to include plants all around the world.

Food Plants International's website says two of the Tasmanian churches Mr French has pastored have continued to support this program as part of their church ministries

In 2007 Food Plants International teamed up with Rotary Tasmania and other groups to create the Food Plant Solutions project to provide different regions with information on how to grow food plants viable in their particular environment.

Here are the other national finalists for the 2022 Senior Australian of the Year:

Val Dempsey is the ACT's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Val Dempsey is the ACT's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Val Dempsey - ACT

Starting out as a cadet volunteer with the St John Ambulance while she was still in primary school more than 50 years ago, Valmai Dempsey is one of the ACT's longest serving members.

Through the Black Summer bushfires, the woman affectionately known as 'Aunty Val' led 40 fellow volunteers as they supported fire-affected communities.

Then, she rolled into supporting her team through the COVID-19 pandemic, personally contacting every volunteer to check on their mental health and wellbeing.

Abla Kadous is the NSW 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Abla Kadous is the NSW 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Abla Kadous - NSW

After moving to Australia from Egypt, Abla helped to set up the country's first welfare service for Muslim women, the not-for-profit Islamic Women's Welfare Association.

She is currently president of the organisation, which runs anti-discrimination forums, school-readiness programs, youth camps, cooking classes and fund-raising events.

Abla leads 50 other volunteers and staff, raising enough money through sewing, cooking and sourcing items to sell to buy a state-of-the-art function centre for the group.

Robyne Burridge is the NT's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Robyne Burridge is the NT's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Robyne Burridge - NT

In 1980, Robyne Burridge moved to the Northern Territory for 18 months to coordinate its International Year of People with a Disability. Still living in the NT in 2022, her lived experience of cerebral palsy and expertise in advocacy has made her a leader in the disability sector.

She is a founding member of Integrated DisAbility Action, a member of the governance committee on the NT Primary Health Network and the founder of Focus-A-Bility, which provides advocacy, case management and information to people with disability. She also served 20 years as a councillor on Darwin City Council, including a year as deputy lord mayor.

Gaye Hamilton is Victoria's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Gaye Hamilton is Victoria's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Gaye Hamilton - VIC

Deputy chancellor of Victoria University Gaye Hamilton also serves as chair of the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation and director of the Victorian Government's State Sports Centres Trust.

Driven by social justice and a dedication to Melbourne's west, she helped steer Victoria University through the challenges of the pandemic to be voted number one in Australia for employability and guided the foundation's transition through lockdowns to digital creative platforms.

Mark Le Messurier is South Australia's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Mark Le Messurier is South Australia's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Mark Le Messurier - SA

Mark Le Messurier has devoted his life to helping the young people living with disabilities, developmental delays, disadvantage, disorders or neglect.

After 20 years as a teacher, Mark opened a private-practice consultancy to mentor children and teenagers needing support beyond the school system, and to coach parents.

He's written books for teachers and parents, including co-authoring What's the Buzz?, a social and emotional literacy education program used in the training of teachers, counsellors, psychologists, social workers, and youth workers in more than 90 countries.

Janice Standen is WA's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Janice Standen is WA's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Janice Standen - WA

President of Grandparents Rearing Grandchildren WA, Jan Standen advocates passionately for grandparents who are primary carers as she knows the day-to-day battles they experience.

She joined the volunteer-run charity organisation in 2013 when her three grandchildren came to live with her and has helped it grow its membership and outreach by more than 40 per cent.

With more than two-thirds of grandparent carers living in poverty, the group offers free legal and counselling support, a food bank pick-up centre, a donations distribution service and an op shop.

Dr Colin Dillon is Queensland's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Dr Colin Dillon is Queensland's 2022 Senior Australian of the Year. Picture supplied by australianoftheyear.org.au

Dr Colin Dillon - QLD

In 1965 - two years before the 1967 referendum introducing the counting of Aboriginal people in the nation's census, and a decade before ratification of the Racial Discrimination Act - Colin Dillon became Australia's first Indigenous police officer.

Awarded the Australian Police Medal and recipient of an honorary doctorate from the Queensland University of Technology, Colin has served as chairman of Indigenous radio station 98.9FM since retiring from the police force, and is a former director of the Queensland Heart Foundation.

The 77-year-old is currently a community member on the Parole Board of Queensland.

  • ACM, the publisher of this newspaper, is media partner of the 2022 Australian of the Year Awards, which will be presented in Canberra on January 25 and telecast on ABC TV from 7.30pm (AEDT).
This story When life's work creates a lasting legacy first appeared on The Canberra Times.