COURAGEOUS taxi driver Aguek Nyok who kicked down the door of a burning bus and unstoppable teenager with Down Syndrome Olivia Hargroder are among the list of nominees for the Australian of the Year awards.
The South Sudanese refugee and Brisbane hero has been nominated as one of four Queensland finalists for Australia’s Local Hero, while Southern Cross Catholic College student Olivia Hargroder has been nominated for Queensland Young Australian of the Year.
Both Catholic nominees have featured in The Catholic Leader in the past two years.
Brisbane Broncos chief executive officer and Jubilee parishioner Paul White has also been listed as a Queensland finalist for the awards top honour, Australian of the Year.
Mr Nyok said he was over the moon about his 2018 Queensland Australian of the Year award nomination.
“It’s an honour to have that, mate,” he said.
“It’ something that makes me know that whatever good you might have done for people, they remember it.”
Mr Nyok said he would be going to the award ceremony, still with a heavy heart after the October 28 first year anniversary of the bus bombing and fire, in which he rescued 11 passengers by kicking in the back door of the bus allowing them to escape the smoke and flames.
As Mr Nyok freed passengers, the bus driver, his friend Manmeet Alisher, burned to death at the front of the bus.
Mr Alisher was honoured with the renaming of a park in Moorooka on October 30, just metres from the bus stop where the tragedy happened.
The park is now called “Manmeet’s Paradise”.
So, for Mr Nyok, the award nomination is a bittersweet moment.
He is still coming to grips with the horror of the bus fire.
“It’s an unforgettable thing. It’s something I will have to live with for the rest of my life,” he said.
“It’s like your date of birth. You never forget it.”
If there is any light amid the tragedy and trauma, Mr Nyok, said it was understanding and feeling grateful as a married Catholic man, with four children and living in Australia.
“We love living in this country, it’s a country that always values the lives of the human being and its residents,” he said.
“It is an honour for me to have a life in this country.
“Always I tell my kids ‘you guys are really, really lucky, you don’t know what you have living in this country. This country that you were born in is a great country’.
“It is a lucky country, mate.”
Ms Hargroder, who was told by doctors that she would never speak because she was born with Down Sydnrome, was speechless after finding out she had been nominated for Queensland Young Australian of the Year.
She recently received three awards at her high school for Trainee of the Year, the Living the Mission award and a sports award for her swimming.
The surprise nomination follows her efforts to include a specific Down Syndrome category in the Paralympics, a campaign she raised during an address at the United Nations earlier this year.
Her speech prompted a Change.org petition that she hopes to present to Glenn Tasker, president of the Australian Paralympic Committee.
The petition has already attracted more than 6,000 signatures and the attention of the International Federation for Intellectual Impairment Sport (INAS)
Ms Hargroder said INAS were trialing her DS category model in the International Swimming and Athletics competitions being held this month.
The go-getter 18-year-old is now holding her breath to see a Down Sydnrome category at the INAS Global Games being held in Brisbane in 2019.
The changes have been an important step for Ms Hargroder, an aspiring swimmer who was recently picked for the Queensland swimming team at the Special Olympics in Adelaide.
“Right now I’m feeling awesome,” she said.
The Queensland Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Local Hero Award recipients will be announced on Wednesday November 8 at the Old Museum Building in Brisbane.
The Queensland Award recipients will then join a cohort of 32 State and Territory recipients from around Australia in the national Awards, which will be held in Canberra on January 25, 2018.