Australian of the Year 2021: Rosemary Kariuki named Local Hero

Rosemary Kariuki is 2021's Local Hero. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Rosemary Kariuki is 2021's Local Hero. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Rosemary Kariuki is a true local hero.

The Oran Park resident has been named as the recipient of the Local Hero award at this year's Australian of the Year Awards.

Ms Kariuki, 60, was the multicultural community liaison officer for the Parramatta Police Area Command.

However she recently transferred to Campbelltown City Police Area Command, where she will continue to inspire hope in those in need.

The passionate women's advocate told the Advertiser last year that she was delighted just to be nominated for the prestigious award.

"I was very excited and shocked at the same time," Ms Kariuki said.

"I realised that to empower migrant women and families you have to empower the woman who freely shares information.

"I use friendly ways to reach and engage with women, like the Cultural Exchange Program where I take women to the countryside to exchange culture.

"I use high teas to talk about mental health and a mother and daughter dinner dance to talk about domestic violence, forced marriages, slavery and how they can keep away from the isolation."

Ms Kariuki arrived in Australia in 1999 after fleeing violence in Kenya. She grew up on a farm in the Kenyan town of Eldoret with 16 brothers and sisters.

She came from a radical background: her father fought British colonial rule and spent seven years in jail.

When she arrived, she knew nobody but had already decided that she was definitely going to make friends so she brought humble gifts from Kenya in her suitcase, along with clothes and a few hundred dollars.

While accepting her award on Monday, Ms Kariuki said while Australia is a multicultural country she was worried communities lived in silos.

"We keep [to] our own people, [to] what is familiar, and miss that beautiful sharing of culture," she said.

"I would love to see more Australians, those born here, refugees, migrants, anyone who calls Australia home, [to] open their doors to their neighbours.

"Be open and not scared of any perceived differences because, as humans, we have more similarities than differences."

She encouraged the audience to meet someone new from a different background over the next week.

"See what doors open to you," Ms Kariuki said.

"You will possibly be helping that person to experience their new homeland in a new way, and to feel they belong."

NSW Police Commissioner Michael Fuller congratulated Rosemary on the award, which recognises extraordinary contributions by Australians within their local community.

"We could not be prouder of Rosemary receiving this award today. Her personal experiences make her a strong advocate and role model," Commissioner Fuller said.

"Her energy and passion inspire those around her, and the work she does is invaluable for women struggling through experiences of domestic violence and financial hardship.

"Along with her fellow multicultural community liaison officers, this role is instrumental in building positive relationships between police and the community."

Ms Kariuki told the Advertiser last year that she loved living in Camden because of its multicultural community.

"People are real, they stop to say 'hi' and want to know more," she said.

"They are friendly and the council engages with the community.

"My neighbours visit me and likewise I visit them. We share food, gardening and celebrate with each other."

More than 400 women now attend the annual African Women's Dinner Dance Ms Kariuki established - which is now in its 14th year.

Ms Kariuki also said she was grateful to live in Australia.

"I'm very proud that Australia accepted me in their country, to be able to educate my boys and also to fill those gaps that services do not understand through my volunteering with women and the migrant community.," she said.

"I also acknowledge the Indigenous people of Australia for opening this land to us. Thank you for accepting us migrants and refugees."

This story Oran Park woman honoured for work supporting victims of violence first appeared on Camden-Narellan Advertiser.