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Veteran actor Geoffrey Rush has been named the Australian of the Year 2012 in a ceremony in Canberra, pipping Queenslanders Bruce and Denise Morcombe to the title.
Rush has celebrated 40 years as an Australian actor, achieving the rare honour of the ‘Triple Crown’ – with an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy in his kitty.
He also has three Australian Film Institute honours, three British Academy Awards, two Golden Globes and four Screen Actors’ Guild Awards.
He was inducted into the ranks of Australia’s elite with a Helpmann Award last year and was also appointed the foundation President of the newly-established Australian Academy Of Cinema and Television Arts.
Community leader Laurie Baymarrwangga of Northern Territory has taken out the Senior Australian of the Year 2012 title for her commitment to the society and her philanthropic work over the years.
The great, great grandmother has shown extraordinary courage in preserving the cultural and biological integrity of Crocodile Islands.
Engineering student Marita Cheng has been named the Young Australian of the Year for her work towards helping women pursue a career in engineering.
Born to Chinese parents, Marita was born and raised in Queensland and now studies at the University of Melbourne.
She founded Robogals Global in 2008 that runs robotics workshops for girls across 80 schools in Australia and has 17 chapters across Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Foster mum Lynne Sawyers of New South Wales has taken out Australia's Local Hero 2012 title for her untiring commitment to fostering children.
Over the last many decades, she has cared for more than 200 lost and abused children who came to her doorstep in dire circumstances and with huge physical, intellectual and emotional problems.
PM WELCOMES NEW AUSSIES
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has personally welcomed 27 of Australia's newest citizens at a ceremony in Canberra, praising their brave decision to make a life here and urging them to dream big.
Joined by Governor-General Quentin Bryce and Australia Day Council chairman Adam Gilchrist on the foreshore of Lake Burley Griffin, Ms Gillard officiated at one of 365 citizenship ceremonies taking place on Thursday.
She told the crowd Australia had come a long way since the very first one in 1949 - held just down the road at Albert Hall - but that the meaning of citizenship still held true.
"It is modern Australia's greatest story," she said.
"It is of inclusion and belonging."
About four million people have been made citizens since 1949, with another 13,700 from 144 countries being welcomed on this Australia Day.
"Those four million of us left behind the life we knew - loved ones, familiar places, language culture," the Welsh-born Ms Gillard said.
"A brave and often painful decision but a good decision, because for whatever we left behind we gain so much more."
Australia was a land of freedom, opportunity and wide, open places - "not just geographically but of the mind and heart to dream big dreams".
Ms Gillard then led the citizenship pledge for 27 people.
Queensland welcomes the most new citizens on Thursday, with 3850 people from 114 countries taking part in 73 ceremonies across the state, including some by the beach.
Brisbane will host the largest ceremony with 1200 conferees.
A-League club Melbourne Victory will lend a sporty flavour to another at Melbourne's AAMI Park, where 88 people will be welcomed on field.
US-born rocker Brian Ritchie of the Violent Femmes is one of Tasmania's 230 new citizens.
RUSH WANTS ASYLUM SEEKER STORIES
Australian of the Year Geoffrey Rush has urged local writers to tell the stories of asylum seekers who try to make the perilous journey to Australia by boat.
The multi-award winning actor on Wednesday was named Australian of the Year at a ceremony outside Parliament House in Canberra in front of a 10,000-strong crowd, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
His was one of four major awards, including Senior Australian, Young Australian and Local Hero, announced during the hour-long event.
Ms Gillard told the gathering that all four winners shared a common attribute - their courage.
"They point the way to a creative and confident future for our nation," she said.
Rush, 60, told reporters after the ceremony there was a role for the arts to provide perspective on issues such as climate change and gay marriage.
But he also singled out immigration and the journeys of asylum seekers by boat to Australia.
"I put a call out to the writers of Australia," he said.
"I would love a writer to write a fabulous mini-series."
Mr Rush said the asylum seeker issue was plastered daily across the newspapers but the key question had not been answered.
"We hear the how and the what, and sense the political football around the issue but I don't find anything that tells me about the why," he said.
"I'm in the profession that feels with empathy, compassion and intuition.
"I want to see the stories of why these people are coming here at great peril to their lives with such extraordinary bravery and we're not finding that human tale in their stories."
Mr Rush also said he hoped more young people would be encouraged to go to the theatre and not rely so heavily on movies for their main form of entertainment.
Mr Rush declared himself a proud Australian, saying his 40-year career had happily coincided with an expansion in the local arts scene, which had built itself on the love Australian's have for "acting the goat, taking the mickey, cracking a joke, spinning a yarn".
"We are the plucky country," he said during his acceptance speech.
"We told that at any given moment we are no further than a few metres away from spiders - this statistic is now also true for the arts."
MORE THAN 13,000 PEOPLE BECOME AUSSIES
About 13,700 people from 144 countries will become Australians this Australia Day.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says 365 special citizenship ceremonies will be held around the country on Thursday.
"Australia Day is a special time for all Australians, whether they are citizens by birth or by choice, to come together to celebrate our common bond," Mr Bowen said.
"Today is a particularly special occasion for our newest citizens who are pledging their commitment to our great nation and I congratulate them on behalf of all Australians."
Mr Bowen will preside over a special ceremony for 30 people making the citizenship pledge at Sydney's Luna Park.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard will confer citizenship on 27 people officially joining the Australian family in Canberra.