Maggot farmer named ACT Australian of Year

When it comes to Australian of the Year nominees we generally think of doctors, scientists, sporting heroes, actors, advocates and the like.

But the ACT's nomination for the nation's prestigious annual honour is a maggot farmer and insect-eating enthusiast with a species of fly named after her.

Insect farming pioneer Olympia Yarger was named the ACT's 2023 Australian of the Year at a ceremony in Canberra on Wednesday.

Ms Yarger is a climate activist, inventor, and founder of Insect Protein Association of Australia, an organisation that wants to rear bugs for human consumption.

In 2018 the CSIRO named a species of fly after her: the Daintree Rainforest's Hermetia Olympiae soldier fly.

But her claim to fame began when she founded agritech start-up Goterra.

In 2016, she developed a waste management system that processes food waste and reduces greenhouse emissions by using maggots.

Ms Yarger's invention was essentially a hotel for flies called the 'Maggot Robot'.

Inside portable boxes, thousands of black soldier fly larvae lived off human food waste and excreted nutrient-rich fertiliser.

While this may sound like a worm farm, Ms Yarger's creation is even better because, unlike worms, the maggots themselves have a use.

They can be eaten by livestock and farmed fish as a protein-rich supplement added to feed.

The Maggot Robot is already being used by Woolworths and in Sydney's Barangaroo precinct, and has processed more than 35,000 tonnes of waste and reduced 66,000 tonnes of carbon emissions so far.

Ms Yarger was overseas at the time of the ceremony, so a member of Goterra's staff accepted the award on her behalf.

Ghanaian-Australian poet, songwriter, and rapper Kofi Owusu-Ansah took out the ACT Young Australian of the Year. Also known as Genesis Owusu, the 24-year-old's hip-hop music details his experiences with racism and depression and his 2021 album Smiling with No Teeth won four ARIA awards.

Donning bright Ghanaian kente cloth and almost-extraterrestrial sunglasses, Mr Owusu-Ansah said his music came from a deeply personal place.

"I was thrust into the role of the 'other' from a young age and l learned how to make that into a positive," he said.

"Music has become a vehicle for me to be someone who can make a change in the culture."

The ACT Senior Australian of the Year recipient was Professor Tom Calma, a Kunguarakan elder who has championed the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for more than 45 years and was a catalyst for the Closing the Gap campaign that addresses inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous demographics.

While thankful for the award, Professor Calma used his moment on stage to advocate for the upcoming referendum on an Indigenous voice to parliament.

"Get on board, understand what's being proposed, and don't be intimidated," he said.

"It's very simple to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should have a voice in our constitution."

Medical scientist Dr Shamaruh Mirza was named the ACT Local Hero for her work on mental health within culturally and linguistically diverse communities.