The Gala Dinner 2009

The UK’s leading Australia Day Celebration took place at Australia House on 24 January. To celebrate ‘Vintage Oz’, we enjoyed a medley of wines from Australia’s famous wine regions including Tasmania, Clare Valley, Margaret River, Barossa Valley and the Riverina. With Michelin star chef Brett Graham in the kitchen, Australian duo Operacatz on the stage and ‘The Three Waiters’ performing on the floor, our guests had a treat in store.

The Theme

Vintage Oz

With over 60 designated wine regions, Australia boasts a fantastic diversity of grapes and wines. Australia’s viticultural industry was born when the first grapevines were imported at the 1788 Sydney Cove landing. Just over two centuries later we are one of the world’s largest wine exporters.

The Chef

The Ledbury’s Brett Graham is an award-winning, Michelin star chef who is recognised by his peers as one of the most talented chefs to rise up in recent years and with grilled West Australian Rock Lobster and shoulder of Australian lamb on the menu, our guests were in for a real culinary treat.

The Entertainment

In-demand Australian Duo Operacatz delivered a highly entertaining performance of original, witty and dramatic renditions of classic operatic arias. Our other talented young performers were Australian tenors, Mark Dickinson, Damien Humberly and Damion Scarcella, performing the original, award-winning ‘The Three Waiters’ act.

The Award Winners

Gill Hicks

Australian of the Year in the UK

With this award, the Australia Day Foundation recognises Gill Hicks for her extraordinary courage and dedication to promoting peace around the world.

Adelaide-born Hicks has lived in London since 1992 and has worked in design, publishing and as a curator. On 7 July 2005 Hicks was no more than two feet from one of the bombers when he detonated his device on a crowded Piccadilly Line train. She awoke from a four-day coma to discover she had lost both her legs. With inspirational perseverance and determination, she learned to walk again, married her partner of seven years Joe Kerr, and has dedicated herself ever since to deterring people from the use of violent action. Hicks was appointed an ambassador for Peace Direct in 2006 and an advocate for Leonard Cheshire Disability in 2007. A fellow of the RSA, she recently founded non-profit MAD for Peace, encouraging the use of art and design to promote peace. Hicks carried the Olympic torch in Canberra 2008, and she and Kerr devised and completed a 250-mile Leeds to London walk called WalkTalk, designed to bring communities together. In the 2009 Hicks was awarded an MBE for her services to charity. She has also published a book of her post 7/7 experiences, is well known for her talks and seminars in the UK and Australia and is now a tireless ambassador for peace.

Sir David Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE FRS

Honorary Australian of the Year in the UK

Through Sir David Attenborough’s natural history and wildlife films and books, the worldwide audience has had the opportunity to appreciate the diversity of Australia’s extraordinary flora and fauna and spectacular terrain. It is in recognition of this and his extraordinary career achievements that he has been named 2009 Honorary Australian of the Year in the UK.

Sir David’s natural history films are some of the most-watched on earth and he has been bringing the world and its glories to our TV screens for over 50 years. Since his career at the BBC began in 1952, he has produced 21 series and written 16 books as well as hosting quizzes, political broadcasts, gardening and religious shows. After a period as Director of Programmes for the BBC he returned to programme-making in 1979 with the launch of landmark series, Life on Earth. The programme featured WA’s ancient fossilised Gogo Reef highlighting the reef’s importance. In honour of that, a fossil of a prehistoric fish giving birth has been named after him: materpiscis attenboroughi. According to a recent online poll, the UK’s favourite Attenborough moment was in Australia for his 1998 series The Life of Birds showing Sir David watching the Australian lyrebird mimicking various noises. Sir David holds numerous awards and titles and has honorary degrees from several British Universities. He was also named among the 100 Greatest Britons in a 2002 BBC poll.

Matt Wilkin MS

Young Australian Achiever of the year in the UK

Master Sommelier Matt Wilkin has proved that if you work hard to achieve your goal you will succeed, and the Australia Day Foundation recognises his early career achievements and dedication with the title of 2009 Young Australian Achiever of the Year in the UK.

A South Australian who has lived in the UK for 10 years, Wilkin has won a string of awards, most recently for his newly opened Princess Victoria gastro pub in west London, which won Time Out’s award for Best Gastro Pub 2008 within four months of opening. In 2005 he became the first Australian to qualify as a Master Sommelier. He is one of only 164 Master Sommeliers in the world and Wilkin himself rates this as his proudest achievement. Having learned his trade in Australia, and didn’t take Wilkin long to make a splash in London, taking charge of the wine lists at some of the capital’s top Michelin-starred restaurants. He has won UK Sommelier of the Year titles from Wine International, Harpers & Queen/Moet & Chandon and Trophee Champagne Ruinart.