In 2022 we’ve seen significant movements across politics, sport, social justice, business and the arts in Australia—and women have been at the forefront of it all. As the year comes to a close, it’s time to celebrate the inspiring individuals who’ve steered us forward: welcome to marie claire‘s Women of the Year awards.
After launching the awards two years ago, we were finally able to celebrate our winners in person at our inaugural gala event at Sydney’s Rockpool Bar & Grill on November 9, presented by Kerastase. It was a night of vibrancy, inspiration and female empowerment (not to mention great style). But ultimately, it was an acknowledgement of the work every single one of our nominees and winners have done, and continue to do.
So without further ado, meet our 2022 Women of the Year winners—the game-changers who’ve led with passion, fought with bravery and inspired us all.
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: AMY SHARK
“I never thought we’d have a time where we wouldn’t be able to play shows for two years,” says Amy Shark shaking her head as she reflects on Covid at her marie claire shoot.
The pandemic presented many challenges for every industry, but there’s no doubt live music was the hardest hit. In February 2020, the eight-time ARIA award-winning artist performed to more than 70,000 people at the Fire Fight Concert; just weeks later, borders were closed and the country was in lockdown. With 2022 bringing a return to normality, Shark set her sights on reviving the live music scene with one of the most ambitious tours to date across the nation – and certainly the biggest of its kind this year. It’s fair to say Shark has entertained Australia, playing a record-breaking 68 shows from Wagga Wagga to Whyalla and everywhere in-between.
“To get back out there and play shows in regional Australia was crazy because they haven’t had many people out there performing. That was special to me. But anytime I get to play to humans and feel the energy and look them in the eye is really special,” she says.
A 68-show stint would have most artists planning a lengthy holiday. Not Shark. With a brand-new single Only Wanna Be With You out now, and her R3hab collab Sway My Way still making its mark on the ARIA charts, the singer is also focusing on this month’s ARIA Awards, where she’s tipped to take out the gong for Best Australian Live Act.
Also taking up her time? Searching the country for the next star after landing one of the coveted judging roles on the highly anticipated reboot of Australian Idol. As she scouts for the talent of tomorrow, Shark shares her vision for women in music going forward.
“My hope for women is for any sort of fear to disappear.
Whether it’s fear of performing or heading into the studio and being overtaken by some dick producer – I want all the fear to go. I hate the thought of anyone being scared doing what they love to do. I can see it with some girls and I really hope that improves.”
As for 2023, with Idol back on screens and fresh tunes to come, there’s going to be plenty more Shark sightings.
POWERHOUSE OF THE YEAR: LINDA BURNEY
Linda Burney has had her fair share of firsts.
In 2003 she became the first Indigenous person elected to the New South Wales parliament, and in 2016 she became the first Indigenous woman to serve in the House of Representatives. Then, of course, following Labor’s win at the federal election, Burney became the first Indigenous woman to be sworn in as Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Mixed in with enormous feelings of pride and honour, she says she felt an unmistakable desire to “get cracking”.
In her first six months in the prime minister’s cabinet, Burney has done just that. She’s been instrumental in bringing Indigenous voices to the forefront of public conversations in Australia – not only through her commitment to a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament, and a Makarrata
Commission to oversee a national process for Treaty and Truth-Telling – but also by ensuring Indigenous perspectives on national conversations and events are heard. After the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, Burney expressed her condolences in parliament while acknowledging that “for many Indigenous Australians, the legacy of the monarchy is fraught”.
“When I entered politics, I was determined and motivated to bring about positive changes to people’s everyday lives. This is still the case today,” she says.
“There are so many occasions – when I meet women doing extraordinary things in their communities – that always inspire me.”
THE CHANGEMAKERS: CHANEL CONTOS (tied)
When Chanel Contos launched an online petition in February last year, the stars fell into alignment. Locked down at home and on the cusp of a nationwide reckoning, Contos’ petition for better sexual consent education struck a chord with the fed-up women of Australia. “It was divine timing. There was a moment happening in Australia that meant that conversations about consent and sexual assault were more welcome, due to the advocacy and bravery of women like Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins,” recalls the 24-year-old activist.
This year saw the stars align once again for Contos, who was petitioning for more thorough sexual consent education in schools at the same time the national curriculum was due for its six-year review. Through sheer hard work and fortuitous timing, in 2022 she successfully shook-up Australian schools as education ministers around the country committed to mandating consent education nationwide as of 2023.
Looking to the future, Contos tells marie claire, “I hope we’ve created an environment where young men and boys are able to reflect and promote equality around them for the benefit of those young women. Because those young women can do whatever they want.”
THE CHANGEMAKERS: TEALS (tied)
On the evening of May 21, 2022, a group of women rocked Australian politics: Kate Chaney, Zoe Daniel, Dr Monique Ryan, Dr Sophie Scamps, Allegra Spender, Zali Steggall and Kylea Tink. Dissatisfied with Australia’s two major parties, each woman ran as an Independent candidate in the federal election – and won.
“It was it was such an exciting time,” reflects Scamps. “And I believe it was a watershed moment in Australian political history. Our communities were reinvigorated. After feeling shut out and not listened to for so long, they finally felt connected to their democracy again.”
The win was dubbed a “Teal bath”, with the women aligned in their centrist stance: socially progressive, economically responsible and serious about climate action, integrity and gender equality. They stepped up as accomplished professionals – doctors, journalists and business leaders – and unseated some of the most senior Liberal politicians in the country.
At their shoot at the Australian Portrait Gallery in Canberra, Tink tells marie claire, “We stood up to say that politics can be done differently. We can do better on climate, we can have integrity in politics, we can do better in terms of gender equity, and we can do better in terms of how we treat people seeking asylum in this country.”
This women’s uprising was imbued with hope for change and hope for a new way of doing politics.
As she looks forward to the future, Spender says, “I want women to lead and women to take their rightful place in politics. And that’s what we’re starting to do. [Women make up] 44 per cent of the parliament. We need to get to 50 per cent, let’s be honest. But then we also need to make sure that we’re up in the [higher] echelons of power. [We currently] still have a male prime minister, a male leader of the opposition and a male speaker. So there are ceilings to be broken, but I think this is an enormous start.”
With this extraordinary group of women now sitting on the crossbench, the Independents share a united sentiment: there’s space next to them for more women to shake up Parliament House.
As Chaney explains, “Women in politics have a responsibility to lead but to also lift other women up. It’s fantastic to have women in the parliament and women in the boardroom, but we really need to give a voice to women who don’t have those opportunities.”
CHAMPION OF THE YEAR: ASH BARTY
How do you measure a year? For Ash Barty, 2022 is certainly one for the books. It got off to a cracking start: breaking a 44-year drought to become the first local player to claim the Australian Open singles in January. It was a pivotal moment in her career, not only because she achieved another Grand Slam title but for triumphing on all three court surfaces.
What does the tennis number one do next? Shock the world by hanging up her racquet and tennis whites barely two months later. In a year dominated by “quiet quitting” and the death of toxic work culture, Barty’s decision to retire early perfectly captures the spirit of now.
“I decided to prioritise Ash Barty the person over Ash Barty the tennis player, and in doing so I’ve realised I can help so many more people through my charity work and my role as the national Indigenous tennis ambassador,” she explained – not that she needed to.
And focus on herself she did. Barty donned a very different white outfit when she married professional golfer Garry Kissick in July.
“It’s been a big year hasn’t it!” she says to marie claire. “Those moments were all very special yet very different. Through all of them I have been surrounded by the people who mean the most to me. I will look back at all three moments feeling proud, happy and grateful for the experiences.”
DESIGNER OF THE YEAR: JULIE SHAW
In 2022 the Australian fashion industry continued to celebrate inclusivity instead of indifference, purpose instead of profit and collaboration instead of competition. And no brand epitomises these qualities more than MAARA Collective. Community-making, co-design and connection to country are built into the brand’s DNA, with each piece crafted in close collaboration with First Nations artists and art centres using ancient techniques in a contemporary fashion context.
“It’s the way we work as First Nations people. We’re all about knowledge sharing and community spirit; that’s what drives us forward and that’s what I wanted to bring into this brand,” explains the brand’s founder and creative director, Yuwaalaraay woman Julie Shaw.
Shaw, who grew up in the opal mining town of Lightning Ridge, far from the world of fashion, founded the brand in 2019 and quickly earned a reputation as a visionary, picking up accolades including Indigenous Fashion Designer of the Year at the Australian Fashion Laureate. Today Shaw’s silk and linen designs are stocked by major retailers including David Jones and The Iconic, and the label has become a fixture at Australian Fashion Week as part of the Indigenous Fashion Projects runway.
“Fashion is a tough industry to be in, so just to continue to grow and provide a platform for First Nations artists and art centres is such a privilege.”
CREATIVE OF THE YEAR: LEAH PURCELL
In May 2022, Leah Purcell marked the completion of a monumental hat-trick when the cinematic incarnation of The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson – her third reimagining (preceded by a bestselling novel and award-winning play) of Henry Lawson’s iconic 1892 short story – was released in cinemas across the country to critical acclaim. A true creative force, Purcell wrote, directed and starred in the film, which retells the seminal colonial tale from the perspective of an Indigenous woman struggling to protect her children and survive in the harsh frontier of the Australian bush. For the proud Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri woman, who left rural Queensland as a 19-year-old single mother with a copy of the story in her car boot, it is a deeply personal achievement.
“My mother would read me The Drover’s Wife when I was a little girl. The words from that story resonated with my life, and when my mum passed away her copy was the one thing I took from her house. Thank goodness I did.”
When reflecting on her bravery, throughout her life and career, Purcell is matter-of-fact.
“You have to be brave to be in this industry,” she says. “As an Indigenous woman, I am the truth-teller of my people’s plight and I want to do that to the best of my ability. That’s what drives me and gives me my determination to kick down doors.”
Despite her recognition as one of the country’s most respected actors and highly regarded showrunners, Purcell has no intention of slowing down, revealing to marie claire that she is currently working on adapting the story into a limited series for TV, a children’s book and an opera.
“We’ve got to bring our stories home because there’s still a lot not known about our history, Black and white.”
With Purcell’s fierce determination and talent one can only expect great things (and the completion of another impressive hat-trick before too long).
THE VOICE OF NOW: HANNAH DIVINEY (tied)
Disability activist Hannah Diviney can pinpoint the exact moment she knew her tweet calling out international superstar Lizzo for using an ableist slur in her song Grrrls was going viral.
“When I started getting trolled, I knew we were onto something because it had gone beyond the echo chamber,” laughs the 23-year-old who lives with cerebral palsy. “That’s how you know you’re making real change.”
Change came swiftly when the Grammy award-winning artist posted an apology on Instagram and announced she had released a new version of the song.
“Lizzo was a masterclass of grace and allyship,” notes Diviney, who six weeks later started another global conversation about why ableist language – intentional or not – has no place in pop culture when she was able to campaign for Beyoncé to do the same thing.
Since then, the Australian activist and writer – who can now add actress to her impressive résumé – wrapped filming on Latecomers, a boundary-pushing SBS comedy-drama series that will premiere later this year. The series follows two strangers with cerebral palsy who become determined to explore their own relationships with sex and each other.
“I will be the first disabled woman to do a sex scene on Australian television, which is a big deal,” says Diviney.
As for the trolls?
“Everything I do is in service of the disabled kids of the future, and when I remember that, those people can’t really hurt me.”
THE VOICE OF NOW: TEELA REID (tied)
Teela Reid knows that systemic change can take a lifetime, sometimes even generations.
“As First Nations people, we inherit a baton,” explains the Wiradjuri and Wailwan activist, storyteller and Aboriginal land rights lawyer as she remembers being taken to Land Council meetings from the moment she could walk.
“We’re still fighting the same fight as our ancestors; it just looks different these days.”
This couldn’t be more true today as the country stands on the brink of a referendum to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament. Reid – who played an instrumental role in developing and campaigning for the Uluru Statement from the Heart – is modest when discussing her role as one of the leading voices for constitutional reformation. Yet she is careful not to underplay the significance of this moment, explaining that the referendum will be the culmination of decades of Indigenous advocacy for a better future based on justice and self-determination. “We shouldn’t lose sight of how enormous this opportunity is,” she tells marie claire, “because there were absolutely days when no-one in government wanted to listen to what we had to say.”
As the newly appointed practitioner-in-residence at the University of Sydney Law School reflects on the year that was, her voice fills with emotion and pride.
“I think what’s most heartwarming about this moment is that when we ask the Australian people to walk with us, they show up.”
ECO WARRIOR OF THE YEAR: ANDIE HALAS
Thread Together’s founder, Andie Halas, is surrounded by stories. In her Sydney warehouse, skyscraper-high crates of textile waste whisper tales of a past life. Although for Halas, it’s the stories from real people at the heart of her business that drive her passion.
“I’ve heard courageous stories, stories of hope and stories from people who have rebuilt their lives from floods, domestic violence and homelessness,” says Halas, who celebrated Thread Together’s 10th anniversary this year.
“There was one woman in the very early days who had escaped domestic violence, she’s now a healthcare nurse and orders clothes online from us. It’s incredible to be a part of these journeys.”
Since founding the business, Halas and her team have saved 5,503,497 items from landfill and clothed 2500 people a week by redistributing unsold end-of-line stock to charities and social service agencies. In a business plagued by the weight of the world’s issues, from the climate crisis to solving access to essential clothing, Halas has found a silver lining by connecting more than 800 retailers with more than 1000 charities.
“The events of the past few years, including the fires and the floods, have made us realise that now more than ever we just have to look after each other,” says Halas, who has recently worked on developing wardrobes made from recycled textiles for domestic violence shelters.
After a decade of championing for change, does Halas see an end in sight?
“I feel like I’m just at the beginning,” she says.
“I’m really proud that now we not only have a seat at the table for the future but that we have a voice too.”
ADVOCATE OF THE YEAR: SHANNA WHAN
Shanna Whan doesn’t have a problem with drinking. What she does have a problem with is the pervasive culture of booze in the Australian bush. It’s been nearly eight years since Whan put down her last drink and transformed her life and thousands of others through her not-for-profit Sober in the Country.
“The chance to take my greatest shame and darkest times and turn that into hope for others is what this has always been about,” says Whan, who was named the 2022 Australian of the Year Local Hero.
Tackling any social issue is no easy feat, but when that issue is a deep-rooted part of Australian culture, it’s a much tougher battle.
“When you take the focus off the problem and put it on the solution, people are instantly 90 per cent more receptive,” says Whan.
“It’s never been about judging or commenting on our mates who can enjoy ‘a few’ safely – it’s about ensuring that we’re taking care of and including our mates who can’t or who choose not to.” Through peer support, advocacy and education, Sober in the Country has been a positive force for change, tackling the fierce stigmas surrounding casual alcoholism in rural communities. While the wellbeing of rural Australians sits low on our nation’s health priority list, Whan is hopeful for a future where the welfare and social inclusion of our mates is not governed by the choice of drink in their hand.
THE RISING STAR: CHLOE HAYDEN
When Chloé Hayden was diagnosed with autism at 13, her mother cried. She then spent her high school years feeling like she wasn’t meant to exist.
“I never saw myself represented on the television or in magazines and movies. I grew up wondering, ‘Am I a glitch? Am I even supposed to be here?’”
These two moments in Hayden’s formative years came full circle in 2022, when a handbook on autism written by the now 25-year-old neurodivergent activist and advocate was published, and she returned to high school … this time as an actor on the smash hit series reboot of Heartbreak High.
“I wrote my book because I wish that I had been handed it when I was 13,” she tells marie claire on set at her photoshoot. “And I wish my mum had been handed it because maybe she wouldn’t have cried. I want parents, teachers and doctors to read it. I wrote Different, Not Less, because for too long our voices have been silenced.”
This year Hayden’s voice was heard around the world as Quinni in Heartbreak High – one of our first accurately represented autistic characters on television.
“I’ve had so many people reach out and tell me that for the first time ever, they saw themselves. I’ve had so many people say that they got their autism diagnosis because of me, and that they now understand themselves because of me, and that they’ve shown their parents and their partner and their friends and their teachers me as Quinni. And now, the people in their life understand them better too.”
When she looks back today, at all she has achieved, at the 13-year-old girl sitting in the doctor’s office, Hayden reflects: “My mind was made out to be a diagnosis, when it’s not – it’s magical.”
Read more in the December issue of marie claire Australia. On stands now.