2017 Vision Australia Awards: honouring our best and brightest supporters

25 October 2017

Image shows the Vision Australia Awards
Vision Austral
a has recognised its most significant contributors through the 2017 Vision Australia Awards.

The awards were first held in 2006 to honour those who helped to make a difference through their commitment to Vision Australia’s mission to ensure people who are blind or have low vision can live the life they choose.

They were presented at Vision Australia’s Annual General Meeting, held in Melbourne today.

“Our award winners exemplify Vision Australia’s work to support the blind and low vision community,” Vision Australia Board Chair Andrew Moffat says.

“It’s a pleasure to celebrate the people who go the extra mile to help us make the world a better, more inclusive place for people who are blind or have low vision.”

Vision Australia Chief Executive Officer Ron Hooton says each of the eight Vision Australia Award winners this year all made an important contribution to the not-for-profit organisation’s work.

“These eight people stand out amongst our community for the way they have supported our 27,000 clients around the nation and the 384,000 Australians who are blind or have low vision,” he says.

“We’re grateful for their invaluable service to the blind and low vision community and to Vision Australia.”

The Vision Australia Award winners for 2017 are:

Connor McLeod, Youth Award

Connor is a young man with amazing tenacity and drive.

The Sydney teenager’s campaigning led to the introduction of tactile features on the $5 bank note in 2016, the $10 note that was introduced in September this year and the gradual introduction of other tactile banknotes by the Reserve Bank of Australia in coming years.

Connor, who was blind from birth, has already received a number of awards including a Daily Telegraph’s Pride of Australia Award, a Young Leader Medal and the American National Braille Press (NBP) Hands On Award.


Sarah Houbolt, Individual Award

Sarah Houbolt is an international circus and physical theatre performer, arts manager and diversity advocate.

Sarah has a rare condition, Hallermann-Streiff Syndrome. She is partially sighted and legally blind.

She is a Paralympian, representing Australia in swimming at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, and a circus performer, with performance credits including Cirque du Soleil.

Sarah was the manager of Arts Activated 2016, and a speaker at the Sydney Opera House’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2016 on the topic of disability arts history.

Sarah works with the University of Technology Sydney in its Equity and Diversity unit, coordinating central staff and student accessibility policy responses across the university.

Maureen Davey, Individual Award

Maureen has been both a client and a volunteer with Vision Australia and its predecessor organisation, the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, for all of the 50 years both organisations have provided services to the blind and low vision community in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat.

Maureen was born legally blind with retinitis pigmentosa and was, in fact, present on the first day of the RVIB’s recreation program in Ballarat.

Vision Australia celebrated its 50th anniversary in Ballarat in July, with Maureen a guest speaker at the anniversary celebrations.

Brenda Murray, Individual Award

Brenda has been a client of Vision Australia for more than 10 years and lives and lives an active and independent life in the Gippsland region of Victoria.

She has been instrumental in establishing support and local client groups for older adults in the area and has long been passionate about ageing well.

She has served on various committees researching and establishing services for older people and was a local government councillor in her region, serving as the first mayor of the newly formed East Gippsland Shire in the 1990s.

Additionally, Brenda was a member of the Victorian and Australian Blind Bowls Association and has served on the council's Disability Advisory Committee for the past 10 years.

Brenda was made a Member of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 1985 for service to the community.

Marina Prior, Individual Award

On Christmas Eve this year, Marina will perform for her 30th consecutive year at Carols by Candlelight – an incredible achievement for the popular soprano on what will be the 80th anniversary of Carols by Candlelight in Melbourne.

Marina holds a special place in Australian music, with an extensive theatre career, eight albums including three in the ARIA top 40 charts, parts in five cast recordings of stage musicals and a string of television appearances as a singer and actor.

Her professional career dates back to September 1983, when she won the part of Mabel in the Victoria State Opera production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic Pirates of Penzance.

She played Guinevere in the Australian production of Camelot in 1984, Jellylorum and Griddlebone in the Australian premiere production of Cats in 1985 and starred in many musicals through the 1980s before one of her signature roles, as Christine Daae in the Australian premiere production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, from 1990 to 1993.

Marina remains one of Australia’s foremost musical theatre performers with starring roles through the years in West Side Story, Show Boat, Guys and Dolls, Hello Dolly and many others. She was also queen of Melbourne’s Moomba festival in 1996.


Don Fraser, Individual Award

Don joined the Board of Seeing Eye Dogs Australia in 2007. In July 2008, Seeing Eye Dogs merged with Vision Australia and with the merger came Don’s intellect and governance expertise to the Vision Australia Board.

Don has been associated with the information technology industry for more than 40 years and has held commercial board positions since 1995. He completed a doctorate in business administration, researching various governance issues with a focus on board decision-making.

The Board has benefitted significantly from his passion and expertise and we thank him for his diligent contribution to Vision Australia and Seeing Eye Dogs Australia.

Don is retiring from the Vision Australia Board at the Annual General Meeting.

Lyn Allison, Individual Award

Lyn is a former teacher and was an Australian Democrats Senator for Victoria from 1996 to 2008, leading the party from 2004 until her retirement from the Senate in 2008.

Shortly after, she was appointed to the Vision Australia Board and has served on numerous other Boards including for the Mental Illness Fellowship of Victoria, Orygen Youth Health, Women's Health Council of Victoria, Family Planning Victoria, Berry Street and Alzheimer’s Australia Victoria.

In the past nine years, Lyn has worked tirelessly to improve services for people who are blind or have low vision and has brought an inquiring mind to the Board, never afraid to question the status quo.

We acknowledge Lyn’s significant contribution and thank her for her service to the blindness and low vision community of Australia. She retires from the Board at the Annual General Meeting.

Theresa Smith-Ruig, Individual Award

It is difficult to overstate Theresa’s contribution to Vision Australia and the blind and low vision community.

Theresa’s role as an advocate for the rights of people who are blind or have low vision began in 2003 when she joined the Board of Blind Citizens Australia (BCA).

Theresa served as a director of BCA until 2005 and was its Vice-President in 2005.

She was elected to the Board of Vision Australia in 2007 and in the past 10 years has performed her duties as Director with diligence and dedication while juggling her career and parenting.

As a PhD graduate in the area of career management and Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at the University of New England, Theresa has brought incredible insight to her role as member and, ultimately, the Chair of the People and Culture Committee. 

Theresa has also served as Deputy Chair of the Vision Australia and her passion, enthusiasm and intellect will be greatly missed as she retires from the Board.