RMIT Alumni recognised with Australia Day Honours

Congratulations to all of our RMIT Alumni who have joined the 2021 Australia Day honours list.

In celebration, we asked some to share their response to receiving the honour, insights into their career highlights and time at RMIT.

What did it feel like to receive this honour? What did it mean to you?

Georgina Byron:  I felt mixed emotions but telling my four daughters was my proudest moment. It made me realise how special it was and it legitimised all those demanding and important phone calls, emails and talks when juggling Mum duties.

Doing hard work in the community and enabling minority voices to be heard is important but it’s never about recognition. This work is very rewarding and I’m happy to be doing the best I can. Now I have been given this public honour, I will continue to be very humble – there’s many extraordinary Australians out there.

Winitha Bonney: To me it's formal recognition by the community for my ongoing work in diversity, equity and inclusion. Importantly, it's about women of colour being heard seen and valued for what they bring to the world through a lens of equity.  This honour isn't about me, it’s for the thousands of women and people of colour I represent daily and this honour is for them. 

Michael Mann: Truly, it was an honour. I think one characteristic of Australians of my generation especially from an underprivileged family is that our expectations were basic. Getting a job and keeping it was drummed into me by my parents, grandparents and society as a whole. It is recognition for a lot of hard work, dedication, loads of curiosity, honesty and developing great relationships.  I started at the very bottom of the Australian public service as a clerical assistant. Being able to work my way up the ladder demonstrates Australia is a great country as my story is my no means unique. Most importantly, I would not have achieved this honour without the guidance and help of my wife and children, mentors, colleagues and friends.

What is your proudest moment/s in your career journey?

Georgina Byron:  There are so many, but certainly working on the awareness and advocacy campaign to end rheumatic heart disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is one to remember - there were a number of elements, many stakeholders and we are still working on it.   

For the milestone event held at Parliament house in October 2018, we brought the Brown family with three sons from Maningrida, a remote town in the Northern Territory along with other members from the community to Parliament House to present.

I felt proud to give Aboriginal community members the opportunity to be directly heard by decision-makers to the point where both political leaders  publicly confirmed their political commitment to eliminate this disease. There’s been many years to build up to awareness and understanding of this disease that is preventable and can lead to death. Along the way I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of being invited into communities and meeting traditional owners and others.

Significantly, in February, soon after the event, the Coalition Government announced $35 million to accelerate medical research for a RHD vaccine and only weeks before the Federal election, Labor committed $33 million to community-led prevention and treatment of RHD if it won government.  

Another amazing moment was celebrating with family and friends amongst thousands at Sydney’s Prince Alfred Park on 15 November 2017 when the YES verdict of the postal vote on same sex marriage was announced – such an emotional day for so many including me and my family!

Winitha Bonney: My proudest moment was when I had a soft launch of #ColourFULL - Australia's first leadership and entrepreneurship conference by and for women of colour and allies. Entering a packed room with driven and ambitious women of colour was inspiring, uplifting and empowering. 

Michael Mann: Being named ambassador (to Laos) at the age of 39 was a proud moment. Representing my country as an ambassador is such a privilege but it also comes with great responsibilities. I’m also especially proud of having people who worked with me become stars in their fields. I hope to have helped them along the way – at least I tried my best.

What made you decide to study at RMIT? What is your best memory?

Georgina Byron:   I was drawn to RMIT’s four-year Business Marketing degree because it included a practical third year, plus I was pretty keen to leave my home in Canberra for a new experience.

During my time there, I loved my year out in the workforce in 1991. It was during the recession and I sent out about 60 resumes finally securing a placement at National Australia Bank. It was a wonderful experience being channelled through their Marketing Department

Winitha Bonney: I ended up doing an Advanced Diploma of International trade and a Bachelor of Business (Distinction) majoring in Supply Chain. I loved RMIT and was so loyal as an Alumni that I choose to do my Masters of Arts (Management) and Masters of Marketing at RMIT later on.

When I launched #ColourFULL I decided to have it at The Capitol theatre and RMIT came on board as an event partner and sponsor. It felt fitting and symbolic in that RMIT was where my career started and where I uncovered my potential through my professors who believed in me. Unfortunately, we had to revert to online due to COVID-19 restrictions, but I look forward to bringing this historic event to The Capitol soon so that together we can work on creating equity for women of colour to thrive and not just survive. 

My best memory was when I graduated from my Bachelor and a professor from my Advanced Diploma introduced me to his graduates as an example of what hard work could bring them

Michael Mann: When RMIT Vietnam became a sustainable and growing entity, this was certainly the moment that stands out for me. My colleagues and I in Vietnam, greatly supported by the Board of RMIT Vietnam, had worked diligently to increase academic quality and raise the profile of RMIT Vietnam. As a result, this attracted more students and consequently revenue. Quality was always our number one goal. Those who go into education to ensure top quality education will find financial and reputational success.

Can you share one piece of advice for those currently studying?

Georgina Byron:  Your time at RMIT is so much more than just about learning your course. Enjoy the learning experience of listening to the views of others, developing your own opinions and ideas of the world, and introduce yourself to all of your classmates and others across disciplines. RMIT is a rich learning and friendship opportunity and you never know who you might work with or need advice from in years to come. 

Winitha Bonney: Sometimes there can be a heavy focus on arts management as a practice. My advice is to look at it as a business. I've seen many arts companies fail, struggle and close shop. Most focus on arts management as a practice and inherently create badly run businesses. For the art to thrive it must have a sustainable and effective business model that supports it. This includes things like effective and ethical board management and governance practices to thorough and rigorous financial forecasting, analysis and reporting.   

Michael Mann: What I have learnt from working with some great leaders and entrepreneurs is that we should no longer ask students what job they will like when graduating. The question is what do you want to do?  Perhaps working for yourself is the best option. Secondly, so many people today, perhaps due to the penetration of social media, are more interested in titles and image than in what they are doing and its impact of society. Setting short term achievable goals will be more fulfilling and this can lead to the very top. I would also strongly recommend observing closely the positive traits of successful people and try to emulate them as much as you can.

More alumni recognised

The Australia Day 2021 list recognised outstanding and inspirational Australians from across the fields of government, the arts, sport, business, philanthropy, science, the military, public service and emergency services.

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer