AN openly-gay anti-bullying advocate has won the Australian of the Year award for Victoria, putting him in the running to win the overall award on Australia Day next year.
John Caldwell has received acclaim for his work promoting anti-bullying programs in schools, a passion stemming from his experiences being bullied as a child.
“Growing up we were exceptionally poor. I was often the only kid in school without shoes, without a uniform, never ever had the right books, so I was bullied a lot for that,” he told the Star Observer.
“And then I was bullied for being gay, even before I knew that I was or even what gay was.”
Caldwell said when he was younger there were no positive gay role models in his life, and no one he felt who understood what he was going through.
“It sounds really tacky to say, but the only light at the end of the tunnel for me was television, and it was watching different people on different television programs and thinking hang on, this life that I’m living, surely it’s not all there is,” he said.
“I literally set out to create my life into one of these fantasy lives on television.”
Caldwell hoped receiving the award as an openly-gay man was a sign of things improving in Australia.
“While there are a lot of disappointing things going on in our country for gay people I think there are some positives as well. I do think this is a big step forward,” he said.
The anti-bullying campaigner wouldn’t be the first openly-gay man to win Australian of the Year. Nobel Laureate for literature Patrick White was honoured with the award in 1973, as well as performer and director Robert Helpmann in 1965.