Remembering those remarkable Australians who died in 2018
It happens each year and it will continue to happen each year for ever — the death of people who made an impact on our world.
This year is no different and over the past 365 days, Australian has lost artists, sportsmen, politicians, educators, musicians, and everyday people who left a mark on the community.
And while it is impossible to cover every life story, we can at least examine the legacy of a handful of those whose lives were lived well.
Quentin Kenihan: Disability advocate
Quentin Kenihan overcame adversity to become a firm favourite with Australian television audiences. (Instagram: qkenihan)
Nicknamed Q Man, Kenihan used wit, humour, and a positive attitude to overcome his physical challenges and become a favourite of Australian audiences.
The Adelaide actor, film-maker, comedian, and all-round big personality, who died in October aged 43, also became a passionate advocate for people with disabilities.
He was born in February 1975 with a genetic condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease affecting his bones and making them very fragile.
During his life, he suffered more than 600 fractures but became an inspirational figure for the way he triumphed in the face of adversity.
He also hung out with stars like Angelina Jolie, interviewed Julia Gillard, ripped J-Lo’s frock at an awards ceremony, and acted alongside Charlize Theron.
“The key to a good life is learning to cope with the bad and celebrate the good. It’s taken me a long while to work that one out,” he wrote in his book, Not All Superheroes Wear Capes.
Cornelia Frances: Actor
Cornelia Frances said she always enjoyed “playing bitches” and was inspired by strong characters. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
The British born actress first made a name with Australian audiences as the strict and formidable Sister Grace Scott on The Young Doctors from 1976 to 1979.
Cornelia Frances, who died in May aged 77, also appeared in Cell Block H and played the cunning and diabolic Barbara Hamilton in Sons and Daughters.
Her role as Morag Bellingham in Home and Away spanned 29 years and she also gained notoriety for her harsh hosting role on gameshow The Weakest Link.
Colleagues described her as very well-disciplined, with a commanding presence that could be intimidating — but the fans loved her.
Frances enjoyed playing strong characters throughout a career that saw her nominated for a Logie six times.
“I’ve nearly always played bitches and I like them. They are far more satisfying to play than good people,” she told TV Week in 1977.
Jarrod Lyle: Golfer
Professional golfer Jarrod Lyle had cancer three times over 20 years. (Supplied: Michael Klein)
Just eight days after deciding to end treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia and go into palliative care in August, 36-year-old golfer Jarrod Lyle died.
He had already twice beaten cancer — as a teen in 1998 and again in 2012 — before making an emotional comeback to golf during the 2013 Australian Masters.
Lyle then tried his luck using a medical exemption to win back his PGA Tour card in 2015.
Fellow golfer Adam Scott was almost overcome with emotion when speaking about his friend.
“He has lived the best life he could with the tough cards he has been dealt,” he said.
“His positivity and general demeanour has been so good and so infectious on others. It’s a good way to think of how I should live my life.”
Lyle claimed two professional victories through his career, both in 2008, at the Mexican Open and Knoxville Open, and had a career-high USPGA ranking of 196.
He is survived by his wife Briony, and daughters Lusi, 6, and Jemma, 2.
Liz Jackson: Journalist
Liz Jackson turned the cameras onto herself in 2017, sharing her story of life with Parkinson’s disease. (Supplied)
One of Australia’s finest journalists, Liz Jackson died in June, aged 67, while on holiday in Greece with her husband.
She joined the Radio National team in 1986 after first studying law and being admitted to the bar.
In a career with the ABC spanning 27 years, the Walkley Award-winning journalist and presenter became a familiar face on Four Corners and Media Watch.
Her greatest talent was working in the field, tracking important stories and capturing genuine moments of insight, cementing her legacy as one of the most important Australian reporters of her generation.
ABC Director of News, Gaven Morris, said Jackson had an “extraordinary talent as a storyteller, accompanied by a deep humility”.
In 2017, she turned the cameras on herself in her documentary, A Sense of Self, sharing her story of living with Parkinson’s disease.
“In many ways, this is the hardest film I’ve made, and I’ve made some tough ones over the years,” Jackson said.
Conway Savage: Musician
Conway Savage, a member of The Bad Seeds for almost 30 years, was described as having ‘a golden voice’. (Facebook: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds)
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds lost longtime pianist, organ player, and backing vocalist Conway Savage in September, aged 58.
The band credited Savage, who joined in 1990, as “the anarchic thread that ran through the band’s live performances”.
“Irascible, funny, terrifying, sentimental, warm-hearted, gentle, acerbic, honest, genuine — he was all of these things and quite literally ‘had the gift of a golden voice,’ high and sweet and drenched in soul,” they said in a statement.
Savage was raised in country Victoria, and during the 1980s played in several Australia groups including the Happy Orphans and Feral Dinosaurs.
Along with collaborating with many Australian artists, including the Go-Betweens’ Robert Forster , Kim Salmon, and Dave Graney, Savage had a fruitful solo career.
Surgery in 2017 for a brain tumour had forced him to pull out of the US leg of the tour supporting the Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ 2016 album Skeleton Tree.
Bonita Mabo: Indigenous rights campaigner
Bonita Mabo had just been honoured by James Cook University for her contribution to social justice and human rights. (AAP/CLPR: Matt Nettheim)
- Rat of Tobruk Bill Corey in October, aged 101
- Car racing legend Bob Jane in September, aged 88
- Wallabies great Sir Nicholas Shehadie in February, aged 91
- Fairfax journalist Michael Gordon in February, aged 62
- Novelist Peter Corris in August, aged 76
- Actor Penny Cook in December, aged 61
- Cafe owner Sisto Malaspina in November, aged 74
- Politican Ted Mack in November, aged 84
- Artist Charles Blackman in August, aged 90
- Obstetrician Dr William McBride in June, aged 81
- Cartoonist Ron Tandberg in January, aged 74
Known as the ‘mother of native title’, prominent Indigenous and South Sea Islander campaigner Ernestine ‘Bonita’ Mabo died in November aged 75.
She worked alongside her husband Eddie Mabo in the pursuit of Indigenous land rights and also dedicated her life to Indigenous education.
Ms Mabo, a Malanbarra woman descendant from Vanuatan workers brought to Queensland, was born near Ingham in north Queensland in 1943.
More recently, she had been fighting for South Sea Islanders to be recognised as their own distinct ethnic group.
Just days before her death, Ms Mabo was honoured by James Cook University for her contribution to social justice and human rights.
Indigenous Senator Patrick Dodson said that while Ms Mabo may have been in the shadow of her husband, “she was the backbone and the steel that helped he and many others to continue the struggles”.
Richard Gill: Conductor and music educator
Richard Gill’s last public appearance was earlier in 2018 when he led a flash mob through a Beatles song (file photo). (Supplied: Brendan Read)
Charismatic conductor, music educator, composer and media star Richard Gill, who died in October aged 76, was a “citizen of music”.
In a career spanning more than 50 years, Gill’s devotion to music was evident in the many opportunities he took to teach and share his passion.
He began his career as a high school music teacher but over time, everyone from babies to students at the West Australian Conservatorium of Music benefited from his knowledge.
“He was the rarest teacher I ever had the pleasure to learn and work with. At times it was just magic,” his long-time friend Kim Williams said.
Television appearances on Spicks and Specks and in Operatunity Oz brought him a new group of fans, many who were unfamiliar with classical music.
Being surrounded by singers brought him much joy — so much so that three months before his death, he discharged himself from hospital, where he was undergoing cancer treatment, to lead Sydney’s Flash Mob through the Beatles song When I’m 64 at the City Recital Hall.
On the last day of his life, about 70 musicians, accompanied by a police band, gathered on the street outside his Sydney home and played his favourite piece, The Dam Busters March.
Peter Temple: Writer
Peter Temple was a master of writing in the Australian voice, despite being born in South Africa. (robertarood.files.wordpress.com)
Although he only moved to Australia as an adult, South African-born author Peter Temple, who died from cancer in March, aged 71, was a great chronicler of Australian stories in Australian dialogue.
After a career as a journalist and editor, he turned his hand to fiction writing in the 1990s.
He was best known for his Jack Irish series — which was turned into a TV show starring Guy Pearce — and won several awards for his writing.
Temple was self-deprecating when he accepted the Miles Franklin award in 2010 for his novel Truth, saying he could not quite believe he was being counted among Australia’s top writers.
“I’ll thank the judges anyway,” he said.
“They’ll have to take the flack for giving the Miles Franklin to a crime writer and all I can say, my advice to them is ‘cop it sweet; you’ve done the crime, you do the time’.”
His friend and fellow crime fiction author Michael Robotham said he was “a remarkable writer, a remarkable man”.
“It’s going to be a huge loss and not just to the crime writing fraternity, but he was one of our great literary giants,” he said.
Mirka Mora: Artist
Artist Mirka Mora arrived in Melbourne after living through the Holocaust in Europe. (Facebook: Erika Mohacsi)
Described as a driving force in Victoria’s arts scene, Mirka Mora, who died at 90 in Melbourne in August, “drenched the city with colour”.
Her vibrant paintings, ceramics and dolls, full of symbolic imagery and personal meaning, are held in galleries around the world.
“Brave, funny, irreverent and talented, Mirka was an icon of our city and state,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.
Mora, who was born in France, and her husband Georges lived through the Holocaust in Europe, arriving in Melbourne in 1951.
She became the centre of the city’s art scene and soon the couple opened the first of three restaurants.
In a career spanning more than 60 years, Mora held countless exhibitions, including a retrospective at the Heide Museum of Modern Art.
Ian Kiernan: Clean Up Australia founder
Ian Kiernan was prompted to start the Clean Up campaigns after seeing vast amounts of ocean pollution. (Facebook: Clean Up Australia)
Nicknamed “the greatest Garbo since Greta”, Ian Kiernan, who died in October aged 78, became internationally famous for both his environmental campaigning and his yachting skills.
His love of sailing ultimately led to his career as a global environmentalist and the man behind the Clean Up Australia and Clean Up the World campaigns.
“He was a larger than life figure, and when larger than life figures leave us in Australia, there is a void,” Clean Up Australia co-founder Kim McKay said.
Kiernan, who grew up around Sydney’s harbour beaches, originally worked in the construction industry.
However, in 1986 he set an Australian record for a solo circumnavigation of the world during the BOC yacht race.
The amount of rubbish he saw in the world’s oceans during the nine months he spent alone at sea shocked him and on his return, he set out to do something about it.
With a group of friends, they organised a community event for a Sunday in January 1989 and named it Clean Up Sydney Harbour.
More than 40,000 volunteers turned up — and a movement was born.