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Outstanding individuals recognised in honorary degrees


9 November 2012

An Academy Award-winning actress, a Nobel Laureate, an internationally recognised astronomer, an Australian literary icon and an exceptional Aboriginal musician will accept honorary degrees from the University of Sydney this Saturday 10 November.

The five outstanding individuals include actress Cate Blanchett, double platinum musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees, Nobel Prize-winning pathologist Robin Warren, and author Kate Grenville.

"In 2012 we recognise the outstanding contributions of five recipients from different walks of life who have achieved remarkable international success and who share a passion for, and commitment to, making a real difference in the world," says Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney.

"From academic eminence to distinguished creative achievement, our recipients demonstrate the best in personal endeavour and accomplishment, and we are delighted to welcome them into the University of Sydney community."

Honorary degrees are awarded to individuals who have achieved exceptional academic or creative excellence, or who have made an outstanding contribution to the wider community.

Since the first official honorary degree was awarded in 1952, recipients have included Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Germaine Greer, Charles Perkins, Margaret Olley, James Wolfensohn, Gough Whitlam, Yvonne Kenny and Nancy Bird-Walton.


Cate Blanchett - Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa)

Academy Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett has been at the forefront of theatre in Australia for many years, firstly as an actress and more recently as artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company. Her work on stage and screen has inspired audiences around the world and enhanced the future of Australian performing arts as both a means of entertainment and education.

Blanchett has also been a prominent advocate of the importance of the arts in education, and has promoted drama as a medium for improving school students' English and literacy learning. The innovative 'School Drama' project, conducted in partnership with the University's Faculty of Education and Social Work, places experienced actors in schools alongside primary school teachers to increase teachers' confidence in using drama with contemporary children's literature to improve literacy.

Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett

Kate Grenville, Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa)

Kate Grenville, one of Australia's most celebrated authors, has distinguished herself through her outstanding contribution to literature, which touches on themes that have inspired worldwide acclaim.

A graduate of the University of Sydney, Grenville's novels have won numerous awards in Australia and the United Kingdom and have been translated into several European and Asian languages. Many of her best-known works explore the origins of modern Australia, including the roots of conflict between Australia's Aboriginal peoples and the early settlers who took over their land.

Kate Grenville
Kate Grenville

Martin Rees, Lord Rees of Ludlow, Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa)

Martin Rees has distinguished himself around the world through his outstanding contributions to the promotion of cosmology and astrophysics, and through his work as a public intellectual at the interface between science, ethics and politics.

He has authored or co-authored more than 500 research papers, and throughout his career has revealed new insights into the workings of the most powerful objects in the cosmos, such as active galactic nuclei, supermassive black holes and gamma ray bursts. Lord Rees has also pioneered new thinking on the so-called Dark Ages, the period shortly after the Big Bang before the first stars formed and lit up the universe, as well as improving our understanding of how the first galaxies formed, why many galaxies may be invisible to today's telescopes, and how large-scale structures throughout the cosmos formed.

Martin Rees
Martin Rees

Robin Warren, Doctor of Medicine (Honoris Causa)

Nobel Laureate Robin Warren is recognised for his outstanding contributions to the promotion of science and medicine in Australia and overseas.

Together with Barry Marshall, he won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for his work on the bacterial basis for stomach ulcers, which revolutionised the treatment of gastro-duodenal ulcers. Their research enabled the development of an antibiotic cure, which led to a significant reduction in the prevalence of gastric cancer.

Robin Warren
Robin Warren

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Doctor of Music (Honoris Causa)

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu has distinguished himself through his outstanding contribution to the promotion of music and culture in Australia and overseas.
A member of the Gumatj nation on Elcho Island, Gurrumul uses his extraordinary voice to convey his identity, spirit and connection with the land, its elements and his ancestors. Largely self-taught, Gurrumul plays drums, keyboards, guitar and didgeridoo. His debut solo album, Gurrumul, released in 2008, led to international acclaim and sold half a million copies worldwide.

Since his emergence on the global stage, he has been invited to perform for Queen Elizabeth II, US President Barack Obama, and Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark. This year, he was one of only two Australian performers at the Diamond Jubilee Concert, appearing before a crowd in front of Buckingham Palace and a worldwide television audience estimated at more than 100 million.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu


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Media are invited to a photo opportunity with all five honorary degree recipients in the University's iconic sandstone Quadrangle. Please contact Katie Szittner for details 02 9351 2261, 0478 316 809 or katie.szittner@sydney.edu.au