Piper pays tribute to Ian Kiernan

17th October 2018

Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper said Mr Kiernan's passing would reverberate through the region, where Mr Piper said the seeds that would bloom into Clean Up Australia Day took root. 

Mr Kiernan, who lived in Kirribilli at the time of his death, was diagnosed with cancer in July.

Clean Up Australia announced his death in a statement, saying: "It is with deep sadness that Clean up Australia announces the death of our beloved founder and chairman.

"Diagnosed ... with cancer, Ian Kiernan fought valiantly, working with the team at Clean Up to put in place plans to protect his legacy, including appointment of his daughter Philippa [Pip] to our board.

"While we will deeply miss Ian's guidance and humour, it was his greatest wish that the work he inspired continues.

"He believed that Clean Up belongs to the millions of volunteers who have taken to their streets, beaches, parks, bushland and waterways to remove the rubbish that is bothering them.

"More recently this has extended to the thousands who take actions such as saying no to a plastic bag at the checkout, refusing a single use item, or who join us via our social media campaigns."

Mr Piper said Mr Kiernan had been "a great friend to many in Lake Macquarie" during his lifetime. 

"Most people wouldn't know that not only did Ian have [a strong link] to our area, but so did Clean Up Australia Day." 

After returning from an around-the-world yacht race in 1987, where he found the world's oceans befouled with rubbish, Mr Kiernan organised a community event to help combat the spread of litter in public parks and waterways around Sydney.

Mr Piper said that concept, which quickly flourished, followed a chance visit to a similar program in the Hunter. 

"He had been thinking of ways to address the problem when a visit ... coincided with a council-sponsored program, Clean Up Lake Macquarie," Mr Piper said. 

"Ian thought that something like this could be used on Sydney Harbour and set in train the first Clean Up Sydney Harbour in 1989."

Mr Kiernan founded Clean Up Australia as Clean Up Sydney Harbour, and the following year his idea went national before going international in 1993.

"His talent and gift to his community was to inspire and mobilise others and to bring together an army of concerned citizens to tackle the rubbish choking our bushland, waterways and oceans," Mr Piper said. 

"He was one man, but one amazing champion for the environment and he will be greatly missed."

Although that first event in Sydney Harbour was a great success, Mr Kiernan said in 2015 that he never could have anticipated Clean Up Australia's ultimate impact across the country, 25 years later.

"We had 40,000 volunteers turn up for Clean Up Sydney Harbour [in 1989], but it's just gone on and on from there," he said in 2015. 

"Australians have a great history of being very keen volunteers. They are used to rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck into a challenge, and that's what they've done with Clean Up Australia. It's a very simple idea, but the community has taken it up. They own it."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison paid tribute to Mr Kiernan's legacy, saying his passion for oceans and coast struck a chord with all Australians.

"The thing I think Ian did more than anything else was just tap us all on the shoulder and say 'Hey, we've got to take care of this, this is our responsibility'," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

A keen yachtsman, Kiernan sailed competitively for more than 40 years. In 1987 he represented Australia in the BOC world yacht race. He set the Australian record for a solo sail around the world, finishing in sixth place.

It was touring the seas where Kiernan became dismayed at the level of pollution - plastic bags, nappies, bottles and cans - clogging the world's waterways.

Mr Kiernan's environmental efforts were first recognised by the Australian government in 1991 when he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM). In 1994 he was named Australian of the Year, and in 1995 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).

In 1998 he was awarded the Sasakawa Environment prize by the United Nations Environment program for "mobilising tens of millions of people around the globe".

Last year his name was among other worthy Australians in the running to be emblazoned on the side of a Sydney ferry.

But in a move that stunned the public, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance made a "captain's call" and opted instead for Ferry McFerryface.

FOI documents showed Kiernan's name had received the most public votes in a naming competition that cost taxpayers $100,000. Following the news Kiernan blasted the Transport Minister.

"He's made a balls-up of it," Mr Kiernan told AAP.

Clean Up Australia says one of Mr Kiernan's final requests was that, rather then sending flowers, people support his passion and commitment by making a donation to Clean Up Australia.

Mr Kiernan is survived by his wife Judy, daughters Sally and Pip and son Jack.

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