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Ian Kiernan AO OAM

1940 – 2018

Ian Kiernan (1940-2018), environmental campaigner, started work as a labourer and became a builder, making a fortune in property investments. His business empire collapsed in 1974; divorce and years of legal battles ensued.

In 1986–87 he participated in a nine-month yacht race and was sickened by the amount of rubbish he saw drifting on the fabled Sargasso Sea. In 1989 Kiernan and his friend Kim McKay AO instigated the first clean-up event around Sydney Harbour. In 1990 the idea was expanded across the country with the first Clean Up Australia Day, in which nearly 300,000 people participated; soon, there were clean-ups across the globe.

In 1993 Kiernan won the United Nations Global 500 Award for the environment; he was Australian of the Year in 1994; and in 1998 he won the United Nations Environment Program’s Sasakawa Environment Award. Kiernan defended the simplicity of his environmental activism, saying that it was better than sitting in a ‘dusty office in a tie-dyed t-shirt … thinking that the world is going to collapse tomorrow’.

Over 25 years, the organisation estimates that Australians have collected almost 290,000 tonnes of rubbish on Clean-Up days. The annual Clean Up the World, across 120 countries, demonstrates the universal appeal of Kiernan’s simple idea.

Updated 2018