At the end of another year, take a look back at some of the well-known Australians who died in 2021.
From a fashion designer to a Holocaust survivor, these Aussies left their mark in their fields — and on us.
Dieter Brummer, talented and ‘complex’ TV actor
Dieter Brummer, the Logie-winning actor and a 1990s icon of Australian TV soap Home and Away, was found dead in his Sydney home in July, aged 45.
Brummer, who starred as “heart-throb” Shane Parrish in the long-running TV series, also appeared in Underbelly: The Golden Mile as policeman Trevor Haken, as well as in Neighbours and Winners & Losers.
“Dieter was a much-loved Home and Away cast member and celebrated by Australian and international audiences for his award-winning portrayal of Shane Parrish,” the production team of Home and Away and Channel 7 said.
In an emotional tribute, Brummer’s mother Dawn said she had launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for mental health support organisation BeyondBlue.
“We lost our handsome, talented, funny, complex and beloved Dieter on Saturday morning. He has left a massive hole in our lives and our world will never be the same,” she wrote.
“Whilst he has now found peace, we know there are others who are suffering and need help … Together, we can raise funds to make a real difference to the lives of those affected by depression and prevent other families feeling as we do now.”
David Gulpilil, a fine Yolngu actor
The Yolngu actor, dancer and painter from Arnhem Land, who died in November aged 68, was a towering figure in Australian cinema, bringing a new dimension to Indigenous roles.
His film career — which started with Walkabout in 1971, when he barely spoke English — spanned decades, though when he wasn’t working he maintained his connection with his family around the remote community of Ramingining, more than 500 kilometres from Darwin.
Australian director Phillip Noyce, who he worked with on Rabbit Proof Fence, described him as “arguably the most experienced and accomplished film actor in Australia”.
Witiyana Marika, a Yolngu elder and Gulpilil’s son by lore, remembered him as a man who shone on the screen through his connection to culture.
“He was a proud, black man,” Mr Marika said.
“A proud black boy, becoming famous … [and] a fine Yolngu man, who came out from the bush.
“[That] made him very, very powerful, and the people accepted him and that whole world saw it.”
Michael Gudinski, promoter and ‘force of nature’
“The heart of Australian music has been ripped out,” declared Cold Chisel singer Jimmy Barnes when he heard of the death of Michael Gudinski in March.
Gudinski, who was 68, founded Mushroom Records in 1972 when he was just 20 and later added Frontier Touring, in the process shaping Australia’s live and recorded music industry.
His instinctive approach led to Kylie Minogue’s first hits and Skyhooks’ record-breaking debut album. Archie Roach singled out Gudinski’s support for First Nations musicians. Bruce Springsteen said “I’ve toured the world for the last 50 years and never met a better promoter”.
Gudinski, who was born in Melbourne’s Caulfield to Jewish parents who had immigrated from Russia, knew his limitations. “I’ve always worked on gut feel because I’ve never played music,” he told the ABC’s Jon Faine in 2019. “Barnesy once told me ‘Don’t even sing in the shower’.”
But Barnes knew exactly where Gudinski’s strengths lay: “His boundless enthusiasm breathed life into our music scene,” he said. “The music business turned, grew and moved forward in Australia because of Michael. He was a force of nature, a giant of a man.”
Carla Zampatti, trailblazing fashion designer
A “champion of Australian women”, “true trailblazer” and “pioneer as an entrepreneur”, fashion designer Carla Zampatti died in May, aged 78, days after falling at an outdoor opera event in Sydney.
Zampatti was born in Italy and settled in Western Australia in 1950 before moving to Sydney in her 20s. She produced her first small fashion collection in 1965 and released her first national collection in 1970.
Her elegant designs were lauded for being feminine, timeless and appealing to women of all generations. “The most extraordinary thing about Carla was she was still dressing the 17-year-old for her school formal, whilst also dressing the mother of the bride,” Vogue Australia editor-in-chief Edwina McCann said.
In 1987 Zampatti was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her services to the fashion industry and in 2009 was elevated as a Companion of the Order in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
“She loved a hug, called everyone darling and would always hold your hand when speaking to her,” Zampatti’s daughter Bianca Spender said at her funeral.
Bert Newton, the ‘ultimate entertainer’
Gold Logie-winning entertainer and television star Bert Newton died in October, aged 83, after a glittering media career spanning decades.
Newton, who once aspired to be a tram driver, became Australia’s youngest professional broadcaster when he was 15, before landing his first television gig in 1957.
Alongside Graham Kennedy and US-born Don Lane, he was part of a trio known as the kings of Australian television. His TV credits include In Melbourne Tonight, The Graham Kennedy Show, The Don Lane Show, Good Morning Australia, New Faces, Bert’s Family Feud and 20 to 1.
“Bert Newton was the ultimate entertainer. Australian TV wouldn’t be what it is without Bert,” comedian Adam Hills tweeted in October.
Newton was farewelled in a Victorian state funeral, where he was remembered as a generous mentor to young actors and a loving husband, father and grandfather.
“My beautiful dad will be with us forever, in our hearts and memories, but life will never be the same without him,” his daughter Lauren said.
Lorrae Desmond, star of Country Practice
From star of her own show, to entertaining troops during the Vietnam War and her beloved role in A Country Practice, Lorrae Desmond was known to generations of Australians. She died in May aged 91.
The depth of her entertainment talent may surprise those who only knew her as the cop’s wife Shirley Gilroy on A Country Practice.
Throughout her 55-year career in Australia and also the UK, Desmond worked as a singer and recording artist, radio and TV presenter, actress and playwright. In 1960 she had a hit song with Get Your Daddie’s Car Tonight. She was the first woman on TV in Australia to win the equivalent of a Gold Logie (in 1961) and followed it up with Logies for her work as Shirley Gilroy.
Desmond acted in a returning role on Home and Away later in her life, received an Order of Australia medal this year and was last seen on stage at the 2018 Logie Awards.
Commemorating her passing, actor Shane Withington who played Brendan Jones on A Country Practice, wrote: “Vale Lorrae Desmond. Enormous heart. Enormous talent. We all loved her.”
Kate Jennings, feminist and author
Poet and activist Kate Jennings grew up on a farm near Griffith but lived most of her life in New York City where she died this year aged 72.
Jennings came to national attention in 1970, soon after graduating with an Honours degree from the University of Sydney, when she gave an incendiary speech at a protest against the Vietnam War which leveraged outrage against military conscription to argue for women’s rights.
“Women are conscripted every day into their personalised slave kitchens,” she said. “Can you, with your mind filled with the moratorium, spare a thought for their freedom, identity, minds and emotions?”
The speech is credited with marking the start of second wave feminism in Australia. Jennings went on to found Australia’s first domestic violence refuge for women. But in 1979 she moved to the US where she worked as an essayist and speechwriter, never returning to live in Australia.
But Jennings was particularly noted for her novels, short stories and poetry, including her 2003 novel Moral Hazard which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
In commemorating Jennings, novelist David Malouf said: “She was one of our essential writers. She’s someone we’ll just never come to the end of missing.”
Eddie Jaku, holocaust survivor
The self-described “the happiest man on Earth”, Eddie Jaku dedicated his life to teaching others about the dangers of intolerance.
At the age of 101, he was still working as a volunteer at the Sydney Jewish Museum when he died in October.
German-born Jaku was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp by the Nazis and later to Auschwitz, where his parents were murdered in the gas chambers.
He wrote in his autobiography, that he released aged 100, that he decided that the best revenge would be to live and enjoy life.
Merle Mitchel, community campaigner
Merle Mitchel, who died in September, will be remembered as a “sharp, determined, tenacious, compassionate advocate”, according to Cassandra Goldie, the president of the Australian Council of Social Services — an organisation Mitchel herself lead in the 1980s and 90s.
Her considerable CV shows the depth of her community involvement: work with the Refugee Council, participation with Commonwealth advisory bodies on things like social security and child support, volunteer work as part of the Foodbank Victoria Steering Committee — and much, much more.
In her later years, she was one of many who shared her experience with the aged care royal commission.
“The sense of loss that comes from moving to aged care is really underestimated,” she said.
“I had lost my independence, control over my life and I felt I had lost my connection with my much-loved community.”
Lilliane Brady, NSW’s longest-serving female mayor
Lilliane Brady, who died in February aged 90, was mayor of Cobar for almost 23 years, and a local councillor for almost 38 years.
Brady moved to the outback mining town from Sydney with her GP husband Allan “Doc” Brady in the late 1960s, intending to let their children experience country life for a year. But they liked the town so much they stayed.
She was known for not suffering fools and famously once smashed her mayoral gavel down so hard on a council desk that the top came loose and was flung across the room.
Last year Ms Brady was given a Minister For Local Government Award for her commitment to increasing participation of women in local government.
A year earlier she helped organise Australia’s first Grey Mardi Gras in Cobar, to celebrate seniors and bring tourism to the town.
Ms Brady had told ABC’s Back Roads shortly before her death that she was planning to retire in September.
Alex Gallacher, Labor senator
Senator and Labor stalwart Alex Gallacher died in August, aged 67, after an almost two-year battle with lung cancer.
Before his time in Parliament, Gallacher worked as a truck driver and labourer, joining the Transport Workers’ Union in 1988, and becoming secretary and treasurer of its South Australia and Northern Territory branch in 1996.
He was first elected to the Senate in 2010 and was re-elected in 2016 and 2019, representing South Australia.
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese paid tribute to a “conscientious, no nonsense man who knew what he stood for”.
“He was born in Scotland on the first day of 1954 and came to Australia 12 years later with his parents, like so many migrants, to seek a better life,” he said.
“Alex dedicated his life to the interests of working people, both as a trade unionist and as a senator.”
During his time in politics, Senator Gallacher served as chair on several parliamentary committees, including on foreign affairs, trade and economics. He was deputy chair of the Joint Select Committee on Road Safety.