FORMER copy girl, journalist, famous lisper, editor-extraordinaire. The woman who, as editor of the Australian Women's Weekly, liked to catch the bus to work because bus trips were an excellent time to read and touch up nail polish.
The lady - because she is a real lady - whose brains and strength of character saw her become the first female appointment to the News Ltd board (she said she ''often felt lonely''). The single working mother who rejoiced when retail trading hours were extended in 1984 because it had been such a terrible rush, cramming all that kid-ferrying and shopping into short Saturday mornings.
She is both one of us and the best of us. Members of the media are not often accused of good works, but Ita Buttrose, named Australian of the Year for 2013, has used her enormous profile to commit worthy acts far nobler than her profession.
She is the national president of Alzheimer's Australia and the vice-president emeritus of Arthritis Australia. She raises awareness of breast cancer, HIV/AIDS and prostate cancer,
The founding editor of Cleo, which Australian girls still love, she is a true role model to women and girls, in a world where that word is devalued.
We've had only 10 and a quarter female Australians of the Year since the award began in 1960 (the quarter represents Judith Durham, one of the four members of the Seekers, the group that won the award in 1967.)
There hadn't been a female winner since Fiona Wood in 2005, and it was time, some people have been saying.
Buttrose would probably take that. She has always worn her womanhood lightly, despite suffering the ''open antagonism'' of many male editors in her long career. She took on board the early advice of Kerry Packer: ''Love your enemies. It drives them mad''.
In accepting the award, Buttrose said, her voice breaking: ''This is one of the proudest moments of my life and I'm truly honoured''.
She said she would use her new title to reverse what she perceived as "ageist attitudes in our society". ''Just because you're old, doesn't mean you're not a person.''
She would also urge people to adopt preventative health strategies in a bid to combat chronic diseases such as dementia, arthritis, macular degeneration and diabetes.
Buttrose was joined on the podium by Emeritus Professor Ian Maddocks, a renowned palliative care specialist whose work in helping the dying compliments his work in preventing senseless deaths by conflict - he is a leader in national and international associations of physicians for the prevention of war.
The Young Australian of the Year is 25-year-old mentor Akram Azimi, an Afghan refugee kid who was ostracised when he started school in Western Australia 13 years ago. He became his school's head boy and now he's triple-majoring in law, science and arts at university. So he belongs now, but he hasn't forgotten what it felt like not to belong, which is why he also mentors marginalised young indigenous people in remote communities.
The Local Hero award went to indigenous community leader Shane Phillips, born and raised in Redfern. He has done remarkable work in juvenile justice and Aboriginal deaths in custody, and has worked to improve relations with police and decrease robberies by indigenous youths.
Buttrose said she would further the fight against dementia and shine a spotlight on the importance of medical research.
"We can beat dementia, we can remove the stigma and sense of shame that comes with a diagnosis … if we increase community understanding of dementia, provide better quality care and give hope to the future by research. We can beat dementia if we confront it in the same way we have tackled HIV/Aids, cancer and heart disease - as a community.''
She also called on bosses to provide friendly and flexible workplaces so young men and women can have children without having to sacrifice their careers.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard tweeted her praise: "Smart, classy and courageous. A great Australian".
Journalist and television presenter Lisa Wilkinson also congratulated Buttrose: "Great woman, big heart, incredible career."
Earlier, at an official lunch held in the Gandell Hall at the National Gallery of Australia, within cooee of the Aboriginal burial poles and the Sidney Nolans and the Arthur Streetons, outgoing Australian of the Year Geoffrey Rush paid moving tribute to the ''pluck and progressive thinking, the hardiness and vision'' of Australians.
He talked of the ''continuing opal-coloured definition of what we are and who we will be in 2013''. Opals diffract light. We have an abundance of that in this country.