Opinion | Let's salute all of the true heroes of 2017

A century ago, gaslight allowed people to gather in the streets at night and enabled the first formally recognised New Year's Eve in Australia in 1896.

It quickly became a ritual.

As documented by Hannah Forsyth, journalists have delighted in documenting gleeful, disreputable behaviour of the last night of the year, but here's my list of some icons of 2017, each a reminder of the change that a determined individual can make.

1.     The shark-bearing woman - Melissa Hatheier was lapping in a Cronulla pool when she spied a shark and did what any sensible person would do: picked it up and threw it into the ocean. She told reporters: "If it had big teeth I wouldn't have done it". This will take top place in the lexicon of Things to Tell Foreigners about Australia, along with Mick Fanning punching a shark on the nose in South Africa and the Gold Coast blokes who stopped a robbery with a broken thong on their way back from a "Stubbies 'n' Singlets party". Heroes.

2.     Actor and author Magda Szubanski - Magda brought poetry to the marriage equality saga, a vulnerable and potent eloquence that ended with: "I bloody love you Australia". The cost for many of this debate was enormous, but the role of the woman who has charmed and amused us for decades, as a pig farmer and spotty netball player, was one of a galvanising leader. Afterwards she called on supporters to "find ways to reach out our hands across the divide that's been created by this unfortunate survey, and go forward with a deep and good faith understanding of one another".

3.    The long banana - Is perfectly formed, delicious, and has been carefully grown for nine months, but is discarded because it is a tiny bit longer than the strict supermarket specifications, costing some farmers as much as 40 per cent of their produce. Craig Reucassel's multi-platform War on Waste was superb, watched by millions and stirred a national conversation about changing habits. The demand for reusable coffee cups soared, and Coles and Woolworths promised to phase out single-use plastic bags by July 2018. This was for stores where the government has not banned these bags – the only remaining state is NSW – can we make this happen now?

4.     Investigative journalists - We can all thank scammer Jaime Phillips, who tried to get the Washington Post to run a false story, only to have them challenge her inconsistencies, thereby underlining how rigorous and scrupulous reporters have to be in breaking the kinds of stories that have roiled 2017 and toppled the likes of Harvey Weinstein. Another mention must go to Joanne McCarthy, whose relentless reporting for the Newcastle Herald about sex abuse of children in the church promoted a royal commission. The fruits of this reporting were seen in the stunning, wide-ranging report handed down by Justice Peter McClellan a few weeks ago. Based on five years of intense, rigorous research and harrowing interviews, this is a massive achievement. And none of these reports could ever be printed without the courage of the victims. Which is why we also need to honour all those women who told their stories this year, of sexual assault, domestic violence, rape, harassment, bullying.

It was a year of actresses raging. Of beauties, usually snapped in ballgowns, looking into cameras, jaws taut with fury. No longer just being looked at, but speaking. Others followed.

As Bob Katter so silkily uttered this year: "let there be a thousand blossoms bloom".

Julia Baird is the host of the Drum on ABCTV.