Australia Day honours: David Walsh and Elizabeth Broderick among recipients

Philanthropists Maria Myers and Susan Alberti, scientists Chennupati Jagadish and Mary O’Kane, and paediatrician Robert Ouvrier receive highest honour

Eminent women in engineering, philanthropy and sport were among those to be recognised with the highest accolade in the 2016 Australia Day honours. However, women comprised just 183 of the 604 Australians to receive honours.

Among those to receive admission as companions of the Order of Australia (AC), were the philanthropist Maria Myers, the vice president of the Western Bulldogs AFL club, Susan Alberti, and the engineer and scientist Mary O’Kane.

O’Kane is the New South Wales chief scientist and engineer, and has served on numerous scientific boards, including that of the CSIRO. She was recognised for her contributions to national policy development and governance in science and engineering, her promotion of technology research and future energy supply, and for being a role model to young scientists.

“It’s very humbling, as I wouldn’t win an award like this if it weren’t for the great scientists and engineers I work with,” O’Kane told Guardian Australia.

“I’m very lucky, I’ve had a very diverse career that has at times been hectic and challenging ... I’ll continue to talk a lot about the importance of young people doing science and what we should do to support our teachers. I love the way kids’ eyes light up about science, and we need to make them feel confident about maths from early on.”

The paediatrician Robert Ouvrier, the former South Australian premier Mike Rann, the tennis legend Rod Laver, and the scientist Chennupati Jagadish were also among those admitted as companions.

Carol Schwartz of the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia, who has written a guide to gender representation in the Australia Day honours, said of this year’s gender split: “We are consistently seeing the discrepancy in numbers between male awardees and female awardees of Australian honours.

“Perhaps we should ensure that equal numbers of Australian men and women are awarded honours by using this simple formula – if there are 200 women to be awarded honours, then there will be 200 men also awarded honours.

“Once we normalise equality in the number of awardees I’m sure the system will be self-correcting.”

Other high-profile people recognised include the eccentric founder of Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art, David Walsh, and the outgoing sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, both admitted as officers of the Order of Australia (AO).

As well as being an influential figure in the arts world, Walsh is a significant supporter of charities and sporting and education organisations. Having acquired his fortune through gambling, he launched the museum in 2007 and it has since been credited with significantly boosting tourism to Tasmania.

Author Jackie French, the journalist Lisa Wilkinson and the Guardian Australia columnist Richard Ackland were all honoured by being made members of the Order of Australia (AM), while the writer Geraldine Brooks was made an officer (AO).

As well as her work as an author and journalist, Brooks has long been an advocate for improved Indigenous literacy, pushing for libraries in remote communities and serving as an ambassador for the Indigenous Literary Foundation. In 2006 she won a Pulitzer prize for her novel March, which tells the story of the absent father from Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women.

David Walsh, the founder of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art.
David Walsh, the founder of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art. Photograph: The Wheeler Centre

Wilkinson has dedicated her career to print and broadcast media as a journalist and presenter, and for almost nine years has co-hosted the Nine Network’s morning news program Today. She is a former international editor-in-chief of the women’s magazine Cleo, and has served as ambassador for a range of youth and women’s health groups, including the National Breast Cancer Foundation and the Butterfly Foundation.

Wilkinson, who is also editor-at-large of the Huffington Post, said she was “absolutely in shock” after being notified that she would receive the honour.

Reflecting on her career, she said one of her proudest achievements was providing support and mentorship to other women in the industry.

“Mentoring young women is something that has given me my greatest joy,” she said.

“The idea that there may be competition between women just never made sense to me. Particularly when I was running magazines, I always employed people who knew more than I did, and that was an opportunity for me to learn as well. I also taught them all that I knew, and it was wonderful to see women apply that to their own journey into journalism.”

She also paid tribute to her father, who died 25 years ago but whose charity work had inspired her own.

In healthcare, the Kuwarra elder Geraldine Hogarth was recognised for her work among remote communities in Western Australia with an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) along with the Yirrganydji elder George Skeene for his contribution to his community in and around Cairns. Hogarth has worked in Aboriginal health since 1983, and was instrumental in rolling out a program in the WA town of Leonora to improve the ear health of Aboriginal children.

Artists and musicians were also strongly represented, including the conductor Andrew Briger (AO), while the eclectic performer and composer Joseph Tawadros, the veteran singer-songwriter Tina Arena and the Goanna singer and guitarist Shane Howard were all made AM.

Arena has been singing and performing since she was a teenager, signed her first record deal when she was 17, and is a multilingual soprano who sings in Spanish, Italian, French and English. She was recognised for her significant service to the music industry, and for her support to not-for-profit charities, including the support group for wounded soldiers, Soldier On.

Tawadros is considered a world-leading oud player and composer, and has won three Aria awards.

As well as Laver and Alberti, other sporting greats honoured included the Australian sports administrator and chief executive of Football Federation Australia, David Gallop (AM) and the recently retired tennis champion Lleyton Hewitt (AM).

A former world No1, Hewitt played his last match last week at the Australian Open, losing to David Ferrer in the second round. Among his career highlights are 30 singles tour title wins.

Cheesemaker Ferial Zekiman has been admitted as a member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her contribution to agribusiness. Cypriot-Australian Zekiman’s Gippsland-based artisanal cheese factory relies on only one herd of cows and is consistently recognised in domestic and international competitions.

Zekiman began making wildly popular halloumi before setting up a small factory and expanding into other varieties in the early 1990s. The initial effort, she says, was born from hardship: “You go through a divorce, your back’s to the wall, so what do you do? You go to work.”

Geraldine Brooks
Author and journalist Geraldine Brooks is recognised for her writing. Photograph: The Wheeler Centre

Australia Day 2015 included the controversial reintroduction of knighthoods by the then prime minister, Tony Abbott. Australia’s two knights – the governor general, Peter Cosgrove, and Air Marshall Angus Houston – congratulated the recipients of this year’s honours.

“To all recipients, I offer my warmest congratulations and express my sincere gratitude for your contribution to our nation,” Cosgrove said.

“We are fortunate as a community to have so many outstanding people willing to dedicate themselves to the betterment of our nation and it is only fitting that they have today been recognised through the Australian honours system.”

Houston said the Australia Day honours congratulated “the quiet achievers in our midst”.

“They are people who serve the community but do not seek accolades,” he said. “All Australians are encouraged to nominate fellow citizens who have made outstanding contributions to the wellbeing of others.”

A total of 604 Australians were named in the general division: 421 men and 183 women. Of the men and women who were nominated, 75% were honoured.

In the military division, 209 awards were given, including several for participation in Operation Okra, Australia’s military response to Islamic State.

Among them, the distinguished service cross was awarded to Major General Craig Orme, now retired, for his time as commander of Australian forces in the Middle East.

Air Commodore Steven Peter Roberton received the same award for leading Australia’s contribution to the coalition air campaign against Isis.


Melissa Davey and Adam Brereton

The GuardianTramp

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