A diverse group of Australians from a wide range of fields have been recognised in this year’s Queen’s Birthday honours list.
Last year, just one woman was awarded the highest honour, the Companion of the Order of Australia. This year, there are six.
It is the first time women have outnumbered men at any level in an Australian honours list.
Rose Amal (AC)
Rose Amal said she never imagined she would be honoured this way. (ABC News: Philippa McDonald)
Professor Rose Amal is receiving an AC for eminent service to chemical engineering, particularly in the field of particle technology. The researcher and academic is also being honoured for her contribution to women in science as a role model and mentor.
Born in Medan in East Sumatra, Indonesia, Professor Amal arrived in Sydney at the age of 17 to study at the University of New South Wales.
“I am very, very honoured by this,” she said.
“I’ve got to say, when I came here 35 years ago as a student I never thought — I never dreamt — that I would be recognised by Australia. I think it’s the land of opportunity for many of us.
“It’s an honour not just for me but for all chemical engineers, recognition that we do make a difference, we make the world a better place to live in.”
Professor Amal is currently researching how to use renewable energy like the sun to generate hydrogen, in her words “using the sun to split water to produce hydrogen”.
She is also looking to recycle greenhouse gases “converting carbon dioxide back to hydrocarbon and methanol for a fuel source”.
Her faculty has “24 per cent female engineers in the pipeline, so I’m hoping that in five to 10 years we will have a more equal composition of male and female”.
She is already included in Engineers Australia’s list of Australia’s Top 100 Most Influential Engineers and was the first female engineer elected to the Australian Academy of Science.
But Professor Amal said this Queen’s Birthday honour was different. “This is different, this is by the nation, it’s by my country.”
Dawn Fraser (AC)
Australian Olympic swimming legend Dawn Fraser has been awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia for her service to sport and the community.
Her career achievements include eight Olympic and eight Commonwealth medals, and making history as the first woman to swim 100 metres in less than a minute.
It has been 20 years since Fraser was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for her community service, but she said this latest award was particularly exciting.
“It’s the highest award that I’ve ever achieved, and I put it down to my first gold medal when my mum and dad saw me swim for the first time in Melbourne,” she said.
“I was just so very excited to win that … and now I’ve achieved the highest award and I think it’s just absolutely fantastic. I’ve got it on a level plateau.”
Professor Geoffrey Burnstock (AC)
Professor Geoffrey Burnstock’s attempts to enter medical school in England were thwarted because of the class divide.
After coming to Australia and establishing a career as a neurobiologist, his pioneering theory was derided for over two decades.
Today, thousands of people are working on his hypothesis known as “purinergic signalling”.
He and his wife recently returned to Australia after spending 42 years in London.
“Not only has she supported me during the 61 years of our marriage but she’s tolerated my obsession with science,” Mr Burnstock said of his wife.
Catherine Branson (AC)
Catherine Branson is a former Australian judge and public servant.
She served as the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission from 2008 to 2012.
She said being awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia for service to humanity came as a great surprise.
“I was astonished, to be frank, when I received the advice, but then enormously honoured,” Ms Branson said.
“I couldn’t but reflect on the wonderful people who have received it before and feel very honoured to be placed in that category.”
Professor San Thang (AC)
As a refugee from Vietnam, Professor San Thang never imagined one day he would be made a Companion of the Order of Australia in his new home.
Professor Thang has been recognised for his contribution to science and higher education.
As a leading expert in the field of radical chemistry and polymer chemistry, he helped invent a method called the RAFT process, which is used to make polymers.
“That process allows us to make anything you want,” he said.
In accepting the award, Professor Thang paid tribute to his loved ones.
“As a refugee … my family back at home played a major part,” he said.
Erica Smyth (AC)
West Australian geologist Erica Smyth is used to being asked what it is like to be a woman in a man’s world.
But she said the mining sector has changed dramatically from when she first began working in the Pilbara in the 1970s.
“The industry has just grown, there’s a much greater pool of women and I think it’s fantastic,” she said.
“There’s real opportunities there now for women in whatever they choose to do.”
Kurt Fearnley (AO)
Australia’s Kurt Fearnley celebrates his T54 marathon gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. (REUTERS: David Gray)
Three-time Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley pulled on the green and gold for the final time at this year’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
He said he was humbled by his award.
“Honestly it just makes me reflect and it kind of gives you a bit of a kick along to what’s next as well,” Fearnley said.
“The idea that I did this thing that I love for the last couple of decades, that I was able to bring a big bunch of community with me, that I’ve been able to have conversations that seem to be pretty meaningful conversations for our community.
“I just feel grateful, surprised and humble.”
Jenny Kee (AO)
Jenny Kee is receiving an AO for distinguished service to the Australian fashion industry as a textile artist and clothing designer and through contributions to the environment and conservation.
Ms Kee’s works are featured in Parliament House, and her costumes in the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. She was the founder of the Flamingo Park boutique and continues to be an environmental activist, although admits to being “quieter these days”.
“I think it’s an amazing honour. I guess it’s a recognition of all the things I’ve done in my life, starting an Australian national fashion by putting koalas on knits, using pure wool, designing everything that I love from this beautiful landscape that we live in,” she said.
Taking in the view from her Blue Mountains home, she said she continued to draw daily inspiration from the landscape.
“I love Australia and I love all the aspects of the nature of this country and I think we should really, really be trying to preserve it now.”
This Queen’s Birthday honour is not Ms Kee’s first brush with royalty though — back in 1981, she designed a jumper for Princess Diana, featuring a koala.
“That was just such a wonderful thing because there she was seven months pregnant with Prince William and I think there was something very endearing about this beautiful animal sitting on her pregnant tummy, so I feel very proud of that too.
“I’ve had a lot of great things happen to me in my life, a lot of highs and a lot of lows … my mum would be so proud of me.”
Julie Bates (AO)
Julie Bates has spent the past 35 years “championing the rights of sex workers — human rights, legal rights and industrial rights”.
Now she is being awarded an AO for distinguished service to community health and harm reduction.
“It’s a grand honour and I’m moved by it,” she said.
“Every day in the press sex workers are being demeaned and damned, here we are being honoured.”
Ms Bates describes herself as sex worker rights activist. She has a business “fighting it out in council to get approval for brothels and sex services premises”.
“I’m proud that I was part of the movement that brought in decriminalisation of sex workers in New South Wales,” Ms Bates said.
She helped set up Australia’s first Prostitute’s Collective and said “now it’s part of a huge global movement fighting for rights and caring for the most marginalised and vulnerable”.
Ms Bates played a major role in harm reduction during the HIV/AIDs crisis and was involved in establishing the NSW Users and AIDS Association (NUAA).
“There was an urgency, if we hadn’t got onto the case we would be telling a very different story in the response to HIV in Australia. There is no documented case of a HIV transmission from a sex worker to a client,” she said.
Ms Bates recounted how in the early 1980s she convinced Sydney’s biggest brothel to make condoms compulsory.
“I said, ‘You will tell the world that any man who comes through the door here will use a condom, it’s a safe sex house and there will be no negotiation entered into’,” she said.
“I’m hoping that by receiving this award I can shine a light that sex workers are just ordinary folks doing extraordinary work, looking out for the interests of people who need love, or need attention in some way who aren’t ordinarily getting it.
“I hope this normalises who we are and what we do in some capacity.”
Christine Milne (AO)
Christine Milne was the first woman to lead a political party in Tasmania. (ABC News: Felicity Ogilve)
Former Australian Greens leader Christine Milne has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the Australian and Tasmanian parliaments and through domestic and global contributions to the protection and preservation of the natural environment.
She was the first woman to lead a political party in Tasmania when she became the Greens leader in the 90s.
She said her greatest environmental achievement in politics was the protection of Tasmania’s forests.
Christian Thompson (AO)
A childhood on the move in a military family exposed Christian Thompson to different life experiences.
He is a Bidjara man — the clan hails from western Queensland — who credits his high school teachers for encouraging him to pursue a creative career.
“My [Indigenous] background is really central to my practice. The past informs the future and I’ve often reflected on my experiences,” he said.
Since 2000, he has held 27 exhibitions around the world — from Ballarat to Bangkok, Sydney to Seoul, Noumea to New Hampshire.
“It’s a delight for anybody to get recognition of something they love, their work,” the 40-year-old said of receiving the AO.
Curt and Mich Jenner (AM)
Mich and Curt Jenner have been studying whales off the West Australian coast. (ABC News: Charlotte Hamlyn)
Husband and wife whale researchers Curt and Mich Jenner were awarded for their service to conservation and the environment.
They have been studying whales off the West Australian coast for almost 30 years but say they are still learning.
“These animals are at the top of the food chain, so by understanding their needs you actually understand a lot more about their environment than any other animal can teach you,” Mr Jenner said.
Amran Abrahimzadeh (OAM)
South Australia’s Arman Abrahimzadeh has been awarded for his service to the community through social welfare organisations.
His mother was murdered in 2010 by his father in front of 300 people at the Adelaide Convention Centre.
The domestic violence advocate said the award gives him a platform to encourage more community conversations.
“If we want to get anywhere, if we want to improve our policies, if we want to change for the better, we need to continue to have these conversations,” he said.
Ed Gauden (OAM)
Food Bank director Ed Gauden has been given a Medal of the Order of Australia for his work feeding the hungry and his role in supporting the Tasman Peninsula community after the Port Arthur massacre.
He said the award was humbling.
“I’m mindful that we had a lot of people around us so it’s an award to myself but at the same time a lot of other people, I think,” he said.
Elsie Seriat (OAM)
Elsie Seriat began a running group on Thursday Island to promote a healthy lifestyle. (ABC News: Tahlia Roy)
Elsie Seriat has been honoured for her contribution to her community of Thursday Island, north of Queensland.
After completing the New York Marathon in 2014, she began the Deadly Running Group to promote a healthy lifestyle on the island of just 3,000 people.
She will now add a Medal of the Order of Australia to her trophy cabinet.
“I base it all back to my family and everyone back home because I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for my family and community support,” she said.