Almost 830 people have received Australia Day honours this year, joining 40,000 recipients in the award’s 40-year history.
Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove said the awards were an “acknowledgement of exceptional Australians”.
“They are the source of courage, support and inspiration, and we are a stronger, safer and more caring nation because of them,” he said.
In the leading awards category of Companion of the Order of Australia, “for eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or to humanity at large”, three women and seven men have been recognised.
They included three of the nation’s leading philanthropists, two top scientists, a paediatric neurologist, a former premier, an international banker, an economist and a senior judge.
Laver makes more history
Tennis great Rod Laver has become only the third Australian to get top honours for achievement in sport alone.
Laver joined the ranks of just two other sporting legends, Herb Elliot and Sir Donald Bradman, to be awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for his service to tennis as a player, representative and mentor.
“It’s an honour to be associated with Herb Elliot and Don Bradman. It’s hard to put it all together because it’s just a huge honour,” he said.
The 77-year-old told the ABC the honour summed up his lifetime of achievements in a sport he loved.
“It means my whole career when I look at the AC award. It means a tremendous amount.”
Laver, affectionately known as the “Rockhampton Rocket”, is still the only player to twice win the calendar-year Grand Slam and is considered one of the greatest tennis players in history.
“I was able to win four Wimbledons and the Grand Slams in the one year and I look back and I feel that’s the crowning part of my career.”
He said the sport had given him so much and he was grateful for all the opportunities as a young Australian player in the 1950s.
“Tennis was kind to me,” he said.
“I was 17 and I got a chance to travel the world and play in the junior tournaments and Open events.
“You work all your life through the game, but I wouldn’t call it work, it’s also just a really great feeling you get when you walk out there.”
‘I’m pretty speechless’
Australian performer Tina Arena shed a tear when she found out she had been made a Member of the Order of Australia for service to the music industry as a singer, songwriter, recording artist and supporter of charities.
The seven-time ARIA Award winner said the honour had a special meaning because it came from outside the music industry.
“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame was pretty phenomenal. But this Order of Australia is another thing. It’s another level. That one’s got me pretty speechless.”
Arena, who has sold over 10 million records worldwide, told the ABC she got a lot of support after using her 2015 ARIA Hall of Fame acceptance speech to highlight discrimination faced by older women in the music industry.
“It was important for me to say those things and to talk about the struggles that women do go through, particularly in my industry when you get to 40 and all of a sudden people are not really interested,” she said.
“I don’t want somebody to say to me that I’m not viable when I feel I’ve got something to say. When women have got something to say. So I stood up and I spoke about it.”
The 48-year-old, who lives in Paris and has been adopted by the French as one of their own, said she wanted her young son to understand that “Australia is an incredibly beautiful melting pot and that the indigenous community was here before us”.
“I want him to know that the only way we can ever move forward is by being tolerant and accepting of one another,” she said.