More than two decades after a life-changing meeting with Dr Jane Goodall, Simon Duffy is among the 1127 people on the Australia Day Honours List for outstanding service to their country.
Duffy, now the Director of Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, was a 21-year-old aspiring conservationist when he met with the trailblazing conservationist in Sydney in 1997.
“I got to have dinner with her and it was amazing,” Mr Duffy, 45, tells The New Daily.
“She’s an amazing storyteller, telling stories of her life. Afterwards, I got this postcard from her saying, ‘Simon, I see your life and career helping wildlife and I’d love you stay on board with the Jane Goodall Institute.’
“And that just inspired me.”
Mr Duffy, who is also the Chair on the Board of the Jane Goodall Institute Australia, was awarded the Order of Australia on January 26 for his service to “wildlife conservation, and to the rehabilitation of primates in Africa.”
He joins a long list of household names and unsung heroes recognised for their special work in their communities, the nation and the world.
“These people are worthy of our respect, admiration and thanks,” said Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove. “Today’s recipients come from right across the country and from all walks of life.”
This year’s list is the largest since the honours system in 1975.
Although women are in the minority with 422 recipients (37 per cent), the National Australia Day Council said that that is the highest number and percentage in its history.
The Honours List includes the familiar names of Olivia Newton-John, Kylie Minogue, Magda Szubanski, Ian Thorpe, AFL great Kevin Sheedy, songwriter, producer and founding Sherbet member Garth Porter, Melbourne ABC Radio presenter Jon Faine, broadcaster and former AFL commentator Dennis Cometti and the members of Human Nature.
“I am delighted and honoured to receive this very distinguished and special award,” said Newton-John, 70, who is battling cancer and received a Companion of the Order (AC) for her support for medical research, and as a songwriter and performer.
“To be presented with this esteemed recognition by the Governor-General fills me with gratitude and pride to be Australian.”
Said Thorpe, 36, who received a Member of the Order (AM) for his service to youth and Indigenous education, and to swimming: “As always I’m a proud Australian but especially today.”
Szubanski, 57, said she was “very humbled” to be awarded for her work in the performing arts and as a campaigner for marriage equality, and used the moment to call for a change to the Australia Day date.
“I think we need to find a day that has different symbolism that everyone can feel a part of,” she said.
“I think it’s about shifting consciousness to really treasure First Nation people. As we did with marriage equality, we can proceed in a civilised way to finding a day that is actually more expressive of who we all really are.”
Among the everyday heroes honoured are medical researchers, scientists, refugee advocates, military personnel and those working in aged care.
“The list reflects the diverse range of service by Australians,” said Chairman of the Council of the Order of Australia, Shane Stone.
Victoria’s inspirational campaigner Chrissie Foster was awarded an AM. She and her late husband Anthony became advocates for sexual abuse survivors after their two daughters were abused by notorious paedophile priest Kevin O’Donnell.
Sydney’s Janene Cootes received an AM for her championing the rights of people with a disability.
Lynette Chester, of Perth, was awarded for her service to people living with dementia and their families.
For Simon Duffy, who hails from Wagga Wagga, NSW, the award is the culmination of a long journey that began with a school work experience stint at the Dubbo Zoo.
“I came home and said, ‘Right, I’m going to have a career as a zookeeper,’” he says, laughing. “Dad said, ‘You can do that once you finish university.’”
After a degree in environmental education, Mr Duffy landed a job at Taronga as an education project officer and would go on to help lead its transformation to a zoo-based conservation organisation.
“I’m proud of the award, and also I feel really fortunate about the amazing people and animals I’ve worked with over my career,” he tells The New Daily.
“And Dad’s very excited.”