Archie Roach, Claudia Karvan among those recognised in Australia Day 2023 Honours

From law reform, groundbreaking medical research and humanitarian work to decades of service to the performing arts and everything in between — the achievements of those recognised in this year’s Australia Day awards are endless.

While their fields vary greatly, Governor-General David Hurley said there was one thing recipients had in common — they were always humble. 

“They go above and beyond, are from all over the country, and contribute every day in every way imaginable,” he said. 

“These are the people who see us through good times and bad. They’re the first to show up and the last to leave.” 

This year 1,047 Australians are recipients of the country’s highest honours, including 30 in the military division of the Order of Australia, 217 meritorious awards and 64 awards for distinguished and conspicuous service. 

The list also includes 77 people who have been recognised for their contribution towards Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Archie Roach AC

Archie Roach in studio for the recording of triple j's Like A Version
Archie Roach was a much-loved musician and advocate for Indigenous rights and reconciliation. 

Archie Roach has been posthumously appointed as a Companion of the Order of Australia for his eminent service to the performing arts and to Indigenous rights and reconciliation.

The Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung), Bundjalung Senior Elder, songman and storyteller died at the age of 66 in July last year after a long illness.

As a songwriter and musician, Uncle Archie was the voice of generations, who brought the story of the Stolen Generations to a broad Australian audience. 

His biggest song, Took the Children Away — which told his deeply personal story of loss — became the song of healing and truth for the generations of stolen children, winning two ARIA awards and a Human Rights Achievement Award.

During his career, the Victorian released five albums, a children’s book about the Stolen Generations, a memoir and a poetry book.

Throughout his life, he also dedicated himself to supporting other First Nation artists and in 2014, he founded The Archie Roach Foundation which was set up to nurture potentially life-changing opportunities for young artists. 

“We talked about these sorts of things and I remember him saying you know, it’s not about the person that’s being awarded, it’s about the community,” fellow Indigenous singer-songwriter Gina Williams said.

“I think he would’ve been really chuffed.”

Claudia Karvan OAM

A still from Stan series Bump with a middle aged woman (Claudia Karvan) leaning against a hospital wall speaking into a phone
Medal of the Order of Australia recipient Claudia Karvan acting in the TV series Bump.(Supplied: Stan/Roadshow Rough Diamond)

Claudia Karvan began her celebrated acting career as an eight-year-old and starred in her first film Molly in 1983. 

She went on to star in the TV shows The Secret Life of Us and Love My way and most recently created and acted in the comedy-drama series Bump.

She has been a board member of Screen Australia since 2016.

The Sydneysider has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the film and television industry.

“We have an incredible talent pool here in Australia,” Karvan said.

“Some people go overseas and come back so our industry just gets richer and more knowledgeable.”

Phillip Noyce AO 

Australian film director Phillip Noyce.
Phillip Noyce is one of Australia’s most highly acclaimed film directors.(ABC)

Acclaimed director Phillip Noyce has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his work in film over five decades.

Growing up in the New South Wales town of Griffith, Noyce never imagined his love of movies would lead to local and then global success.

“It’s my debt to my country, not my country’s debt to me, that this award makes me think of,” he said.

Since picking up a camera at 18, Noyce has directed almost 20 feature films, including Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American and Clear and Present Danger, and has won numerous accolades along the way.

“I never thought I’d get paid to make movies, and yet 54 years later I haven’t done anything else,” he said.

“So I just marvel that I’ve managed to persist in this rollercoaster of a business.”

Noyce now lives in California.

David Polson AM

A close-up photograph of David Polson smiling
David Polson has been recognised for his years of service to community health through HIV education and advocacy roles.(ABC News: Harriet Tatham)

In 1984, Sydney resident David Polson became one of the first men in Australia to learn he was HIV positive.

“Doctors, in early 1983, started taking blood from gay men around Sydney,” he said.

“They tested 1,000 people and all up … 382 people tested positive to the HIV virus.”

Today, just 28 of those people are still alive, Mr Polson said.

“When I was first diagnosed, I felt like I was falling down this big, black bottomless pit,” he said. 

“I was overcome with feelings of disbelief, horror, suffocating terror, and guilt and shame.”

Despite being overwhelmed with fear for a disease that was plagued with stigma, the Sydney man said he made a firm decision that the disease would not kill him.

“This little voice said to me, ‘No, no, you are not going to die, you are not going to die from AIDS. It will not kill you’,” he said.

Over the following decades, Mr Polson participated in 28 HIV drug trials to improve the treatment of the virus and has devoted much of his life to sharing his story to students and businesses to fight discrimination.

“Discrimination is worse than the disease now because the disease is controllable,” he said.

“Stigma and discrimination aren’t controllable.

“We can talk about it, we can educate people, but it’s up to people to stop that stigma.”

Mr Polson has been recognised as a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to community health through HIV education and advocacy roles.

David Wenham AM

David Wenham speaking in an indoor setting
David Wenham has been recognised for his significant service to the performing arts as an actor and producer.(ABC News: John Gunn)

David Wenham has been recognised for his contribution as a performer and producer.

The Brisbane-based actor first came to prominence as “Diver Dan” in the television series Sea Change.

But he has appeared in countless films, including playing country singer Hank Snow in last year’s big budget hit, Elvis.

He said he was “thrilled to be recognised”.

“I gotta say that I was quietly chuffed and honoured that someone in the community had put in the work and suggested me for this particular honourific,” he said.

He said he was looking forward to meeting some of the other appointees and hearing their stories.

“I happen to have a public profile,” he said.

“Most of the people who have been honoured today don’t, but they have done extraordinary things within their own community.”

Bronwen Edwards AM

A woman wearing a black top sitting at a desk with a computer
Bronwen Edwards founded Roses in the Ocean in 2011. (ABC News: Alex Brewster)

Two years after the death of her brother, Queenslander Bronwen Edwards founded Roses in the Ocean, an organisation representing people with a personal experience of suicide.

“The organisation started because my brother Mark took his life back in 2008,” she said.

“And back then the word ‘suicide’ wasn’t talked about. And it was really clear that the people who actually experienced suicide really weren’t being heard.”

Ms Edwards said the organisation works closely with government, service providers and health networks.

“We like to say we’ve sort of had our feet really heavily planted in the dirt and in the grassroots, but our head’s in the stars, so we’ve always worked in parallel in terms of that system reform,” she said.

Ms Edwards said she was “very proud” to be appointed a Member of the Order of Australia.

“To me it’s an award that’s been given to all the people with lived experiences [with] suicide that have worked and walked alongside me and Roses in the Ocean,” she said.

Denise Smith-Ali OAM

A woman with black hair and glasses wearing a floral shirt while two other women look at a document over her shoulder
Denise Smith-Ali (centre) has been recognised for her service in preserving Indigenous language.(ABC News: Grace Burmas)

West Australian Noongar woman, Denise Smith-Ali, has been honoured for her service in preserving Indigenous language at the Noongar Boodjar Language Aboriginal Corporation.

Ms Smith-Ali works as a senior analyst to look at Noongar language pre-colonisation and create educational tools.

“The benefit of that work is if our language died, we would have some really good evidence of what the language looked like and for the younger generation that are coming forward to see,” she said.

“It’s been a hard road, but it’s been the most beautiful job I’ve ever had in my life.”

The language centre also works to revive Indigenous languages in WA prisons and the Banksia Hill juvenile detention centre.

“It’s been just wonderful working in the prisons with people identifying their own identity [and] with their kinship structure,” she said.

“To see what we have today, the team that we have today and getting on to the honours list is really enhancing the work of endangered language.”

Rauf Soulio AM 

Rauf Soulio sits in a room looking off into the distance
Judge Soulio was appointed to South Australia’s District Court in 2006. (ABC News: James Wakelin)

Judge Rauf Soulio, who was appointed to the District Court of South Australia in 2006, has been acknowledged for his service to multicultural affairs, to the judiciary, and to the community.

“I think it’s important for the judges in the community to participate in activities in the community,” he said.

“It’s often a criticism of the courts that judges live in ivory towers or they don’t know what’s going on in the community.

“I think we probably hear more of what’s going on in the community than some people may realise.

“But it’s also important to reflect the diversity of the community in all of our areas of endeavour and institutions.”

Judge Soulio, the current chair of the Australian Migrant Resource Centre and the son of an Albanian refugee, has worked for decades helping migrants and refugees settle into life in Australia.

“I’d like to acknowledge my parents who grounded our family in concepts of compassion and trying to help other people,” he said.

Fred Alale AM

A smiling man in a blue suit stands in front of a sign that says Victoria
Fred Alale co-founded Melbourne’s annual African Music and Cultural Festival.(ABC News: Tara Whitchurch)

Fred Alale has been recognised for significant service to Victoria’s African communities.

A member of Melbourne’s Nigerian community, Mr Alale moved to Victoria just over a decade ago.

He co-founded Melbourne’s annual African Music and Cultural Festival – the largest event of its kind in Australia – among other state and community initiatives and committees.

“We started to do work to improve outcomes for African-Australians, mentoring, coaching and redefining the image of African-Australians in a more positive light,” he said.

He said being appointed as a Member to the Order of Australia “feels amazing”.

“I feel so privileged to be Australian and to call Australia home,” he said.

He said he hoped being recognised for this award would help others feel “seen”.

“African-Australians, they’re excelling in all walks of life, they’re not being seen as much,” he said.

“And so this honour, it actually means a lot to me, and I would say means a lot to the community.”

Robert Manne AO

A man with white hair wearing a blue shirt holds three books in his arm
Robert Manne has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.(ABC News: Tara Whitchurch)

Melbourne writer and public intellectual Robert Manne has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to tertiary education, to political and social commentary and to the Indigenous community.

Emeritus Professor Manne has more than two dozen books under his belt.

“I’ve been writing and commenting in public since the mid 1980s and I’ve written a lot for newspapers and written a lot of books,” he said.

He said he was “really, really pleased” with the recognition. 

“I’ve had a very controversial life and so the recognition that I’ve contributed something to the country I care about deeply matters to me a lot,” he said.

Barbara and David Rugendyke OAM

An elderly man and woman
Barbara and David Rugendyke from Cobargo in NSW.(ABC News: Adriane Reardon)

Caring for 400 children might seem like an impossible fantasy – but for NSW couple Barbara and David Rugendyke it is “just what they do.”

For the last 29 years, in addition to parenting their five biological kids and four adopted children, they have fostered more than 400 children in their rural home, on the outskirts of Cobargo.

“At one stage we had two sibling groups – one of four and one of five – all under [the age of] five or six,” Mr Rugendyke said.

“We get a lot of enjoyment out of it, and people say it’s so good for the kids, but I think it’s been really, really good for me,” Mrs Rugendyke added.

“They give me something to get up for in the morning.”

While they both admit they’ve faced their battles with the system, their motivation is to look after the children.

“You have to bring them in, and you have to love them,” Mrs Rugendyke said.

“We try to do it for the children.”

The couple have both been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community, and to children.

“We accept it on behalf of all the foster carers out there because they all deserve it and it’s not an easy thing to do,” Mrs Rugendyke said.