Her Maj's Very Special Australians


On Monday we once again marked the Queen’s Birthday, that special day in June when all Australians come together to celebrate the fact that the Queen was born in April. And of course, as Australia’s Head of State, (a position she acquired through the traditional Australian means of the ascension of George, Prince-Elector of Hanover, to the throne of Great Britain via the Act of Settlement 1701), Queen Elizabeth II is afforded the power to distribute the Queen’s Birthday Honours. This is a list of approximately 400,000 very special Australians who have made an enduring impact on the lives of people who are not, personally, you.

This year, as usual, the Honours recipients come from all walks of life: politics, sport, science, the arts, sport, business, entertainment, community service and football. The only area neglected, it seems, was humour writing, meaning Kerry Cue and I will again have to wait until next year.

What sort of qualities does it take to garner a Queen’s Birthday Honour? The most important factor is service. An honouree must have given service in one way or another. Look at this year’s list for example: we have Professor Peter Baume, who has given service to higher education; Dr David Bennett, who has given service to the law; and Kerry Stokes, who has given service to having phenomenal amounts of money, and may just be the greatest Aussie of them all.

Money, of course, helps – almost none of this year’s recipients are homeless tramps. Also, one should be a high achiever in some field or other. They do not hand out Orders of Australia for effort or good intentions or decency or any of that lame worthless rubbish; one does have to have done something. Aspiring medallists should take their inspiration from giants of the community like Reg Grundy, who gave birth to a string of iconic Australian television programmes, or James Kemsley, who illustrated the legendary Ginger Meggs comic strip. Or perhaps cricketer Justin Langer, who was struck violently in the head more times over a 15-year period than the entire Federal Senate put together. So, TV, comic strips and head injuries: the holy trinity for those looking to be honoured by our beloved monarch.

Now, it is true that not all recipients are high-profile celebrities. Many of this year’s honourees are hard-working ordinary Australians, doing their bit for the community while mired in the nightmarish peat bog of obscurity. For these people, a birthday honour is a tiny reward for the fact they’ve been toiling thanklessly for years at a task that, although at one point it seemed important, will prove, in the great scheme of things, to be utterly pointless, and which has done nothing useful for the individual in question besides use up valuable time that could have been better spent trying to attain the self-fulfilment and innate human worth that will, sadly, elude them forever.

Yes, for them the Queen’s Birthday Honours list will be the one bright spark of renown in an otherwise grey and depressing existence. Shall we ever again hear the names of David George Thomas or Kryn Meerman? Probably not, and that’s all to the good. Whatever it is they do, it’s almost certainly shatteringly boring and involves underprivileged youth or probus clubs.

So I would definitely recommend the becoming-rich-and-famous-and-powerful route to getting an Order of Australia, over the lifetime-of-backbreaking-anonymous-labour route. Sport is an excellent choice, because you don’t even have to be nice to people. In fact, AMs are often handed out to people just for managing to establish a sporting career without ever actually punching a woman in the face.

As you would know, the award that caused the most comment this year was the designation of former Prime Minister John Howard as a Companion of the Order of Australia. (Coincidentally, Howard received a gong at the same time as his trusted advisor Arthur Sinodinos, the man the ex-PM used to refer to as "Benny to my Bjorn". On hearing of the dual honours, Sinodinos remarked, "I’m sure his will be bigger than mine" in a sign of the deep affection and saucy sexual banter that typified their working relationship).

Some have claimed that Howard does not deserve the award. They point to WorkChoices, to Iraq, to the fact that he is inherently evil, and ask why such a man should receive an AC while Naomi Robson gets nothing.

It’s something of a convention for ex-PMs to get ACs. Gough Whitlam got one, Malcolm Fraser got one. Paul Keating turned his down, which just goes to show that he’s the irritating tosser we all thought he was. Winners don’t turn honours down; winners take their honours and grind them remorselessly into everyone’s faces like powder puffs of doom. And that’s what I urge John Howard to do. "Check THIS, biatch!" he should bellow, waving his medal wildly as he crashes in a drunken rage through the French windows of the Lodge in the middle of Kevin Rudd’s breakfast, as I think everyone in the country is praying he will do any day now.

So I would say Howard thoroughly deserves this honour. As one who has always honoured the Queen in the way which she apparently thinks she deserves, it is only fitting that he has in turn been honoured by her. As a man who embodies the Australian virtues of determination, perseverance, and intense hatred of immigrants, there is no one better to be a Companion to this great nation. We salute you, John Howard, may your vengeance be swift and merciless.

In fact, we salute all of 2008’s honourees, from the rich and powerful, to the unattractive and community-minded. Congratulations to you all, the honour will live with you long after everyone else has completely lost interest and forgotten what the letters after your name even stand for. You’ve received an Order of Australia, and nobody will ever care enough to take that away from you.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.