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Reformers, performers, librarians, contrarians: awards are for all

AS IS customary, a cast of hundreds has been honoured this Australia Day, for services to everything from librarianship to tent boxing.

The honour roll includes a smattering of household names, such as chef Ian Parmenter, former Australian Medical Association chief Mukesh Haikerwal and fashion designer Liz Davenport. Former treasurer Peter Costello receives the top award. He has been made a Companion of the Order of Australia, along with army chief Ken Gillespie and Queensland Governor Penelope Wensley.

But the list is mostly filled with those who have dedicated themselves to the community largely without wider public recognition, be it out of duty, compassion or compulsion.

Radiographer Mary Nolan began fighting for better accommodation for young people with acquired brain injuries after her son Chris Nolan suffered a multiple organ collapse that resulted in permanent brain injury and was forced to live in a nursing home for the aged.

“It’s a real mix of feelings, a sense of real privilege and also of being humbled, because this belongs to not just me but to a lot of others who’ve gone on this journey the last 14 years,” Mrs Nolan said from the family’s farm near Meredith yesterday.

Today she becomes a member of the general division of the Order of Australia.

Her son remains in an aged care facility in Melbourne, but before he was struck down he was one of the founders of the much-loved Meredith Music Festival, for which many would gladly see him honoured for services to rock’n’roll.

Elsewhere in country Victoria, Dimboola farmer Darryl Argall has also been made a member of the general division for prolific community work and fierce advocacy for water reform and land care. “Volunteerism in the rural areas is exceptional, everybody is a volunteer in one form or another, it’s as simple as that. Life wouldn’t go on without it,” Mr Argall said.

A little more than 10 years ago, during the drought, when he was Dimboola Shire mayor, Mr Argall stood on the dry bed of the Wimmera River with then premier Steve Bracks and pressed him on the need for water reform to avert the potential death of farming communities in the Wimmera-Mallee.

Yesterday he acknowledged the superb irony of being honoured days after a flood had passed through his town, as he spoke to The Age from a fishing boat on the swollen Wimmera River, stopping to reel in a redfin mid-interview.

But he warned that the recent rains were no cause for complacency. “I think we’re going to have a lot more of these severe weather events, whether it’s drought or it’s rain,” he said.

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