Australia Australia Day Honours recipients revealed across regional NSW

21:30  25 january  2020
21:30  25 january  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a man sitting at a table in front of a cake: Tommy Jeffs and his drag character, Tallulah, have hosted many charity events raising millions over the past five decades. (ABC Central West: Kathleen Ferguson)© Provided by ABC NEWS Tommy Jeffs and his drag character, Tallulah, have hosted many charity events raising millions over the past five decades. (ABC Central West: Kathleen Ferguson) A philanthropic drag queen, a molecular biologist, a plumber and an environmental conservationist who rescues orangutans in Borneo are just some of the people to receive Australia Day honours across regional New South Wales today.

The annual awards ceremony aims to identify those who make a difference through an outstanding contribution to their local communities and across the nation.

Tommy Jeffs has been recognised with an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for raising more than $1 million for charity by hosting dozens of events, often as his drag alter-ego, 'Tallulah'.

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"It's blindsided me. I'm overwhelmed," Mr Jeffs said.

"It's what I've always done since I was 15 years of age and wherever I've worked, I've just tried to work with the community."

Mr Jeffs said sharing was in his blood, having come from a large family with nine brothers and three sisters who grew up at Canowindra in the state's central west.

"You get such a great pleasure out of charity work and I've always loved doing it," he said.

"If you leave a good mark on this world that's what it's all about, isn't it? You can go out of this world and people will say, 'he's a good bloke'."

Stoicism and wild orangutans

Mark Morrison.© Chris Gillette - Australian Story Mark Morrison. Principal Mark Morrison gives troubled teenagers their last chance at a high school education.

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He has been awarded an OAM for his work at the Macleay Vocational College in Kempsey on the Mid North Coast, teaching students from vulnerable backgrounds the life skills to break the cycle of disadvantage.

Speaking previously to Australian Story, Mr Morrison said he enjoyed creating a safe refuge for his students on the school grounds.

"My belief is that they will find something when they are ready," he said.

"I can see them picking up their dreams again.

"And when their kids have children in 20 years' time, their kids won't ever know that it's not cool to go to school."

Meanwhile environmental scientist and veterinarian Claire (Catherine Marie-Claire) Oelrichs helps save orangutans in Borneo and elephants in Sumatra.

Claire Oelrich.© Claire Oelrich Claire Oelrich. From Byron Bay on the state's North Coast, Ms Oelrich's contributions to conservation have been recognised with an OAM only a few years after her late husband received the same award for his contributions to landscape architecture.

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"When this came round, it was very personal and poignant about him more than anything for me," she said.

Ms Oelrich said her two sons had also chosen to go down the conservationist path with their help in Indonesia, and saving the rhinoceros in Africa.

Giving a voice to the unheard

Ian Donges.© ABC Rural Ian Donges. Former National Farmers Federation president Ian Donges has been acknowledged for his service to the primary industry sector and rural New South Wales.

The Cowra farmer was president of the NFF from 1998 to 2002 and has headed several other state and national agricultural organisations.

"It has been such an honour to represent farmers as the farming community undersells itself," Mr Donges said.

"We are an extremely important part of the broader economy and Australian community, and often the voice of a farmer struggles to be heard above all of the other voices out there.

"We have such a great story to tell in this country about what we are able to achieve."

Plumber Ken Adams.© Ken Adams Plumber Ken Adams. Fourth-generation plumber Ken Adams said he has "water not blood" running through his veins.

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This passion for the industry has seen him awarded an OAM for his contribution to the trade throughout the state's Southern Highlands.

"It's a good industry, it makes me feel great," Mr Adams said.

"I think sometimes it gets put down and it shouldn't be, there's a lot more in plumbing than people realise.

"I was overcome and found it very difficult to realise that someone had nominated me for such an award."

Defying the odds to help others

Justin Yerbury and his family.© Greg Hassall Justin Yerbury and his family. Prominent molecular biologist Dr Justin Yerbury has spent the last decade researching motor neurone disease and was himself diagnosed with the degenerative condition.

The Wollongong scientist uses an electronic wheelchair and relies on a mechanical ventilator to breathe.

He has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his significant service to education and research in the field of biological sciences.

Speaking through text-to-speech recognition technology, he said he thanked the people who provided him with the support that allowed him to keep working at a level that producers research to an international standard.

"Nothing would be possible without my wife Rachel. Not even life itself," Dr Yerbury said.

"My daughters Tully and Maddie, family and friends have also been great supporters of my work.

"I am humbled by the recognition, the Member of the Order of Australia Award is a great honour."

A total of 1,099 awards have been announced in the Australia Day 2020 honours list, including 837 recipients of the General Division of the Order of Australia, 26 recipients of awards in the Military Division of the Order of Australia and 236 meritorious awards.

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