Eight Central Coast residents have been recognized in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Governor-General David Hurley announced honours to 992 Australians on June 13, including 669 in the General Division of the Order of Australia, and awards for meritorious, distinguished and conspicuous service.
“Recipients share some common traits – including selflessness, excellence and a commitment to service,” Hurley said.
“They’re from different backgrounds, their stories are each unique, and each has served in different ways.
“This diversity is a strength and each has impacted their community and made it better.
“For that, we thank them.”
Almost half of the awards in the General Division went to women (45.9 per cent) and 43.6 per cent of awards were for community service.
More information about the Order of Australia is available at www.gg.gov.au.
Stephen Karsai, OAM
Stephen Karsai of Woy Woy has been recognised for service to veterans through a range of roles with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).
“I spent a total of 27 years in the army and served in Vietnam in 1971,” he said.
“We weren’t welcomed home.
“I was so proud to come home fully functioning but when I went to get a hotel room across from the airport, still in uniform, the receptionist closed the register and said they had no room; that’s how we were treated.
“From that day on I said if ever I get a chance to help other vets I will do my utmost.
“A number of years later I approached the RSL for help and got the same treatment; it was another slap in the face.”
Following a career in security, Karsai said it took him 35 years to make good on his own pledge.
“A friend put a claim in for me to the DVA, I got my gold card and eventually stopped working so I thought – here’s my chance,” he said.
Karsai trained as a military advocate and worked as a pensions officer for Greensborough RSL Sub-Branch and Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital Veterans Centre in Victoria from 2001-2001.
When he moved from Victoria to the Central Coast he started volunteering with the Vietnam Veterans’ Association, eventually becoming president.
Karsai started as a senior case officer with the association I 2011 and served as president from 2016-2019.
He has been a Board Director of Active Vets Australia since 2019.
He was on the Veterans Consultative Committee at Brisbane Waters Private Hospital and Gosford Private Hospital for five years.
Karsai also wrote a series of four educational books on Space Flight, Basic Photography and Flag Party/Drill Competition, for use throughout the Australian Air League.
He has recently relocated to Victoria for family reasons but said he would continue to fight for veterans’ rights.
Cornelius (Con) Ryan, OAM
Con Ryan of Avoca Beach has been honoured with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his service to the community through a range of organisations, but is perhaps best known for being founding president of the 5 Lands Walk.
“The 5 Lands Walk was originally a Gosford Council initiative and Council ran it for five years before handing it over to the community,” he said.
“I took on the role of president and, together with current president Pauline Wright, I built it up over the years.
“It is a wonderful organisation, with more than 700 volunteers all committed to making the Central Coast a better place.
“The mantra is connecting people to place- a place where nobody is excluded – and it’s a very powerful message.”
Ryan said he had applied skills gained in his professional life and other life experiences to the culture of the 5 Lands Walk.
A former player with the Newtown Jets, Ryan coached kids’ rugby league teams for 23 years.
“I tried to teach the kids they can achieve a lot if they all work together – one of the underlying things which have driven me throughout,” he said.
“It was all about developing character.”
Ryan also applied the theme of working together in his professional life with Pax Australia (formerly Aerosols Australia), where he performed a range of roles including general manager and marketing manager until 1988 when he became a Board Member.
He was Managing Director from 1988 to 2000 and initiated funding for a counselling service for the local community which has been running since 1996.
In 2000 he became a founding member of One Asia Network, a partnership between Daizo of Japan and Pax of Australia.
“The whole thing is based on trust; lack of trust is a restriction on what’s possible,” he said.
“It’s all about strategic manufacturing in Australia – by working together you can be stronger than working apart.”
Ryan has been a member of Avoca Beach Surf Lifesaving Club since 1998.
He said he was “very chuffed and honoured” by the award.
“It’s something you don’t seek but it’s nice when it happens,” he said.
“It’s all about giving back to the community.”
Robert (Bob) Smith, OAM
Bob Smith of Empire Bay was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Honours List for service to veterans and to the community.
“It came as a big shock to me; I am honoured to be recognised but there are a lot of unsung heroes who work in our community to keep it running, so I am very humbled,” he said.
Smith was involved with the army reserve for 35 years until 2002, the last 12 of those concentrated heavily on construction with the 21 Construction Regiment.
“We have done a lot of work in Aboriginal communities, building infrastructure such as housing, water tanks, roads and garbage tips and organising power supply,” he said.
“We are all volunteers, taking leave from our day jobs to do this work and many of our soldiers spent a lot of time in the regular army.
“Soldiers in the regiment have served in most of the current theatres.
“I didn’t go into operational areas but there was a need for tradesmen and engineers and I have been involved in activities such as these for many years.”
Smith’s professional background is in engineering.
He worked for the Commonwealth Department of Works as an electrician from 1964 to 68 and as a design draftsman from 1968 to 71 before becoming a design draftsman with the Electricity Commission of NSW in 1971 and then an engineering officer with Ausgrid from 1975 to 2015.
“I realised a lot of those skills I could employ with the army,” he said.
“The true beauty of the army reserve is that it draws from a cross-section of the community with a huge range of skills and puts them to good use.”
A current committee member with the 21 Construction Regiment Association, Smith has been Association Sergeant Major, Parades and Commemoration Services, since 2000 and was a former captain and coach of the shooting team.
“These days my work involves looking after ANZAC parades, organising reunions and keeping the troops informed on what’s going on,” he said.
“We have a reunion planned in October to be held in Gosford with people coming from all over the state – it will be the third one I’ve run.”
Smith was a volunteer with the Reserve Forces Day Council from 1998 to 2018 and has been a member of the Gosford District Rifle Club since 1991.
He was a member of Scouts NSW Point Clare and Ettalong from 1978 to1982 and of the Progress Association of Point Clare and Tascott from 1971 to 1979.
He was a member of St John Ambulance NSW from 1963 to 73.
“I ran the cadet division with St John for some time before my involvement with the reserve became more demanding,” he said.
“So many don’t get the recognition they should; I’m not doing anything more than a lot of other people.”
Colin Laing, OAM
The founding President of North Entrance Surf Life Saving, Colin Laing, has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his service to surf lifesaving.
“It’s a big honour to receive such an award as this and to be recognised by my peers who nominated me,” Laing said.
His lifelong dedication to surf lifesaving began when he was 16 at The Entrance club, gaining his Bronze Certificate in 1958 and then taking on various committee roles through the 1960s and 1970s before becoming a Life Member in 1975.
“Following a spate of drownings over on the North Entrance beach it was decided there should be a club formed there and patrols started in 1977,” Laing said.
He was President at North Entrance from 1977 to1987 and again in 1989 to 1990 and was also made a Life Member in 1989.
He became a Life Member of Surf Life Saving NSW in 2016 and the Central Coast branch in 2009.
“It’s been a lifelong thing for me and I’ve been continuously patrolling the beach since I was 16 and then all my children and grandchildren have come through and got their Bronze with a lot of them still involved in the sport,” Laing said.
“I try to encourage all the young ones and I used to coach the nippers a few years back.
“Just to see them become competent enough to save lives themselves, those are the sorts of rewards I see.
“Some of those nippers are now parents themselves and bringing their children along, so it’s good to see that family atmosphere in surf lifesaving.”
Laing, who will celebrate his 80th birthday in three months, still patrols at North Entrance beach and is still competing.
“I’m mainly in ski events now, in the Masters, and I won two bronze medals at the Australian Titles this year,” he said.
Laing has held various roles with Surf Life Saving Central Coast, including councillor/club delegate from 1977-87 and 1989-90 and 1977; a Board of Examiners member from 1978-1987; and Branch team selector, referee, juniors coach and district supervisor since the 1970s.
Over the years he has been awarded the National Medal Surf Life Saving in 2021, Central Coast Masters Athlete of the Year in 2005, Centenary Medal in 2001 and a Certificate of Outstanding Service Wyong Shire in 1989.
Mary Bell, OAM
A combination of service to naval associations and pipe bands has seen Mary Bell of Bateau Bay recognised in the Honours List with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).
“I was absolutely startled when I got the phone call to tell me of the award; it really took my breath away, but it’s so exciting,” she said.
It all started when Bell, a tenor drum player, joined the Manly Warringah Pipe Band where her husband, Philip, played the pipes.
“I was secretary there, too, but unfortunately had to retire from playing in 1981 due to several spinal operations,” she said.
Bell joined the NSW Pipe Band Association in 1977, and is now a Life Member, having served as assistant secretary and secretary over the years, and when the family moved to St Clair in 1983 she took on the role of assistant secretary at Parramatta Caledonian Pipe Band.
For 20 years Bell has organised the Scottish Act of Remembrance which is a march and wreath-laying ceremony after the ANZAC Day march in Sydney.
“My involvement with the pipe bands is in the blood; there’s a family connection (in that) both my mother and Philip’s mother were Scottish,” she said.
“It’s a commemoration for all the Scottish people in the war, and for those who came to Australia after the war to pay tribute.”
Bell’s involvement in naval associations harks back to her father, Charles Nelson, who joined the navy in 1936 and served in World War II.
“After the war he helped set up the HMAS Sydney Association and he always marched on ANZAC Day and I went with him,” she said.
“When he became too ill, I joined the Association and was a committee member from 1994 to 2010.
“Then I was invited to become secretary of the Federation of Naval Ships Association and have been doing that continuously since 2011,” Bell said.
She said it was a busy role liaising with many agencies to advocate for members, representing the Association at various naval commemorations, as well as planning the naval component for the ANZAC Day march in Sydney and the Royal Australian Navy Command Ceremonial at Garden Island.
Then add to the mix that in between times, Bell, who will soon turn 75, spent 11 consecutive years as team manager for Seven Hills Junior Rugby team.
Ann Jardine, OAM
Dr Ann Jardine, who retired to Tumbi Umbi about three years ago, has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to tertiary education.
Her work in universities since 1998 has been mainly to encourage students with disability to realise university education was something they could achieve.
Jardine held various positions at Western Sydney University from 1998 to 2005 before moving on to the University of NSW where she worked primarily with students on campus and then later including students in school.
She was Manager, Student Equity from 2005 to 2006; Director, Student Equity and Disabilities Unit 2007-2015; Director, ASPIRE Outreach Program 2008-2017 and Director, AimHigh from 2015 to 2019.
“While I was in the university sector I worked with students with disability who went to university and then ran a major project working with disadvantaged state schools to look at how to enable students from disadvantaged backgrounds to realise that university was a choice that they could make,” Dr Jardine said.
“We worked with a group of schools for a number of years, both in the schools and on campus, in Sydney as well as regional and remote NSW.
“We worked as far out as Lightning Ridge and a cluster of schools around Condobolin as well.
“It was extremely rewarding work – it was a really great job.”
Jardine said the ASPIRE Outreach Program was the one of which she was most proud.
“That program got a lot of national recognition – we won a lot of grants from government and business to be able to do our work – and I think every one of us in the team believe that we were making a difference for the kids we worked with,” she said.
“We worked with a whole range of students, from kindergarten all the way through to Year 12.”
Jardine said she was very surprised to be awarded the OAM.
“It’s something that comes out of the blue, it’s lovely to be recognised, and just a lovely surprise,” she said.
Anne Riches, AM
Anne Riches of Killcare began her professional life as a lawyer, but it is for significant service to community mental health programs and initiatives that she has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).
A former volunteer with the Redfern Legal Centre and the Women’s Legal Centre, Riches was Assistant Legal Secretary with the Medico-Legal Society of NSW from 1987 to1992 and President of the Women Lawyers Association of NSW from 1986-87.
She was Assistant Secretary-General (Legal) for the Australian Medical Association from 1984 to1987 and Education Director for the Judicial Commission of NSW from 1987 to1991.
After working in the field of human resources from 1991 to 96, she founded The Riches Group in 1996, working with leadership teams in the workplace.
“In working to change leadership practices in companies, I discovered a lot of the initiatives weren’t working because of the emotional and mental stress of the workers,” she said.
“I live with depression and anxiety myself, as do members of my family, and I realised if you don’t deal with mental health you won’t succeed (in making change).
“So I started to shift my business.
“More than half of my professional time is spent dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.
“This coalesced with my own issues and I set about making it normal to talk about mental health and getting of rid of the stigma attached.
“I count as one of my major achievements taking that first step to acknowledge I suffered from depression and anxiety and needed to talk about it – it was a brave step for me.”
This acknowledgement led to Riches’ involvement with the Black Dog Institute, where she has been a Workplace Facilitator, Presenter, and Mental Health Auditor since 2011.
She has also been a Community Ambassador for R U OK? since 2018 and is a volunteer with the Australian Kookaburra Kids Foundation and a respected motivational speaker.
She founded the Kerrie Nairn Scholarship for Emerging Speakers in 2005 and has been a member of the assessment panel since 2017.
She received the Nevin Award from Professional Speakers Australia in 2010 and has been recognised three times for volunteer contributions by the Black Dog Institute.
“When I talk to people in groups I stress that it is OK to talk about mental health and ask others how they’re going,” she said.
“It’s no more unusual to live with mental health issues every day than to live with conditions such as asthma or any other ailment.
“I want to show people how they can get on with life and I aim to show leaders in business they will achieve more loyalty and responsiveness by treating their staff as people, not machines.”
Riches said the next step after normalising mental health was to decide what to do next.
“How do we help people achieve constant normalisation?” she said.
“The after-effects of COVID will have many mental health consequences.”
Riches said she was “gobsmacked” by the award, which will motivate her to do even more to make a difference.
Joanne McCarthy, AM
Respected Central Coast journalist Joanne McCarthy has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for significant service to print media, following a stellar career that has seen her receive multiple awards.
She began her career in 1980 at the former Gosford Star newspaper, which morphed with the Central Coast Express under the News Limited banner in the ‘80s and ultimately became the Express Advocate, where McCarthy worked as a lead journalist until 2003.
She then worked with the Newcastle Herald until resigning in April 2020, after completing two huge bodies of work that were instrumental in bringing about monumental change in Australia.
Her series on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was instrumental in convincing the Federal Government to establish The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2013 and earned her a Gold Walkley award that same year.
McCarthy also won the Melbourne Press Club’s Graham Perkin Award for Australian Journalist of the Year in 2012 and the inaugural Walkley Award for public service journalism in 2017, along with numerous other awards.
She was given an honorary doctorate by Newcastle University in 2015 for her body of work, specifically the child sexual abuse series and a lengthy series of articles on transvaginal mesh devices and their catastrophic effect on thousands of women.
“I like that awards like this acknowledge people who have contributed to society and I like that it’s about saying that you’ve done work in the public interest,” McCarthy said of her AM.
“It’s important to do something outside yourself; I have a real concern about the way our society is operating at the moment – so much about self-interest exacerbated by social media.
“I like that these awards acknowledge people working for others.
“We should all be thinking about how we can contribute to our society.”
While McCarthy said her expository work was “incredibly stressful” she always thought long and hard about what she was doing.
“The things I ended up doing were on the harder end of the spectrum but it was right to do them given clear evidence of terrible failings that (affected) tens of thousands of people across Australia and beyond that,” she said.
“I had the opportunity to do something about it and so I did.
“It was important to help people who had been grievously wronged achieve justice.
“The Royal Commission took five years and changed the country and how institutions operated; it exposed failures which went way beyond the church.
“As hard as it was many times, I would do the same if I had to do my career over again.”
Terry Collins and Sue Murray