Jazz groovers to Warlpiri dance: Australia Day honours

The highest award Australia can bestow in the Australia Day honours is Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia.


The 2012 Australian of the Year, actor Geoffrey Rush, is among those receiving this award for eminent service to the arts as a theatre performer, motion picture actor and film producer.

The award also recognises his mentoring of aspiring artists and for his support and promotion of the Australian arts industry.

Victoria’s Professor Samuel Berkovic has also been revered with an AC for eminent service to biomedical research in the field of epilepsy genetics, the study of neurology on a national and international level, and as an ambassador for medical science education.

HONOURED: Notable Australians

And the late Dr Yunupingu of the Northern Territory has been honoured for eminent service to the performing arts as a musician and songwriter, for the advancement of education and social justice for Indigenous people and as an advocate for cultural exchange and understanding.


Other highly accomplished musicians have been recognised with an award such as Australian jazz drummer and band leader, John Pochee of Sydney who’s been awarded an OAM, an Order of Australia medal in the General Division.  

John Pochee’s career in jazz began in 1956 and he’s led and played in several prominent groups.

In 2004, his jazz ensemble Ten Part Invention performed at the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the United States.

“I think that’s been my contribution is that I’ve taken Australian music all over the world and it’s been very, very successful”, Pochee told SBS.

“There is something in the music that we’ve played that has elements of our lifestyle and our surroundings, our environment and makes it, gives it that little taste of something uniquely Australia.”

 John Pochee describes himself as somewhat of a jazz purist and says some of what gets described as jazz today is nothing of the sort.

“Jazz to me, you’ve got to have a story to tell and that should be part of your life and your environment and your life experiences and your environments and I think that’s sadly lacking today. Jazz is such a big word now, I see things advertised as jazz and I go and have a look at a lot of things. I can’t see that it’s jazz in any shape or form.”

Canberra man Geoffrey McPherson has been made a member of the Order of Australia for significant service to the multicultural community of the ACT and through the provision of refugee assistance programs.

He says Australians have historically had a humanitarian outlook when it comes to refugees, but that’s been challenged of late and at times Australia has failed the test of being a good international citizen.

“I do feel shame when I have served my country as I have to be hit between the eyes with such outrageous propositions, for example, that we have to process people offshore (overseas) or that we have to lock people up and we have to lock children up”, McPherson said.

“This is, I think, beyond the pale and we, the citizens of the country need to make sure that our political leaders know what we feel about those sorts of issues and hopefully they’ll take note of the number and volume that comes their way by way of complaint.”

Geoffrey McPherson says Australians don’t need to do a lot to make an enormous difference to the lives of asylum seekers and refugees.

“Anyone who has any doubts as to the genuine need simply needs to have a reality check. There are so many people who need support and often in what might be considered simple ways, we, the people who are citizens and know what’s right, know what’s achievable, we can help enormously by a small effort on our part.”


In the Northern Territory, the co-founders of a dance group have been recognised in the Australia Day honours for their significant contribution to performing arts, particularly through the development of Indigenous dance.

Timothy Newth and David McMicken are the artistic directors of the Tracks Dance company and have been working in a number of Indigenous communities over the past two decades creating performance works based on the people in those communities.

David McMicken says one aspect of their work involves bringing out both the contemporary and traditional aspects of Indigenous communities and he says this has been done to great effect with the Warlpiri people in Lajamanu. 

“We’ve been creating over the last 15 years particularly works with that community that are based strongly in traditional ceremonial practices and taking the value systems from those ceremonies and recreating them with younger people”, McMicken says.

This way the seniors and elders are able to comprehend that the young people are interested in learning these values and the young people can see that the elders have something of value to add and so this has been quite a significant process, a way of working.”

David McMicken says the Australia Day honour is particularly satisfying because the work has taken place during some difficult times in the Northern Territory.

“We’ve been doing this project with very significant positive outcomes right in the middle of things like the intervention and amalgamations of shires and taking away of bilingual education and government intervention left right and centre. Generally speaking the media keeps wanting to pick up on those sorts of things rather than seeing these community people as having quite interesting positive outcomes in their lives as well.”

For more than 25 years, actor, singer, dancer and recording artist Rhonda Burchmore has been entertaining Australians as well as sharing her time and talents with more than 30 charitable organisations.

For her efforts, she’s been recognised with a medal in the Order of Australia for service to the performing arts and to the community.

“If I can give my services be it to raise money, to do a song, to perform to be mistress of ceremonies, to do an event to raise money for everything from the Royal Children’s Hospital to cancer research in the country…(then) I’m very proud to be associated with all those very worthwhile charities.”