Australia Day honours: Evonne Goolagong Cawley awarded highest honour

Tennis legend Evonne Goolagong Cawley conducts an Indigenous Tennis Come and Try Day at Melba Tennis Club with local school student Erica Church, 9. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Tennis legend Evonne Goolagong Cawley conducts an Indigenous Tennis Come and Try Day at Melba Tennis Club with local school student Erica Church, 9. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

One of Australia's most prominent sportswomen, former tennis world number 1, Evonne Goolagong Cawley has been awarded the most prestigious Australia Day honour.

Beloved for her grace on court and gracious nature, Goolagong Cawley said she was surprised and overwhelmed at the news.

"To be considered for any award, let alone this one, is a humbling experience, for all I have done in my life is to try hard at the things that I loved doing," she said.

She is among 16 recipients of the AC, the Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia, and has been recognised for her years as a player and for her charity work with indigenous youth.

Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, will present Goolagong Cawley with her Order of Australia on Saturday night, before the Australian Open women's singles final.

A host of sportswomen were given 2018 honours, including golfer Karrie Webb (AO), and Olympic swimmers Susie O'Neill and Shane Gould.

But the diversity of the honours list is once again under scrutiny.

Overall, women continued to be under-represented, with men making up two-thirds of the 641 people honoured.

Women comprised 33.5 per cent of recipients, a decrease on the 34.6 per cent in 2017.

The percentage of women nominated also dropped by nearly 2 per cent.

This year's honours are also light on celebrities and politicians.

Higher profile recipients of the top-tier AC award include late Olympic gold medal runner Betty Cuthbert, social historian Professor Janet McCalman and former Australian Ballet principal dancer Lucette Aldous.

Doctors and scientists are prominent in the high-level honours, including Melbourne Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld, who is among the researchers leading the development of the bionic eye.

He is joined by former Australian Medical Association head Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, who recently campaigned against the introduction of Victoria's voluntary euthanasia laws.

UK-based QC and human rights campaigner Geoffrey Robertson is among those to receive the Officer of the Order of Australia, as well as Oxfam Australia chief executive Helen Szoke.

Journalist and women's rights campaigner Tracey Spicer can now add the letters AM to the end of her name, as can Walter Mikac, who founded the Alannah and Madeline Foundation after his wife and two children were killed in the Port Arthur massacre.

Landscape architect to high society Paul Bangay, and artistic director of the Australian Shakespeare Theatre Company, Glenn Elston, have received a Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia.

Among Victorian OAM recipients are Melbourne pest controller David Gay, whose family company started in 1960; and 82-year-old althete and coach Tom Hancock, who continues to compete in shot put, discus and javelin today.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins is disappointed there has been no increase in the number of women nominated, and has urged the public to put women's names forward.

However, a spokesman for the Honours and Awards Secretariat said future honours lists were likely be more equal. In the six months to December last year, 42 per cent of nominations received for upcoming awards were for women, he said.

Goolagong Cawley, a Wiradjuri woman from the small town of Barellan, NSW, became the world's number one female tennis player in 1976.

She won seven Grand Slam singles titles.

At 19 she won Wimbeldon for the first time, yet her most famous victory came in 1980 when she became the first mother to win the English grand slam since 1914.

She now chairs the Evonne Goolagong Foundation promoting health, education and employment, through tennis, for indigenous youth.

She said she had received plenty of support to achieve her dreams, and so I have done my best to in turn help young people achieve theirs, whatever they may be.''

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