THE Hunter’s humble heroes have been awarded the country’s most prestigious honours for their contributions across the fields of medicine, education, the arts, community service and sport.
The Queen’s Birthday honours list for 2017 includes former Newcastle councillor Frank Rigby, trauma surgeon Stephen Deane, author Cynthia Hunter, rugby league identity John ‘Choc’ Anderson and Newcastle entertainer Super Hubert, who said he never thought he’d receive an Order of Australia medal.
And it’s something he takes seriously. “To me, it means you’re a role model for society,” he said. “You’re a role model for your community, for Australia, and that means a lot to me.”
Hubert, 72, the wild and wacky superhero who has entertained Novocastrians for decades, was recognised for his service to children through charity, most notably the Variety Bash.
While the entertainer started supporting Variety in late-1990s, he began to put smiles on faces even before then, particularly through his appearances on NBN Television in the ’80s.
“If I can bring laughter and happiness to people, my job is done,” he said. “When you see children’s faces light up, it’s very uplifting. It’s so rewarding.” He said it was a “surreal” experience to receive a Queen’s Birthday honour. “I’m just amazed that I’ve got one,” he said.
IN the 1970s, Frank Rigby lived in a two-storey house in Stockton that looked out onto Kooragang Island and the former BHP steelworks.
“I knew every chimney,” he said. “And I knew all about the smog.”
Concerned about the effects of industrial pollution, in 1980 Mr Rigby was elected to council. He remained there for 15 years, until 1995, including six years as deputy-mayor from 1989. It’s that service to local government, community health, and the environment, that has led to Mr Rigby being awarded an Order of Australia medal.
“My mate was a seaman and he reckoned you couldn’t ever get lost at sea near Newcastle because you could just follow the smog. When you couldn't see anymore it meant you were in Newcastle.”
During his time on council Mr Rigby helped set pollution targets for the city, campaigned for upgrades to the Golden Highway and, perhaps most infamously, had an unexpected run-in late one night at the Civic Theatre. Since leaving the council he’s continued to give his time to the city.
In 1993 Mr Rigby became the founding chairman of the John Hunter Hospital Kids’ Club, a position he intends to retire from later this year.
And that famous Civic Theatre rendezvous?
In the late 1980s the Civic was badly in need of upgrades that were going to cost the city between $9 and $13 million. “We were either going to close it down or do it up, but then the earthquake came along and insurance took care of it for us,” he said.
But the insurance didn’t cover the renovation of the orchestra pit. It was while mulling this problem alone inside the theatre that Mr Rigby says he had an encounter with a ghost named Joe.
“He said ‘don’t worry about it, Frank’, it’ll be taken care of,” Mr Rigby said.
Shortly after, a leak was discovered below the orchestra bit that allowed the council claim its refurbishment through the insurer.
“I'm a plumber; I clean up sewers, I don't see ghosts, but it happened,” he said.
FENNELL Bay’s Stephen Deane has saved countless lives during his esteemed career as a trauma surgeon and educator, but the modest professor does not rest on any of his accomplishments.
“Why stop,” he said. “The end game is to make life better for people.”
Professor Deane has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to medicine in the field of trauma surgery as a clinician and academic, and to professional organisations. He has realised immense improvements in trauma management since he began his advanced training in general surgery at the Mayo Clinic in the United States in 1975.
He was instrumental in improving trauma surgery outcomes at Westmead Hospital, and eventually elsewhere. “I could see things in our care of trauma patients ... that could be improved with careful planning, careful thought, reorganisation and education; so it was seeing the opportunity to make things better that was a particular motivation and I guess that has driven me,” he said. But while deeply satisified with his achievements, Professor Deane’s drive to improve lives does not stop.
“There's that deep satisfaction on the one hand; on the other there’s the restlessness that says ‘yeah but it’s not good enough yet’,” he said.
He was humbled by the honour: “I hope that those who worked closely with me can recognise that it is recognition of their efforts.”
Emeritus Professor John Marley has “no idea” who nominated him to receive a Medal of the Order of Australia, for service to medical education. But what started as a “big surprise” has turned into an opportunity to reconnect with former colleagues.
“No person is an island and there are a lot of people who should be sharing in this,” he said.
Emeritus Professor Marley emigrated from England to Victoria before starting an academic career. He changed the entry process to the University of Adelaide’s medical school to enable more equal access for rural and disadvantaged students, which he said was a “watershed” moment soon replicated by the other sandstone universities.
MARKS Point’s Leslie Smith was overjoyed to just be nominated for an Order of Australia medal.
“I was nominated and I didn’t know but I was thrilled when I got the email,” he said. The 73-year-old has been honoured for his services to netball, a sport he first became involved in in 1962. “At that stage any girls that wanted to play netball had to go into Newcastle so Mum started up the Lakeside Netball Association,” he said.
A HUMBLE John“Choc” Anderson says he is in shock after receiving an Order of Australia medal for his service to rugby league. “I feel honoured,” he said. “It’s a bit of disbelief, actually.
“I think there’s many more people who deserve it more than me. I’ve been blessed by the people around me.”
Mr Anderson’s involvement with the sport spans decades, with a long association with South Newcastle Rugby League Club.
He is chairman of NSW Country Rugby League, where he is passionate about ensuring the bush receives its fair share. “We’ve got to keep battling on so that the bush is on the map,” he said.
BOB Findley was so stunned to learn he had been nominated for an Order of Australia medal that he did not tell his wife for three days. “I got a letter a few months ago saying I had been nominated,” Mr Findley, from Osterley said. “I sat there feeling numb.” Mr Findley was recognised for his service to the community through Lions, of which he has been a member for 34 years. He said he felt particularly honoured to be recognised in the same year the organisation celebrated its centenary.
Dr Allan Stewart has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to dentistry and the community of the Mid North Coast.
Dr Stewart, of Tea Gardens, worked as a dentist from 1936 to 1990. He was awarded the Guinness World Record for being the globe’s oldest graduate, after he received a bachelor of law in 2006 at age 91. He broke his own record when he received his fourth degree in 2012, at 97 years.
Dr Catherine Regan was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for her significant service to medicine in general practice training and education, and to the community of the Hunter.
Dallas Sinclair received a Medal of the Order of Australia for services to rugby league. He’s a life member of Newcastle Rugby League and Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League.
When Hinton historian Cynthia Hunter started delving into the Lower Hunter’s past in the 1970s she never imagined she would be appointed a Medal of the Order of Australia.
Her lifelong passion has seen her transform into an author who has written more than 20 books and publications and now she has been included in this year’s Queens Birthday honours list. “It is nice to be recognised for what I’ve been doing in the field of history,” Mrs Hunter said. “My research work has provided a platform for others to benefit from, especially if they are doing research themselves.
“It’s been a lifelong interest and it’s really been nice that the work has been enjoyed by the people who are interested in history.”
Stephen Fernie of Maryland was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia medal for his service to Scouts.
Former Teralba Public School principal John Smith received a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to Hunter sport, across bowls, cricket and rugby league.
The late Wayne Broadbent was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to football in NSW.
Scone businessman Angus Paradice was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for his service to the community through philanthropic contributions and charitable support, and to business and commerce in the field of investment management.
Reverend Francis Duffy of Corlette received a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to veterans and their families, and to the community.