In the King’s Birthday honours list for 2024, a number of people from the Catholic community in Victoria have been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for outstanding service in the areas of religion, healthcare, education, social welfare, and governance and advocacy.

The Order of Australia is an order of chivalry, with four levels of award, established by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975 to recognise the outstanding service or exceptional achievement of Australians in different fields.

Among the Victorians awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia this year were Veronica Blair and Gwen Fitzgerald, both of them long-time parishioners and volunteers at St Anthony’s Parish in Glen Huntly. Veronica received her award for ‘service to the community, particularly through the church’, and Gwyneth for ‘service to the community of Glen Eira’. Together, they founded Tony’s Café at the parish, serving free meals to members of the wider community, and for 31 years they have coordinated the popular St Anthony’s Christmas dinner for those who have nowhere to go on Christmas Day, catering for more than 300 guests each year.

Since 1978, Veronica has also volunteered in the parish in many other capacities, including in music, catechesis, safeguarding and Sunday school, and Gwen—who was awarded Citizen of the Year by Glen Eira Council in 2021—has also played a central role in the parish’s Sunday school and children’s liturgy.

Other recipients of the Medal of the Order of Australia include:

  • Wilhemena Armstrong of South Yarra, for ‘services to the community of East Gippsland’, including for her contributions as a parishioner and volunteer at St Mary’s Catholic Church Bairnsdale, where she made a significant contribution to the restoration of the church. She has also played important roles in the Filipino community and served with many other community organisations, in both Bairnsdale and Melbourne, as a volunteer and benefactor
  • Elizabeth Bobeff of Carlton, for ‘service to community health, particularly asylum seekers’ through her work as co-coordinator of the Brigidine asylum seeker project since 2015, and as a member of the Asylum Seeker Steering Committee of Catholic Social Services Victoria. She was also the chief executive officer of Calvary Silver Circle (now Calvary Community Care) from 2004 to 2013, and has served as the organisation’s national director of community care, and as director of operations
  • Valarie Hall of Caulfield South, for ‘service to the community through a range of roles’, serving many hundreds of hours as a volunteer at Cabrini Hospital, Malvern (since 2016), and before that at Calvary Health Care Bethlehem (for 23 years)
  • Angus McKay of South Yarra, for ‘service to philanthropy, to education, and to local sport’, including with the Cabrini Hospital Foundation since 2011
  • James MacLeod of Forest Hill, for ‘service to the community of Melbourne’, including as a director of St John of God Services Australia for 8 years and as a supporter of the Les Twentyman Foundation
  • Maureen McInerney of Carnegie, for ‘service to the community through social welfare roles’ including at St Vincent’s Hospital as coordinator of the Social Work Unit and team leader of Cancer Social Work Services, and as a member of Palliative Care Social Work Australia
  • Greg Munt of East Melbourne, for ‘service to the community through social welfare organisations’, particularly as a long-serving volunteer with the St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria, serving with the Margaret Oats Collingwood Soup Van since the 2000s, and with the Fitzroy Soup Van from 1975 to 1984. He has also volunteered with the Missionaries of Charity
  • Tuanh Nguyen of Kangaroo Ground, for ‘service to the community through governance and advocacy roles’, including as a board director with CatholicCare Victoria since 2021
  • Br Frank Gerard O’Shea, of Christian Brothers Australia, for ‘service to international social welfare’, including as director of the Ruben Centre, Kenya, Edmund Rice Foundation, from 2010 to 2020, and since 2023. He also served in various teaching and development roles in Tonga (1982–1991), Tanzania (1995–2008) and South Sudan (2009–2010); co-founded Edmund Rice Camps in the early 1980s; and served as a teacher in Australia in the 1970s, including at Parade College in Bundoora.

Banner image: Gwen Fitzgerald and Veronica Blair are parishioners at St Anthony’s Glen Huntly and were both awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the King’s Birthday honours list for 2024.