Three years ago, my friend Judy Finlason contacted my husband, Owen, and said she was going to nominate me for an Order of Australia medal. Although she knew about my work with her at Kids Activities Newtown, Access Arts, the Bicentennial Banners Project, Suginami /Willoughby Sister City Agreement and other Community Arts Events I had been involved in, she needed to get details about my involvement with the New South Wales branch of the Australian Storytelling Guild. Owen gave her the information, but said nothing about it to me, because Judy told him that such nominations must be kept secret from the person being nominated, as the submission may not be successful.
In December 2011, I received a letter from the Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat, advising me that I was going to receive the Order of Australia medal for my contribution to storytelling. Of course, I was delighted to get this award, most especially because storytelling was chosen as the main contribution.
I was not allowed to tell anyone however, until the Honours list appeared on New Years Day in the Sydney Morning Herald and other newspapers. Once that occurred I received a congratulatory phone call from NSW Guild member, Dianne Minter, who is the Public Officer for our guild, and as such, she had very kindly written a letter of support from the Guild. She sent a copy of the letter to me and I can only say, it was such a wonderful letter, that I can see why the powers-that-be chose to focus on storytelling. I will quote from the letter, as an example of her generous descriptions about my work for the Guild:
‘For the last 15 years Sue has worked tirelessly for the Guild. She was an exceptional president, vice-president and secretary. Nothing was ever too much trouble for Sue. She has hosted countless overseas tellers, having them in her home, arranging their transportation, organising venues for conducting their workshops. She produced the online newsletter each month, worked on the Norman Lindsay Children’s Literature Festival as an organiser and teller for many years, and other storytelling shows. There is no one in the Guild who has been more dedicated, giving, hard working and caring than Sue. Without her persistence, focus, interest, consistency, I do not believe the NSW Guild would be here today.’
You can imagine how thrilled I was to read such flattering statements, but my reason for quoting them is to show why Dianne’s words successfully influenced the judges to nominate storytelling, from all the other arts events listed in my nomination.
I came to Australia in 1956 from England, as a ‘ten pound pom’, having married my beloved Owen, six weeks prior to leaving London. I was 20 years old and keen to discover life in sunny Sydney. I was made to feel very welcome by Owen’s family and friends. Having lived here for so many years, and been given many wonderful opportunities, I have always wanted to say thank you to Australia, by giving something back and volunteering within the community.
I went to Government House, Sydney on 6th May this year to receive my medal, which was presented by our wonderful Governor, Marie Bashir (Professor Marie Bashir AC, CVO, Governor of NSW). I felt extremely nervous despite all the staff being so kind and helpful. I kept thinking that there are so many other people far more worthy than I to get this recognition. Then I realised it was not so much about me, but about the importance of storytelling, its power and its influence on us as humans. That is the real recipient of the award.
In the Australian honours system appointments to the Order of Australia confer the highest recognition for outstanding achievement and service.