Former SA premier Jay Weatherill, a Logie winner and a professor specialising in Indigenous education are among the South Australians recognised in this year’s Australia Day honours list.

Key points:

  • Mr Weatherill has been recognised for his contribution to parliament and education
  • Arts administrator Winnie Peltz has been made a Member of the Order of Australia
  • An education expert and a lifelong surf life saving volunteer have also been honoured

Mr Weatherill has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his service to parliament and to the fields of early childhood and tertiary education.

After retiring from state politics following Labor’s election defeat in 2018, Mr Weatherill became the chief executive of the Minderoo Foundation’s Thrive by Five initiative.

Mr Weatherill says the program aims to empower parents and to support them with a high-quality, universally accessible, early-learning system.

“We are trying to create momentum for change to put this on the national political agenda,” he said.

Mr Weatherill said he developed a passion for education reform while working as SA’s education and early childhood minister.

“I became exposed to this thinking about the way in which children’s brains develop in those first five years,” he said.

“Once you understand that there are a million neural connections every second with high-quality experiences and the effect that has on the whole life trajectory for a child, you can’t unknow that.”

“It really completely became a priority and a passion for me, so when I left politics I wanted to continue to work in that field.”

Mr Weatherill said the status of those who worked with children in their early years needed to be lifted.

“This is amongst the most important work that occurs in the nation but they are not recognised or rewarded,” he said.

He added it had been a privilege to serve the South Australian community during his time as premier.

“There are always injustices that haven’t been able to be remedied.

“There are always people that have been disadvantaged that we haven’t been able to help, and that’s always a source of regret, but I did the best I possibly could.”

OAM a ‘privilege’ for passionate arts administrator

Winnie Pelz says she learned at an early age how important the arts are to “building the character of a country”.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

Meanwhile, arts administrator Winne Pelz has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia, in recognition of her significant contribution to the industry.

Ms Pelz worked as executive chair and artistic director of The Jam Factory in the 1980s and was the CEO of the state’s Department for the Arts from 1987 to 1990.

She said her passion for the arts began as a child.

“I became aware at a very early age how important the arts are to building the character of a country,” Ms Pelz said.

“I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to work with organisations that have been able to make that sort of contribution.”

Ms Pelz said the Australia Day honour was a huge surprise.

“I’ve been so fortunate to be able to work with people who’ve been part of fantastic teams with organisations like the Jam Factory, the National Library of Australia.

“It’s just been such a privilege and now to be recognised for it, it’s even more of a privilege.”

Ms Pelz won a Logie Award in 1976 for her work on the ABC’s This Day Tonight.

“My introduction to the arts with the ABC was a funny little program called Let’s Do Macrame, which I would frankly rather forget,” Ms Pelz said.

“When I see macrame making a huge comeback at the moment, it’s one of those amusing things where you reflect back and think, that’s where it all began.”

Expert dedicated to improving education recognised

Lester Rigney has has worked with governments and institutions in Australia and overseas.(Supplied: University of South Australia)

Indigenous education expert Lester Rigney has dedicated his life to researching how a quality education can be delivered to all children.

He has worked with governments and institutions in Australia and overseas, particularly on Indigenous education.

In 2011, the Federal Government appointed him Australian ambassador for Aboriginal education and to the First Peoples Education Advisory Group.

“It’s my belief that children are the future,” Professor Rigney said.

“Schools do the work of the nation in reconciling the nation, building people and relationships and making the country come together as one.

Volunteer lauded for work as coach and mentor

Heather Thompson describes her work as difficult, but “really rewarding”.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

Heather Thompson has been volunteering at the Grange Surf Life Saving Club since she was a teenager.

Ms Thompson’s passion for coaching, officiating and mentoring has seen her appointed a Member of the Order of Australia.

“It’s difficult, but it’s really rewarding when you actually see the spotlight has gone on in somebody’s brain and they understand and you see them imparting their knowledge on to other people,” she said.

“I get a great deal of pleasure from working with them and seeing them blossom as well.”

“The girls in surf lifesaving — it’s really great — they can get in and do as much as the boys.”