Australia Day is a more than just a public holiday in Oz.

It represents the day in 1788 when the English turned up on the banks of Sydney Cove in their tall ships and declared the country ‘ours’.

This was in spite of Aboriginal Australians having occupied the land for more than 40,000 years prior to “white” man setting foot here.

This subsequent settlement has been a vexing issue for Australia, especially since the Aboriginal population has suffered greatly ever since and as such, reflection on their plight forms a large part of the significance of the day. But Australia Day is also about catching up with friends, having a traditional bbq, playing some cricket and downing a few coldies.

Yet, there are some formalities that come with Australia Day in the form of awards which celebrate outstanding contributions and achievements of Australians. Regular readers to this blog might recall my Dad was honored with an Order of the Medal of Australia last year.

For many years, the top of the prestigous Honours list was dominated by sportsmen, entertainers and celebrities whom, although certainly do a great job, are often sufficiently honoured by other means.

So this year, I was thrilled to see a large science contingent honoured in the 2010 awards.

Elizabeth BlackburnAustralia’s first female Nobel Prize winner, Professor Elizabeth Blackburn is a scientist who was jointly awarded the 100th Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine last year for work on understanding the role of telomeres in protecting chromosomes was given the highest honour. Professor Blackburn is among four Australians named a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).

Also recognised in the medical field is Dr Wendy Hoy, a Professor of medicine at the Centre for Chronic Disease at the University of Queensland.

She’s been honoured for her medical research in indigenous communities. Wendy told ABC radio, “I hope it gives other people the energy and confidence to press on in what’s really a difficult and unnecessarily contentious field.

Professor Fred Watson is the astronomer in charge of the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Coonabarabran in New South Wales, and was honoured for sharing his passions about astronomy through raising public awareness about space and the universe.

I know someone else like that.

Fred told ABC radio; “As soon as you start talking to people about things like that, about the possibility, even of microbial life on Mars their interest is piqued, it’s very, very easy for an astronomer to engage with the public and engage with people generally”.

Watch an interview with Fred Watson here.

Dr Chris Kennedy, a clinician from Queensland, received an award for his medical work and education. As a doctor working with children, he understands the importance of vaccines as an essential tool in the prevention of communicable disease, particularly in third world countries.

He told ABC news that the cost of vaccines can be prohibitive for developing nations, and encouraged Australia to contribute to the costs where they are desperately needed.

Also from Queensland, Dr Will Cairns was recognised for his services to palliative medicine.

One group of entertainers who were honored for tireless services to entertainment was The Wiggles. But you can hardly not like the Wiggles, unless you are a parent who has a child obsessed (and if you are a parent then you most likely have/will have).

Happy Australia Day all!

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