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Ms Wendy Johnson AM

Wendy Johnson can still remember the morning when it was announced she was being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia.

‘The phone started going off with text messages. People had seen the announcement online and were texting me to congratulate me. I didn’t really believe it at first. It came as a real surprise.’

Ms Wendy Johnson sitting outside with two students from Glenunga International High School
Ms Wendy Johnson with students from Glenunga International High School

In the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Wendy received an AM for significant service to secondary education in South Australia. Her service has spanned nearly three decades.

She has been a District Superintendent, Principal of two schools, Secondary Principal Representative on funding and also vocational education advisory groups, co-author of ‘Educating in the 21st Century’ and the South Australia representative on the Review to Achieve Education Excellence in Australian Schools, which was chaired by David Gonski AC.

‘I was recognised because of my work in education, not just as Principal of Glenunga International High School but also my work at the state level reviewing the South Australia Certificate of Education and at the national level with the Gonski review.

‘Working with David Gonski accelerated my learning and understanding of the national perspective. To watch him chair a meeting was something to behold. He is a brilliant man.’

Wendy and David Gonski now have another thing in common: they’ve both been appointed to the Order of Australia and recognised by their nation for their service and achievement. 

‘I’d like to think that I was seen as someone stepping beyond the norms. Secondary education has always been the poor second cousin of tertiary education. I am a huge supporter of recognition, so I share this honour with my colleagues over the past 30 years and particularly the wonderful Glenunga International High School community. What a privilege it has been to be the Principal of the biggest government school in the state.’

Wendy says that one of the things she hopes our Honours and Awards system retains is that recipients continue to see it as an honour.

‘Being recognised through the Order of Australia is not something that should easily be given away. It has to be earned. There are many worthy people who are just going about their business in their everyday lives who are deserving. For example, all our frontline responders and the work they are doing. They are fabulous people.

‘The decision to present someone with an honour needs careful thinking. You obtain the evidence about their achievement and you check that evidence. It cannot simply be a matter of ‘Oh, yes, such and such really deserves an honour, so let’s give them one.

‘I don’t know how my nomination came about and I don’t need to know. I think if you do know it takes away some of the magic. It’s important to keep the magic going!’