Photo at top: Dr John Kirk (centre) with Tim Kirk (second from right) and his five brothers.

The King’s Birthday Honour List, an official recognition and celebration of individuals throughout Australia, was released on the King’s Birthday public holiday on Monday, June 12th 2023.  The list includes awards such as General Division of the Order of Australia, Meritorious Awards, Recognition of Service (military awards, etc), and others. 2023’s Honours List included 1,192 recipients. Three Yass Valley residents were honoured this year, including Susan Owen, Former Mayor Rowena Abbey, and Dr John Kirk, founder of Clonakilla Wines and CSIRO scientist.


Mrs Susan Owen, the founder of Heads Up Kippax, and a local Murrumbateman resident, was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her service to community health.

Susan Owen, Founder of Headsup Kippax  Inc.


Former Yass Valley Mayor Rowena Abbey has also been recognised for her service to local government and community and has been placed on The King’s Birthday Honour List to receive the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the General Division.


“I was very surprised but also really honoured, I was very proud to receive that award. I’m really honoured and really excited about it all, it’s all very good”, said Rowena on her initial reactions, commenting further;


“It’s a very humbling process to know that people thought that much of you to put you forward”.

Former Mayor Rowena Abbey

As well as her nine-year tenure as mayor of Yass Valley Mayor, Rowena has also served on council for over thirteen years, as well as serving as director, chair, executive and treasurer for multiple positions and groups, including but not limited to Yass Council from 2004 to 2008 and then again from 2012 to 2021, Education, Canberra Region Joint Organisation, Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, Department of Industry, Science and Resources, Regional Development Australia, Yass Valley Men’s Shed, Business Chamber, South Eastern Livestock Exchange, to name a few.


“I had four years on council before I became the mayor, and then I had four years away from council, and then I came back and became the mayor, it’s a total of 13.5 years on council, and nine years as a mayor”, said Rowena, commenting further on her current involvements;


“I’m still involved in Yass in terms of community projects such as with the education foundation”.

While the award is not for specific contributions, rather in general, there are multiple highlights Rowena looks back on fondly and as major contributions, both towards Yass and towards the recognition. Projects include the Barton Highway Lane Duplication and the Roads and Bridges Program, to name a few.


“I think we’ve achieved lots of things, there’s always more to be done, but it was a really good process to get some of that underway”, said Rowena.


Rowena looks forward to continuing her roles in the Yass Valley, continuing to be a part of the community and making efforts towards the region.


“ I look forward to working with my husband in terms of new projects that will create new jobs and bring new activities to Yass, I won’t be on the front lines in terms of those decisions with Council, but certainly I love this community, my husband has been here all his life, I’ve been here thirty-something years, it’s a great community and we will always intend to be a part of it to make things better”.

Dr. John Kirk, founder of local Murrumbateman Winery Clonakilla, was awarded for significant service to oenology, and to professional associations. Outside of his contributions to Australian wine through Clonakilla, Dr Kirk holds the distinction as a biochemist and physicist, a leading Australian scientist on light, water and photosynthesis, having previously worked with the Australian CSIRO.  Dr Kirk’s son and current Chief Executive Officer of Clonakilla, Tim Kirk, spoke to the Yass Valley Times about his father’s contributions to the region, noting both his CSIRO career and his impact on winemaking.


On his and his father’s feelings and reaction to the award, Tim feels very proud of his father’s achievements and feels the recognition is well earnt.


“I was surprised and delighted. I was really pleased that my dad had been honoured in this way, it’s a significant award and great recognition for dad’s pioneering work in the wine industry in the Yass Valley”, said Tim.

Born in England, Dr. Kirk moved with his family to Australia in 1968, in hopes of joining the CSIRO in Canberra. After moving and spending some time contributing to scientific efforts, Dr Kirk, a lifelong wine lover, was dismayed by the lack of local wineries. While several vineyards had existed previously throughout the 1800s, many of them had died out due to the climate and terrain. In 1971, Dr Kirk established the Clonakilla winery.


“Dad has achieved so many things in his life, he was a celebrated research scientist with the CSIRO, he’s authored a number of books and innumerable scientific papers, but I think it’s mostly a recognition of his work in the wine industry, and particularly his pioneering in being a founder in the wine industry in this district. He’s been involved in a lot of different associations, some with the wine industry, other things are scientific interests. A very fruitful and active life, he’s done some great things, and that seems to be a recognition of his service”, said Tim.


Clonakilla’s most famous wine, the Shiraz-Viognier blend, is a mix of red and white wine and is an awarded and internationally recognised wine.


Dr Kirk and his son Tim hope to continue being a part of the Yass Valley for generations to come, continuing to plant new vineyards and have family members involved.


“We’ve literally put down roots here. We’re still planting, we’re doing another vineyard as we speak. We’re still growing, still planting and expanding. There’s generational change happening, my daughter is here, my son is involved — who knows, hopefully it will stretch into the future.”

Pick up tomorrow’s copy of The Yass Valley Times to read about a former Yass resident and Yass High School student who has also been honoured.

Griffin Palen