10 June 2023

Former Yass mayor Rowena Abbey honoured for her service to local government

| Sally Hopman
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The former mayor of the Yass Valley, Rowena Abbey, has been honoured with an OAM in the King’s Birthday Honours List. Photo: Supplied.

When someone from Government House rang Rowena Abbey to ask why she hadn’t responded to an email about a King’s Birthday honour, her first question was, “Who is it for?”.

For this former mayor of Yass, farmer, businesswoman and consultant, she had written so many references for other people over the years, she assumed it was for someone else.

“It’s for you,” she was told. She hadn’t responded because it had been sent to an old email.

“I have got to say,” Ms Abbey said, “I was really surprised. Humbled and surprised at the same time that someone had put me up for this. You don’t get to find out who it was, but it is a truly humbling experience.”

Rowena Alisa Abbey was honoured in today’s (12 June) King’s Birthday Honours List with an OAM for services to local government and the community of Yass.

She was told of the honour about six weeks ago, saying it was challenging to keep it secret for that time. Her husband did find out when she did – because they share emails, but he was also sworn to secrecy.

READ ALSO Solar power yes, say Yass residents, just not in our backyards

As mayor of the Yass Valley for nine years, the first woman in that role, Ms Abbey began her term in 2013 at the most challenging of times – when the Cobbler Road bushfire burnt out 14,000 hectares in six hours.

“The headline in the paper at the time was ‘Baptism of Fire’ and it literally was,” she said, adding that, ironically, her last day in office occurred in one of the wettest years in the history of the Yass Valley.

Ms Abbey said her highlights as mayor included seeing the first section of dirt dug for the start of the Barton Highway duplication.

“It was something the council and the community had to really fight for,” she said. “We had to convince government that it needed to be done.”

She said the condition of the Yass water supply was another of the challenges – residents have long complained about the often brown, smelly water that comes from their taps.

11 people outside Liberty Theatre Yass.

Rowena Abbey was part of the Friends of the Liberty Theatre group that lobbied for funding to reopen the old building. Photo: Supplied.

“It’s still an ongoing issue today, but we’ll get there.”

She also paid tribute to her fellow councillors and council staff for their support during her time in office and their dedication to duty.

Ms Abbey said she was also proud of the role she played as chair of the Canberra Region Joint Organisation where local councils worked together towards shared goals.

“I’m also proud of the fact that Yass Valley avoided being amalgamated with another council as many of them were,” she said.

These days, Ms Abbey is not a fan of the word retirement. She maintains a busy schedule working as a consultant on regional projects, her freight and transport business and on the family’s sheep and cattle property.

“Someone said give the job to a busy person and get the job done,” she laughed. “And that’s very true.”

Longtime National Party politician Duncan Gay has been made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his services to the people and Parliament of New South Wales, and to the community.

A Member of the Legislative Council for almost 2o years, Mr Gay held a number of ministerial and shadow ministerial portfolios, was chair and a life member of the NSW National Party and has served on a wide range of boards and committees, from the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to the Binda Picnic Race Club and Grabben Gullen Bush Fire Brigade.

Goulburn councillor Carol James, long time Anglican parishioner and community volunteer Lesley Johnson of Gunning and community health worker Susan Owen, from Murrumbateman, were also honoured with OAMs.

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