Aussie Christians receive King's Birthday Honours

On Monday, the 2023 King’s Birthday Honours for Australia was announced by the Governor-General, David Hurley. Among the list were a number who were honoured for their service to the Australian Church. Eternity spoke with the Reverend Barry Dwyer, who received the honour “for service to the Catholic Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes”, about his service to the Australian church and about receiving the award.

Police chaplaincy
Father Barry Dwyer receives King's Birthday Honours

Father Barry Dwyer

In 1983, Father Barry James Dwyer, a young prison chaplain, was asked to become a chaplain to police officers. Seeing this as “a bit of a conflict of interest – looking after police and those they’re locking up,” Dwyer transitioned to police chaplaincy, serving in the ministry for four decades.

During seven years as the first full-time senior chaplain at the NSW police academy, Dwyer found that chaplaincy was ‘a ministry of presence’.

“Some days, it was rather quiet, and you thought, ‘What am I doing here?’,” Dwyer recalls. “But it’s a bit like being the net under a trapeze artist.” Several young graduates thanked him that, although they hadn’t used his service, they always knew he was there if they needed him. “So you’re not necessarily having to belt them over the head with a Bible, but it’s just being there and listening.”

“Most people work out their own problems if you just listen to them.” – Father Barry Dwyer

Many others told Dwyer, “You helped me and that’s why I’m a policeman or policewoman today.”

Unique challenges

As well as the regular duties of a chaplain, conducting masses, weddings, funerals and baptisms, Dwyer encountered extraordinary challenges, especially as the first full-time chaplain to specialist operations.

In this position, Dwyer ministered to officers after the Belanglo State Forest murders, the Waterfall rail accident, the Quakers Hill nursing home arson and the Lindt Café siege. He was also temporarily transferred to Phuket in Thailand in the aftermath of the devastating tsunami of 2004.

Tsunami aftermath

Damage caused by a tsunami NOAA / Unsplash

“You have to develop, particularly in areas where there’s tragedy, the ability to empathise with people and listen to them,” Dwyer explains. “Most people work out their own problems if you just listen to them.”

Dwyer is often asked how he copes. He responds that his faith keeps him grounded and prepares him for life’s ups and downs, sustaining him through 50 years as a priest, and that investing in others has, in turn, strengthened his faith.

Plus Dwyer’s ministry hasn’t been all gloom and doom, he assures. Blessing helicopters and boats meant flights over the city and trips across the harbour. He was part of the chaplaincy team for the 2000 Olympic Games. And his police chaplaincy afforded opportunities for travel and especially study.

Additional qualifications enabled Dwyer to fill several roles at the police academy. As well as chaplaincy and counselling, he lectured in ethics, communication, conflict resolution, balancing professional and non-professional commitments and more.

“Sometimes police think they’ve got armour around them – especially the males,” Dwyer explains. “They think they’re impenetrable until they keep getting cumulative disasters. That’s where some cope quite well and others find it difficult.”

Receiving the King’s Birthday Honours

“You’re only as good as the people around you.”

After a decade of study and five decades of priesthood, Dwyer is still “happily in the service.” But he was surprised to hear that he was nominated for the award, finding out just weeks before it was announced.

“Then, with about two and a half weeks [until the Honours were announced], they said, ‘Yes, you’re getting it. But you can’t tell anyone.’ So I didn’t. As it got closer and closer, it’s hard to contain yourself.”

Turning 78 this year, Dwyer has returned as parish priest to his hometown of Parkes after a 50-year absence when he was working all over the state.

Dwyer repeatedly says, “You’re only as good as the people around you.”

“That’s one of the reasons I accepted the award – because I think it’s their award, not mine. My idea is that a leader should turn leadership back to the community.”

Other Aussie Christian recipients of King’s Birthday Honours

Also receiving Honours for service to the Australian Church were:

Josephine Helen Cooper – For significant service to the philanthropic sector, and to the Anglican Church of Australia.

Antony Baron Greenwood – For significant service to the Anglican Church, and governance and legal advisory organisations.

The Right Reverend Alison Menzies Taylor – For significant service to the Anglican Church, and to conservation.

Venerable Canon Katherine Dianne Barrett-Lennard – For service to the Anglican Church of Australia.

The Very Reverend Dr Stuart Edward Blackler – For service to the Anglican Church of Australia.

Catherine Margaret Bohm – For service to the community, particularly through the church.

Lesley Martin Bohm – For service to the community, particularly through the church.

Cora Lijnders – For service to the community through the church.

Catherine Malone – For service to the church, and to the community of Wagga Wagga.

The Reverend Kenneth William Parker – For service to the Anglican Church of Australia.

Stephen Guy Wilmoth – For service to the law, and to the church.

Reverend Mee Won Yang – For service to the Baptist Church of Australia, and to refugee support services.

Additionally, two well-known Aussie Christians were recognised for their contributions to the arts and to advocacy:

Mr Timothy John Winton – For distinguished service to literature as an author and novelist, to conservation, and to environmental advocacy.

Ms Marina Prior – For significant service to musical theatre as a singer and performer.