In this sunburnt country, they are billed as the highest honours a citizen can achieve. But exactly how and why these prestigious awards are bestowed remains a process shrouded in mystery and controversy.
According to some, the Australia Day honours list is still largely an elitist boys' club. Of the 683 gongs announced on Sunday, only 212 - just 31 per cent - were given to women. This time last year, after criticism that women were woefully under-represented in the honours list, the chairman of the Council for the Order of Australia, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, said he wanted a more equitable gender balance.
Things have improved slightly - last year, female recipients made up just 26 per cent of the 571 honours. But a glaring imbalance remains. Six of the seven recipients of the most prestigious honour - the Companion of the Order of Australia - were men. The next highest accolade, the Officer of the Order of Australia, was bestowed on 40 people. Only 10 of them were women.
Prominent feminist and former women's issues adviser to the Hawke and Keating governments Anne Summers believes ''urgent intervention'' is needed.
''Not only is the overall percentage of women low but the honours they receive are concentrated in the lower orders, so you need affirmative action,'' Ms Summers said. ''You say 'OK, we're going to give equal numbers of awards to men and women in each category'. It's absurd to say we don't have an equal distribution of worthiness in this country.''
Part of the problem appears to be lack of engagement. In a country of more than 22 million, only 951 nominations were received, suggesting the community is not that fussed about who wins.
Women are far less likely to be nominated than men. This year, just 281 nominations for females were received, compared with 670 for men.
Air Chief Marshall Houston said it was a ''marked improvement'' that a higher proportion of women had received awards than last year but acknowledged there was work to be done.
''We need to encourage more nominations for deserving women - and there are many - to maintain this trend,'' he said. ''With the best will in the world, the council can't just suddenly divine a 50-50 split if we don't have the nominations. If people out there see a woman who is excelling in any way, then they should put a nomination in. And, if we continue to do that, we will see the number of women receiving awards rise.''
Ms Summers said there should be more active solicitation of female nominees.
''I can be absolutely positive there are a lot of men who actively organise to get themselves nominated, particularly businessmen, and I don't think very many women do that,'' said Ms Summers, editor of the digital magazine Anne Summers Reports, who was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1989.
Air Chief Marshall Houston said the council determined what level of honour a recipient should be awarded, based on the scope of their service. ''You might have somebody who has performed a lot of voluntary work for charities but perhaps in their own local patch,'' he said. ''And then you might have somebody who has set up an international charity that is renowned worldwide, so somebody like that is probably going to be worthy of a higher award … I think it's a very fair and equitable system.''