In February last year, Caroline Edwards took a phone call that would put her at the centre of Australia's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She just didn't know it yet.
As former health secretary Glenys Beauchamp retired, and chief medical officer Brendan Murphy was needed to continue handing the response to the new virus that not much was known about, Ms Edwards was asked to be acting secretary of the Health Department - just for a few weeks though.
"I was actually due to go on holidays on the 24th of March, and the deal was 'come back for a month until we go on holiday'. And then, about two weeks in, it became clear that it was going to be a much bigger deal for Australia and for the world," Ms Edwards said.
And like many Australians, she wouldn't be going on her overseas holiday.
"It's not often ... you get to do something which is so clearly in the public interest, in such service to the nation. So there was never any question about staying on and doing it."
Ms Edwards ended up staying on as acting secretary for months until Professor Murphy stepped into the role, and is now in the position of Associate Secretary, a job created in the acknowledgement the work of the department had grown significantly since COVID-19.
It is her work on the pandemic, as well as the decades preceding it, that has been recognised in the Australia Day honours with a Public Service Medal.
Despite delivering a range of projects for government, such as mediating native title claims and other work for Indigneous Australians, Ms Edwards said working on the pandemic response was like nothing she had done before.
"I'd worked on a lot of really important things, long term and big reforms, but nothing which was such a clear threat to our nation in such a big way," she said.
"And nothing so central to the highest priority for the government. And nothing at quite this pace."
It was that pace, with such a clear central purpose, that allowed the department to achieve so much in such a short period of time. And even though in some cases the rulebook had been thrown out the window - like when the whole world was trying to source personal protective equipment in the early days of the pandemic, the key tenets of public service were still there.
"I certainly felt incredible obligation to make sure that we're getting quality products at a price that wasn't ripping off tax payers."
While some challenges, like working directly with state and territory health departments so closely "melted away," other challenges weren't so easy.
"Certainly my biggest problem was to try and get people to take time off, I had rosters which I enforced, to get people to go home and rest, because there's no way we could have stood the whole year."
Ms Edwards grew up in Canberra, and moved to Melbourne for university, but her story is nothing but standard.
Her parents met in London, where her father was working as a radio journalist, and her mother, who originally from Spain, was also working there. Ms Edwards' father was blind, and Ms Edwards credits the household she grew up in - where her mother drove, and she would spend time with her father reading to him, for many of the things she has learned.
"We were a household full of languages and very tactile and close because we didn't do any of those traditional things that sighted fathers do with their kids. We did other things," Ms Edwards told a podcast last year.
On her earlier career working in the Northern Territory and with Indigenous Australians, Ms Edwards says she fell into it at first.
"But it grabs you and you come away with a deep commitment to working with Aboriginal people and listening to what they've got to tell us."
She is particularly proud of how effective the government effort, in partnership with community-controlled organisations and state and territory governments, has been in keeping COVID-19 out of remote Indigenous communities. It is also Ms Edwards' experience in the sector that helped bring the concerns of Indigenous Australians to the table in the pandemic.
"It's always front and centre and at Health we take it seriously. But working in remote Australia and having worked in Aboriginal Affairs a long time, certainly makes a difference."
Ms Edwards is somewhat embarrassed by the attention that comes with receiving a Public Service Medal, and instead says all 4000 staff of her department need to be recognised for the mammoth effort they made in the face of the pandemic. She says the last year has renewed her enthusiasm for the public service as a profession.
"One of the things I really learnt last year was how skilled we all are as generalist public servants, how something unique and different comes up but we can actually throw ourselves at that problem."
Along with Ms Edwards, other public servants responsible for key aspects of the COVID-19 response have been recognised with Public Service Medals. Andrew Todd, recently retired from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, was responsible for early repatriation efforts from China. Treasury deputy secretary Jenny Wilkinson has been recognised for her contribution during the pandemic, specifically the JobKeeper wage subsidy program.
Other recipients of the Public Service Medal in the federal public service include Richard Blewett at Geoscience Australia, Marion Healy at the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, and Paul Way for his work in defence.
Lisa Schofield was recognised for her work on Australia's treaty with Timor-Leste over maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea.
Dr Doug Marmion has been recognised for his work on Indigenous languages, including work to invigorate the endangered Ngunnawal language.
Rachel Henry's work delivering the protection framework for online wagering has also been recognised with a Public Service Medal.