Producing distinction: Wikipedia and the Order of Australia

Producing distinction:
Wikipedia and the Order of Australia

A visual essay

Heather Ford, Tamson Pietsch and Kelly Tall


Dr Megan-Jane Johnstone and Dr Lyn Fragar are both recipients of an Order of Australia. Johnstone is an Officer of the Order of Australia and received their award in 2019 for “… distinguished service to medical education in the field of nursing and health care ethics, to patients' rights, and to professional standards.” Fragar is also an Officer of the Order of Australia (2002) and their citation is for pioneering services to rural health care. Johnstone has an entry on Wikidata (Wikidata is a sister project of Wikipedia that stores some of its data) and her work is cited on the Wikipedia topic page for Amorality. Fragar has a reference in Wikidata and is flagged for page creation via the Women in Red project which aims to create more Wikipedia pages about women (or, in Wikipedia parlance, to “turn red links into blue ones”). Despite these recognitions, however, neither Johnstone nor Fragar have a Wikipedia page.

Biographies (pages) of women represent only 18% of all biographies on English Wikipedia. Australian women are marginally better represented, constituting approximately 20-22% of Australian biographies on Wikipedia . Johnstone and Fragar are part of a large group who have been recognised by The Order of Australia, but do not have similar recognition on Wikipedia. As we will see, representation of people on Wikipedia in the higher levels of the Order of Australia like the “Companion” award, is strong. At the lower levels of Officer or Member, however, representation is lacking. In this essay we explore the relationship between the recognition accorded through the Australian Honours system and Wikipedia biography pages: who is likely to have a Wikipedia page? Who falls through the cracks?

Two worlds of notability collide

We examine the relationship between Wikipedia and the Order of Australia to understand who is recognised. It’s important to note that both systems have been criticised for their bias against minorities and under-recognised groups. A 1995 review into the Australian Honours system outlined significant failings of the awards because of its gender and racial biases. Since its foundation in the 1970s, the number of honours announced every year has steadily increased more than fifteen-fold, from 105 in 1975 to 1,596 in 2020. As the number of Order of Australia recipients has increased, the proportion of women has doubled, from 21 or 21% of total honours in 1975, to 649 or 42% in 2020.

The Honour a Woman project has played an important role in increasing the number of women nominated and awarded an Order, but there is still a way to go. And, while the gender of a recipient can easily be determined, the data provided by the Order means that understanding the cultural or racial representation amongst Honour recipients is more difficult. While we recognise the limitations in using this data set as a comparison for notability, it nonetheless affords insights into the mechanisms through which distinction and recognition is produced on Wikipedia.

The celebration of Wikipedia’s 20th birthday in January 2021, is a good opportunity to look back and understand “blindspots” in past editorial focuses, and to help target appropriate institutions or groups that Wikipedia or Wikimedia initiatives could focus on for engagement to help create pages for under-represented but notable groups of Australians.

We estimate that there are 53,569 pages in Wikipedia that relate to people connected to Australia, compared to 41,330 people who hold an Order of Australia. Notability on each platform is measured in a different way. The Order receives public nominations but convenes a panel of representatives to judge a person’s merit based on service or contribution.

Wikipedia’s definition of notability is different. It judges a person’s notability according to external signals. According to policy, people are notable when they “…have gained sufficiently significant attention by the world at large and over a period of time”, and when that attention can be verified according to what editors regard as "reliable sources". Rather than deliberating in a panel about who should be recognised, Wikipedia editors determine notability individually and try to reach consensus with others when there are disputes. Also: a person does not need to have made a significant contribution, but instead needs to be "remarkable" to have a Wikipedia page. While the Order of Australia focuses on those who have rendered service to the nation, Wikipedia has a wider latitude to also include people who operate more on the fringe - indeed, it even includes some Australians who have had their Order removed because of a criminal conviction.

While each system has a different system for measuring “notability”, we were interested in how much overlap exists between the two. What we have found is that this overlap is relatively small. There are 4,452 people who have both a Wikipedia page and hold an Order of Australia. Only 11% of all Order recipients have a Wikipedia biography. Given that Wikipedia page creation relies on external forms of verification, we set out to explore this relationship in more depth.

Exploring the Order of Australia:

What is it and who gets them?

The Order of Australia over time 1975 - 2020




There have been 41,816 people who have receievd an Order of Australia between 1975 and 2020. This chart shows people who have been recorded as "male" or "female", totalling 41,661. People that had no gender allocated to their record have been excluded (n=155). It appears that these records belong to people who have had their order terminated, or have returned it, as other information is also missing.

There are around 368 people who have received more than one honour, and 41,330 people who have received at least one honour. To understand more about our data set, and how we sourced and constructed it (including how gender was recorded), please visit our data page.

The number of honours announced every year has steadily increased, from 105 in 1975 to 1,596 in 2020. As the number of Order of Australia recipients has increased, so has the proportion of women receiving an honour, from 21 or 21% of total honours in 1975, to 649 or 42% in 2020.

While we do not show the results of the most recent honours announcements on 26th January 2021, it was noted in reporting by The Guardian that only 36.8% of honours went to women.

An overview of the levels of the Order of Australia

Levels of the Order of Australia

Knight / Dame (1976-1983; 2014-2015)

Extraordinary and pre-eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or to humanity at large

Companion of the Order of Australia (AC)

Awarded for eminent achievment or merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or to humanity at large. The Companion is the highest honour and no more than 35 can be awarded.

Officer of the Order of Australia (AO)

Awarded for distinguished service of a high degree to Australia or to humanity at large. No more than 140 Officers can be awarded.

Member of the Order of Australia (AM)

Awarded for service in a particular locality or field of activity or to a particular group. There can be up to 365 Members awarded.

Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)

Awarded for service worthy of a particular recognition. There are no quotas on those awarded a Medal.

Breakdown of awarded levels

Of the 41,816 people awarded an Order of Australia, around 2% have been awarded a Companion. Less than 1% of Order holder have are Dames or Knights. The largest group are those who have a medal. These people represent approximately 67% of all honourees.

Representation of Order of Australia Levels on Wikipedia

Proportion of Order holders who have a Wikipedia page

Proportion of level by gender

The higher the Order of Australia level a person holds, the more likely they are to be represented on Wikipedia. Although a smaller number of individuals, women who are Companions or Officers have a higher proporation of representation in Wikipedia, compared to men who hold the same honour.

The impact of Order announcements on
Wikipedia page creation

Is there a relationship between having a Wikipedia page and receiving an award under the Order? Does Wikipedia page creation follow the Honours announcement, or does getting an Honours follow having a page Wikipedia? Wikipedia biographies created before the announcement of the award versus pages created or on/after the announcement date is 31% v 69%. However, this figure is skewed by the inclusion of awards granted 1975-2001 before Wikipedia was founded. If we only account for those who received an award after the start of Wikipedia in 2001 the ratio is 54% v 46%. Measuring the time between the date of the honour and the date of page creation shows a startling result: there is a discernible spike in page creation in the week the awards are announced.

As illustrated in the chart below, where “Week 0” as the day of the award plus six days, the Order announcement appears to serve as a signal of an individual’s notability for Wikipedia page editors. The dot plot shows honour recipeints who have receieved their award ater the start of Wikipedia in January, 2001. The increase in page creation during “Week 0” is also seen across all order levels; especially for Officers and Members. The heat map shows page creation activity for the weeks leading up to and after the announcement week for each level of the honours.

Page creation for all honours intensifies at week of annoucement

Showing 52 weeks pre and post the week of Order announcement for all recipients who receievd their award post the start of Wikipedia (15 January 2001)

Page creation across honours levels also picks up on week of announcement

Showing 52 weeks pre and post the week of Order announcement

Exploring Order citations and
Wikipedia page creation:

Who get's a page?

Digging into the text of an Honour citation tells us more about the profile of those who receive a Wikipedia page before they receive an Order of Australia, and the profile of those who receive a page after they are honoured. Women who have a Wikipedia page before they are awarded an Order of Australia, tend to be notable for sport and athletics, entertainment and media, and politics. Their notability for Wikipedia editors appears to be established before they receive their Honour.

Those who have a page created for them after they receive an Order of Australia, tend to be honoured for their work in nursing, community health, paediatrics, aged care and disability services. Receiving an Order of Australia for these women, appears to be a signal to Wikipedia editors that they are notable, and therefore deserve recognition via a page.

This chart shows the frequency of words used in the Order of Australia citations that have been awarded to women who also have a Wikipedia page. Words plotted under the line on the right hand side tend to be more used in citations of women who have their page created after they receieve their Order of Australia, and those above the line to the right tend ot be words used in citations for women who have their page created before they receive an honour. The chart uses a log scale, and the points plotted are slightly "jittered" to remove occlusion.

Despite the signal, many of these women do not get to have a Wikipedia page

Despite this effect, still not everyone gets a page created once they receive an award, even if they hold an Order of Australia. People like Johnstone and Fragar who have been recognised for “distinguished service of a high degree to Australia or to humanity at large”, go unrecognised on Wikipedia, despite sufficient published and recognised work for suitable referencing.

The charts below show the differences in the types of citations typically seen for women who have a page compared to women who do not have a page.

What does this tell us about who we think we are?

Challenges and opportunities for both the Order of Australia and Wikipedia

Both the Order of Australia and Wikipedia need to improve their recognition of women across a range of contribution categories. In 2020 almost 42% of Order recipients were women and the Honour a Woman project seeks to make this 50% by supporting more nominations and highlighting structural barriers to inclusion. But these figures mask the disparities that persist when it comes to recognition of women in the Australian Honours system. This study has shown that women tend to receive fewer awards in the higher Order categories. Equity needs to be reached across the full range of awards. For Wikipedia too, a gender gap persists. A number of initiatives have been created to address this issue, including Women in Red, Women in Green, Wiki Loves Women, WikiGap, WikiWomen’s Collaborative, WikiHerStory, Editona, and non-profit organisations such as Art+Feminism or 500 Women Scientists. But while these initiatives have focused on including more women in the biographical pages of Wikipedia, this study shows that women recognised for particular types of labour need to be prioritised.

Finally, in conducting this study, we found that for both Wikipedia and the Order of Australia, data about female and male genders is much more accessible than data about race, ethnicity and the full spectrum of gender. For the Order of Australia, the lack of Indigenous recognition with the continued presentation of the awards on 26 January (the “Australia Day” public holiday contested by many to Indigenous Australians because of its memorialisation of the “discovery” of Australia by Captain Cook and the subsequent colonisation and destruction of Inigenous communities it set in train) is unchanged. For Wikipedia, the lack of recognition of topics outside the purview of male, Western editors has not seen any significant change either. The availability of data tracking identifying elements is critical to noticing and addressing these issues.

About the project

The Team

This essay forms part of a pilot for the project “Who do we think we are?” to explore how Wikipedia represents Australia. This pilot project focuses on how Wikipedia represents Order of Australia recipients over the course of Wikipedia’s twenty year history. It is the result of a partnership between UTS Researchers, Heather Ford and Tamson Pietsch, data analyst and visualisation designer, Kelly Tall and Wikimedia Australia volunteers, Alex Lum, Toby Hudson and Pru Mitchell.


We would like to acknowledge the generous support of the UTS School of Communication and Wikimedia Australia in supporting this research. We would also like to acknowledge that this research was made on the Gadigal Land of the Eora Nation.

Suggested citation:
Ford, H., Pietsch, T., & Tall, K. (2021). Producing Distinction: Wikipedia and the Order of Australia. University of Technology Sydney.

Ford, H., Pietsch, T., Tall, K., Hudson, T., Lum, A., & Mitchell, P. (2021). Understanding Wikipedia in Australia [Data set]. University of Technology Sydney.