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Congratulations to Professor Cynthia Mitchell recently awarded Officer of the Order of Australia (AO)

Over several decades, Professor Mitchell has become an internationally recognised expert on regenerative futures, particularly in water management culminating in her award in this year's Australia Day Honours.
Read the original article from Greg Thom of the Institute of Community Directors Australia here

In a sign of the times, Emeritus Professor Cynthia Mitchell’s first reaction upon receiving an email informing her she had been awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) was to dismiss the message as spam.

“The image of the Governor-General’s crest was a little dodgy. Luckily, I checked the sender’s address before binning it,” said Professor Mitchell with a grin.

The respected member of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney and frequent contributor to the Australian Water Association was recognised in the Australia Day 2024 Honours list for distinguished service to the environment through water resource sustainability as an innovator, leader and academic.

Professor Mitchell, who recently guided an on-country immersion tour for National Water Week, said she felt “a little flabbergasted, proud and deeply honoured” to receive the award.

“I don’t know who they are, but I’m very grateful to and deeply appreciative of the efforts of those who put me forward and supported this nomination.”

Professor Mitchell said as a woman, she felt that the timing of the award was significant, with 2024 the second year in a row that women have comprised the majority of award recipients in the Honours List General Division.

“This at long last means the awards reflect the fundamental make-up of our community, and it is a welcome change that I’m delighted to be part of.”

Professor Mitchell said she hoped the award was an acknowledgement of the importance of advocating for a more sustainable planet.

“We are in dire straits, it’s true, but I fundamentally believe we have the capacity and tenacity to avoid smashing ourselves on the rocks.

“At the risk of sounding terribly glib, all we must do are two things:

1. Get better at noticing what’s already here, within ourselves and in the world around us, both in terms of amazing and inspiring things and in terms of the worst of things. Sticking our fingers in our ears and turning away does not help and neither does a media that focuses on sensationalising bad news.

2. Get better at noticing how one thing leads to another, often in unpredictable ways… because that will help us give up on the illusion of control and lower our hubris a bit so that we can give things a go and learn our way forwards into a different era, rather than needing to be certain of success before we step out the door.”
While humbled to receive her Order of Australia, Professor Mitchell took the opportunity to call for increased efforts to recognise Australia’s Indigenous community.

“Given the announcement of this award is on what is currently known as Australia Day, I also want to acknowledge that we need to have a civil, deep and wide conversation about the date on which we, together as a nation, seek to celebrate Australia.

“It seems to me that we could do better than the anniversary of the day we whitefellas ostensibly ‘took possession’ of lands never ceded by the First Peoples of this region.”

Over several decades, Professor Mitchell has become an internationally recognised expert on regenerative futures, particularly in water management.

She said her work reflects the fact that the world is now in uncharted territory in terms of the planet’s capacity to continue to support life as we know it.

“Records are being repeatedly smashed and the weather is wonkier by the day,” said Professor Mitchell.

“My work is fundamentally about transforming our relationships with the natural world, with a view to having us as a collective do more good rather than simply do less bad, because doing less bad is what has led us to this terrifying point.

“What I do is help people in the water sector and beyond get curious about what else is possible – to shift their worldviews and find new perspectives on what matters most and where it makes sense to invest next, in order to contribute to a future that’s worth living in.”

Professor Mitchell paid tribute to the many people she has collaborated with over her career.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with exceptional people at many points in my career, both as part of the teams I’ve led or been part of and also my collaborators in industry, in government, and in the community,” she said.

“This award is as much an affirmation of their brilliance and courage to do things differently as it is mine.”

Professor Mitchell was among a large number of Australians in the community, charity and not-for-profit sector to be honoured in this year’s Australia Day Honours.