Dene Cordes awarded OAM for service to conservation and environment

FRIEND OF PARKS: Dene Cordes with Jayne Bates, Dianne Cordes and Heather Olorenshaw at the 39th South Australian Friends of Parks Forum in 2014. Photo: Colin Wilson
FRIEND OF PARKS: Dene Cordes with Jayne Bates, Dianne Cordes and Heather Olorenshaw at the 39th South Australian Friends of Parks Forum in 2014. Photo: Colin Wilson

Dene Cordes was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his service to conservation and the environment.

He won a Public Service Medal (PSM) in the 1991 Honours List and hence carries the letters PSM, as well as now OAM, behind his name. 

His accomplishments include forming the Kangaroo Island branch of the National Trust of South Australia, which subsequently led to the creation of the Hope Cottage Museum.

He also set up the Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association in 1983 and then after receiving a Churchill Scholarship, he created the Friends of Parks movement that now has 116 groups, including six on KI.

“Among the 116 Friends groups that I started, there are 6000 individual Friends of National Parks volunteers working for the environment across SA,” he said.

Mr Cordes said his early life on the Island was important in making him who he was.

“Kangaroo Island was and always will be a close-knit community and one can’t live and work there without being community minded,” he said.

“It played a big part in my life and made me the community-minded person I became.”

He said he would always consider himself an Islander and his last trip was in January where among things, he visited the Hope Cottage Museum he helped set up and still supports to this day. 

Mr Cordes was born in the Kangaroo Island hospital in 1944 and grew up on the family farm “The Bluff” just out of Kingscote.

He graduated from the Kingscote Area School and was employed as a junior clerk at the District Council for five years.

He played tennis for Kingscote and for Cygnet River, and also football for Kingscote.

He then moved to Adelaide in 1968 when he landed a position an an accounting administration officer with the then National Parks Commission and he remained an employee at National Parks until 2007.

Mr Cordes’ brother, Neville, was the founding editor of The Islander newspaper and together they had a dance band named “The Happy Wanderers” that toured the Island for 10 years.

“The Happy Wanderers Music Band comprised my brother Neville, my sister Patricia, and myself,” he said. “We played at halls right across KI and also at Linnetts Island Resort.”

Dene now lives in Belair and Neville lives in Glenelg.

Dene paid tribute to his wife Dianne.

“My dear wife Dianne died from cancer in the last 12 months and was at my side for all of my work,” he said. 

“I just wish she was here by my side to see this wonderful surprise that has happened.”

The nomination

His nomination was initiated in June 2016 by the Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association (KIPA), one of several organisations that Mr Cordes founded, after his retirement from the executive committee, following many years of valuable service.

The association and David Wilson set up a website that compiles his many accomplishments.

“Those who know Dene well will attest to his indefatigable energy in many and varied activities that have had lasting benefits to the community; and would agree that he would be a worthy recipient of an Order of Australia, to honour his remarkable achievements,” Mr Wilson said.

In 1965, Mr Cordes sought the aid of the National Trust of South Australia to start a branch on the Island.

The State President of the Trust flew to the Island for the first public meeting in the banqueting room of the Kingscote Town Hall which Dene had booked in readiness. He also had advertised the meeting by placing notices in the windows of the town's shops.

The meeting was well attended and was addressed by Mr Alexander who represented the parent body in Adelaide. Jack Elsegood was selected as the first chairman and Dene Cordes as secretary.

It was all very well to form the organisation, but if the artefacts were to be displayed, accommodation needed to be found. Hope Cottage became that place.

Mr Cordes in 1968 was on a winning team with his sister at the National Rural Youth Debating Conference in Perth, beating teams which included John Olsen, with Don Dunstan  adjudicating who later both became premiers of SA.

Even at a young age, Mr Cordes showed an ability to think and speak clearly on his feet, and with a tremendous memory, made an excellent extemporaneous speaker.

Rural Youth Organisation was very important on Kangaroo Island in 1960s -1980s. Mr Cordes was a member of the Kingscote RY Branch. He was employed at the Kingscote Council as a clerk., and had very good communication and people skills. He used these skills in RY to inspire and to get other young people to work together and learn leadership skills.

There were three RY groups on KI - Kingscote, Parndana and Penneshaw. Each year they had a rally where members from each club competed in different events such as shearing, welding, cake decoration, sewing and public speaking and debating. The winners would then compete at the State comps. 

Mr Cordes demonstrated that he was an excellent debater and with his sister Colleen and Wayne Veitch , RY formed the Kangaroo Island team that went to Adelaide, won the State title and then won the national title in Perth. Kym Trethewey from  the Penneshaw Club won a cup the previous year in Tasmania.

“My sister who debated for Kingscote Rural Youth was Colline Cordes who now lives in Melbourne. She was top speaker in the National debating victory,” he said. 

When Dene attained the age of 25 years and became an advisor and continued the role in KI until he obtained employment in Adelaide.

Mr Cordes in 1983 raised the issue of the Reeves Point mulberry tree's origin and was gratified with the responses by letter and telephone calls.

This was the point at which he decided, along with his wife Dianne, to convene a meeting of all those who had expressed interest, with the ultimate object of forming an investigative organisation to consider early South Australian, and in particular, Kangaroo Island history.

The date selected for this first meeting of the Kangaroo Island Pioneer Association was March 13, 1983 and the venue was the home of Dianne and Dene in Belair.

Dene Cordes and fellow Churchill Scholarship recipient Larry Turner. Photo: Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil website

Dene Cordes and fellow Churchill Scholarship recipient Larry Turner. Photo: Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil website

Mr Cordes’ service list:

SA Friends of Parks Inc: Community Founder/ Founding President, 1985-2016. Volunteer, current. Life Member, 2002. Patron, 2012.

Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association Inc: Founder/President, 1983. Volunteer, current. Life Member.

Nature Foundation SA Inc: Co-Founder,1981. Former Councillor. Fellow, 2016.

Friends of Old Government House: President, current. Founder and President, 1983. Life Member. Patron, current.

Patron, Friends of Gammon Ranges National Park, SA, since 2016. Contributor/Instigator, National Trust of South Australia, 1965 (Kangaroo Island).

National Parks and Wildlife Social Club: Public Officer, until 2003 Heritage Convenor, since 1983. President, 1978-1980. Secretary, 1974-1976. Editor, 1973. Vice President,1971 and 1977. Treasurer, 1969. Life Member.

National Parks Heritage Committee: President, current. Member, current. Founder/President, 1983.

Employee, National Parks Commission, South Australia, 1958-2008. National Parks and Wildlife Service: Accounting Officer, 1969-1981. Community Liaison Manager, 1981-2008.

Founder, South Australian Public Service Medal Association, 1992 and Life Member, 2017. Former President, Churchill Fellows Association of South Australia and Life Member, 2005.

Rosenthal Pioneer Cemetery Trust (Barossa Valley): Founder, 1978. Member, current. Life Member.

Author of genealogical history books, 1969-2018 and a National Parks history, 1983.

Awards and recognition includes: Fellow, Nature Foundation, 2015. Recipient, Public Service Medal 1990. Recipient, Churchill Fellow, 1985. Life Member, Belair Community Centre, 1993.

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