Tonia Francis honoured with an OAM this Queen's Birthday long weekend

There are not many people who live in Peak Hill who do not know who Antonia Francis is.

And those who know her know that when something needs doing or someone needs help, she steps up.

Tonia, as she is more fondly known, lives for Peak Hill and this June long weekend, she has been named on the Queen's Birthday Honours List to receive an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia).

The 77-year-old has been recognised for her service to the community.

She is one of two women from the Parkes Shire to receive the prestigious medal and title that follows, and among the 593 OAM recipients around Australia, of which 246 are women.

Forty per cent of those receiving Order of Australia honours this June are women, which is the highest percentage yet of female recipients.

Tonia now makes five residents in total who come from the Parkes Shire to receive an OAM in 2019.


Even since her days attending St Joseph's Catholic School, Tonia was fundraising for a cause by selling raffle tickets.

She's earned the community's honourary badge of "the raffle lady".

"I couldn't help myself," Tonia said.

"I really care about people, it's something I've always done.

"This was a big shock, I think my husband Dudley was jumping up and down for me, he was very excited."

Tonia is extremely humble and even in her moment of recognition, she was thinking about others.

"You don't feel like you should have this, you know. When I was told, I was thinking 'but what about everyone else?'" She said.

"I am excited but.

"I am so proud to be Australian, I'm so proud to be from Peak Hill and I'm so proud of this shire."

Tonia was born in Peak Hill and has lived in the town her entire life.

She's been a volunteer with a range of organisations since 1956 and an ongoing member of others for more than 20 years.

She's been a volunteer for the Peak Hill Business and Tourism Association since 1997, a fundraising volunteer for the Australia Day committee between 2010 and 2018, and was the coordinator for the Peak Hill area for Clean Up Australia Day between 2007 to 2018.

Tonia has been a member of the St James Catholic Parish Council in Peak Hill from 1995-2018, and a member of the St Vincent de Paul Conference, Diocese of Wilcannia Forbes, between 1997 and 2018 and is a past president.

She's also been a fundraising volunteer for the Peak Hill Show Society for 15 years.

"My commitment to the town is a joy, I love Peak Hill," Tonia said.

"I never see a need without doing something about it. They were St Mary MacKillop's words, it makes me think of St Vincent de Paul.

"I accept all people and I am proud of our Catholic church, the people who are in it and the people who work hard in all faiths."

With her passion to see the town thrive, Tonia is the face behind the Meet You Up The Street shopping promotion initiative that began more than 10 years ago.

She saw shops closing in the main street and businesses struggling, which motivated her to start the annual promotion.

"That (Meet You Up The Street) was very important," she said.

"It was always held around December 7, right before Christmas, and the shops, it was good for them.

"People came from Parkes and we had a lot of support."

2019 marked the first year the promotion didn't run after many families have been hit hard by the drought.

For 13 years, between 2000 and 2013, Tonia worked for Parkes Shire Council where it was her job to beautify Peak Hill.

Among her duties, she established the Commercial Gardens on the corner of the Newell Highway and Dugga Street, planting every flower, shrub and tree.

She also had the town looking spotless on Anzac Day for the town's servicemen and women.

"I had to get Peak Hill looking good - I was the town beautifier, I retired at 71," she said.

"It didn't matter if I had to sweep the gutter, I loved every minute of it.

"There wasn't a day I didn't wake up and say I don't want to go to work today.

"I loved keeping Peak Hill alive with raffles, with Meet You Up The Street, the Peak Hill Business and Tourism Association and more.

"I'm so proud of our school, Parkes Shire Council where I worked and met people from everywhere."

Tonia has been married to Dudley for 51 years and has a second reason to celebrate this long weekend, with the couple's wedding anniversary taking place on June 8.

They have three children - Jonathan Francis, Katrina Windsor and Meg Vickery who live in Orange and Bathurst - and nine grandchildren.

Tonia considers her OAM very much an honour for her family, who she said have been her support the whole time.

"It's a family thing, I'm so proud for my family who are all so good to me," she said.

Tonia was named Peak Hill Citizen of the Year in 1997 and again in 2016, and was nominated for the same award in 2013 and 2017.

She received a Government of New South Wales Community Service Award in 2008, a Dubbo Electorate Award in recognition of contribution to the community and a Parkes Shire award nomination for community service in 2010.

Dudley remembers the day Troy Grant, Member for Dubbo at the time, arrived on their doorstep to present Tonia her Dubbo Electorate Award.

"I remember it well, he chased her through the house because she didn't want the award. When he arrived, she turned around and walked out the back," he laughed.