Almost 700 people are receiving Order of Australia awards in this year’s Australia Day honours.

Altruists, academics, athletes and artistic types: Australia’s top and quiet achievers come in many stripes.

Almost 700 people receive Order of Australia awards in the Australia Day honours on Sunday.

For many the honours recognise what they’re best known for, like the swag of Olympic and Paralympic medallists.

Swimmer Jacqueline Freney said she was proud and honoured to be among more than 30 Paralympic gold medallists to be awarded an Order of Australia medal in recognition of their services to sport.

“I feel so blessed and humbled to have accomplished so much already in my career, as I just love swimming so much,” the 21-year-old told AAP.

“I thank Australia with all my heart for providing me with the opportunities and support needed to realise my dreams.”

Others, like champion marathon runner Robert de Castella, are recognised for their other achievements.

He says being appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) just about tops his list of medals, because it comes for his work in society, including being a mentor for indigenous athletes.

Similarly, former NSW politician John Brogden was appointed a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia, but for his service to the community and business sector rather than time in the NSW Parliament.

He made political history in 2002 by becoming the youngest person, at age 33, to lead an opposition party in Australia, and was close to becoming premier of NSW.

But scandalous front-page stories about a racist comment and alleged sexual harassment cut his career short and prompted him to attempt to take his life.

Mr Brogden, who is now chief executive of the Financial Services Council and the chairman of Lifeline, credits his family with helping him through his darkest days.

Several other politicians found themselves pleasantly surprised by their inclusion in the honours list on Sunday.

These include former ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope and his one-time opponent Bill Stefaniak, and NSW’s longest-serving treasurer Michael Egan.

Celebrated Australian actor Geoffrey Rush may have missed out on an Oscar nomination this year but he is being honoured on our national day.

Rush, who is currently gracing our movie screens in The Book Thief, has been appointed a Companion in the Order of Australia.

“I’ve been fortunate to belong to a particular generation that was driven to explore our national imagination and who enabled a vibrant and distinctive energy to flourish on our stages and screens,” he says.

“To have that recognised is the greatest honour.”

Compatriot Jacki Weaver has also been appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.

The man who fronted band Yothu Yindi and educated a generation about indigenous people has been appointed a Companion in the Order of Australia (AC).

Yunupingu died, aged 56, last June after being ill with kidney disease for several years.

Winemaker Robert Oatley, who has won seven Sydney to Hobart races with his Wild Oats yacht series, has also been honoured. The 86-year-old has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.