Rostrevor College, Adelaide, 1973

Over the last few years I have found myself casually going through the Queen’s Birthday Honours’ list. I have reached that age when perhaps I may even know someone on the list. Someone who has dedicated a significant part of their life to one profession and managed to do something profound; discover a vaccine; rebuild a war-ravaged country; develop revolutionary education techniques; or just by sheer persistence become notable in their field of endeavour. Not me. Moving from state to state and career to career has kept me well off the Queen’s radar.

But not Phil Donato. That is, Dr Phillip Donato OAM. In 2011 he was honoured with the Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division for services to community health as a chiropractor, and to education.

Many years earlier that very Phillip Donato pipped me for 1st place at the Rostrevor College Primary School eisteddfod when he and I were 12.

He sang Ave Maria. I sang Blowin’ In The Wind. I thought my song was an inspired choice. After all, it was the 70s and the first wave of the counter culture had already swept through Adelaide. Don Dunstan was Premier and Gough Whitlam was holding up his end in Canberra.

To be honest, I didn’t really have a choice. I am the youngest of nine and I grew up on a diet of Dylan, Van Morrison, Harry Nilsson and Jethro Tull. There was no way my siblings were going to let me sing Ave Maria.

A few years later when I started to develop musical tastes of my own and went out and bought Abba’s Fernando, followed closely by Paper Lace’s Billy Don’t Be A Hero, a ‘council of siblings’ was held. For my next birthday I received a Beatles’ songbook and my musical proclivities were duly recalibrated.

But perhaps I can’t solely blame my family for being an ‘also ran’ at the eisteddfod. Later that year I suffered further defeat at the hands of Phil Donato.

He got the part of Joseph in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat. A part I was born for. After all, it was my sister who brought the soundtrack back from London before it had been released in Australia. When the music teacher, Mr Panzini, announced we were going to do Joseph I proudly lent the record to him. He was thrilled. I knew every word to every song by heart. I never doubted the part of Joseph was mine. Yet that wasn’t to be.

To add insult I didn’t get the part of the narrator either and in our production there were two! Somehow, unimaginably, I found myself relegated to the Gentlemen of Egypt – a mere chorus with only one moment of glory late in the second act.

I can’t even blame my annus horribilis on my voice breaking. I was not an early developer. At 12 my voice still held the purity of the boy soprano.

It is only now I can see that year for what it was. Phil was, simply, a better singer. It is also clear that he has other talents.

No doubt in the years to come I will look again at the Queen’s Birthday Honours and dreamily ask myself, Will I ever be on that list? The answer to that, of course, is blowin’ in the wind.

© Tony Kelly

Tony Kelly is a native title lawyer, an ocean swimmer and a writer.