The former West Australian deputy premier's skillful avoidance of Queen's Honours since leaving politics in 2001 has come to an end.

Hendy Cowan has received an Order of Australia for distinguished services to the parliament of WA, tertiary education, agriculture and regional development, and for his significant contributions to Cancer Council organisations.

But the frank 71-year-old said he would have a "few words" with the people he suspected nominated him because it's not something he particularly wanted.

"It's not something I have a great aversion to but because of the variation of the quality of people who have received the award, it's something I've never aspired to," he said.

"It was something I was able to skillfully avoid since I left politics.

"While I'm not surprised somebody's finally done something about it, it's not something I put into a category to say my life's now a success."

Mr Cowan said he measured his success on the positive difference he had made in peoples' lives in co-founding the WA Nationals, representing his electorate, serving as a minister and deputy premier, and his recent work with not-for-profit organisations.

"If you look at it that way then I am pleased because it does cement that someone, quite an external source, thinks that there have been some things that made a difference to WA generally," he said.

Mr Cowan said he hoped his home, the wheatbelt town of Narembeen, would feel gratified that one of their community members had been recognised outside their small area.

He is the chancellor of Edith Cowan University, which was named after his great aunt in honour of her being the first woman to be elected to an Australian parliament.

AAP

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