State Funeral for The Honourable Joan Child AO
TUE 05 MARCH 2013
On this day of sadness and farewell, we hear many stories and many voices.
We’ve heard from Peter, supported by Andrew, Geoff, Gary and Roger - the five sons who Joan brought up on her own with such love and determination.
We’ve heard from Robert Ray, a giant of the modern Labor Party who saw in Joan a colleague to be respected.
And now, I share these words with you as one of the women who walked through the door that Joan so brilliantly opened.
Female representation in federal politics came late for our Party – 1974.
Well into the 20thcentury, Labor embodied the “Australian legend” of shearers and dockworkers bonded in a spirit of male mateship.
It took a remarkable woman to break the mould – and Joan Child was that woman.
For Joan, the Labor ethos was etched deep in her soul.
She didn't need to be told of it or read it in a book.
Everything about her life and experience spoke of this belief.
She’d worked in a factory. She’d worked as cleaner.
She’d raised these five boys alone.
And when she came to public life as candidate in 1972, she’d already lived a full life, so when electoral success came her way eighteen months later, she was ready.
At the outset, Joan Child began her political journey as she meant to continue it – on her terms.
When the news photographers came to her house, Joan refused to adopt the domestic poses that previous female MPs had adopted – baking a cake, holding the vacuum cleaner.
Joan saw the danger and put it astutely to one side.
Instead she raised a glass of champagne to Gough’s remarkable re-election, and that was the photo that beamed out from the pages of the press.
Bold, defiant, and just a little bit cheeky.
That is not to say Joan wasn’t proud of her accomplishments as a mother or of her lovely home and garden, or wasn't careful as to her presentation and dress – she was.
Joan had understated style and class in all these things.
But she never let them define her.
This was a woman determined to be judged on her character, not on her gender.
And always, always – Joan was a proud daughter of the Labor movement.
She was an activist.
She understood that Australian politics is essentially and fundamentally a contest of values.
Joan was faithful to those values in the good times and the bad.
And no days we were worse than 11 November 1975 and the election to follow when Joan, like Bill Morrison who we also mourn at this time, lost her seat.
Yet like Bill, Joan returned to the arena.
She finally made it back in 1980, and this decade was Joan’s finest time.
The time of her Speakership.
The time when Joan’s face and voice became familiar to Australians.
The time when our belief that women can do anything finally began to be realised in our nation’s institutions.
The women like Joan didn’t have a guide book.
Instead they wrote it.
That is why we can say today that Joan left us many gifts:
Her spirit of service to the Parliament and the people.
Her faith in the Labor cause.
Her ambition for her electorate and the nation, especially in terms of how we care for the disadvantaged and people with disabilities.
But most importantly of all, Joan gave us her example.
The example of a smart, confident woman succeeding in the public sphere.
Not only succeeding against the odds but resetting those odds for those who came in her footsteps.
Through it all, Joan seamlessly blended toughness and kindness, and with her beloved Hawks, her Elvis recordings, her books and her garden, Joan remained - resolutely, calmly, refreshingly - normal.
Today we bear witness as the Labor tribe, we gather to mourn one of our own - one of our best.
And as Australians, we acknowledge a woman who believed that our nation's creed or fairness and opportunity must also have space for women, must also have space for her too.
By any measure, Joan Child had a remarkable life.
In its balance of struggle and achievement, it was a life we could recognise as a fortunate life.
A life of meaning and purpose.
A life long in years but short in regret.
After 91 summers, that life is now over.
Joan’s body, weakened by frailty and age, has found its rest.
But this proud Labor matriarch, this model and mentor, will long live on in our hearts and hold an honoured place in our nation's story forever.