by Nancy Cato
30 June 2013
My darling Granddaughters Olivia and Hannah,
You are now 4 and 2 years old respectively and as my Nanna (your Great Great Grandmother) and I started to discuss matters of great importance when I reached the age of 5, I’m making sure I pass on this family tradition in plenty of time!
And today I want to tell you about Julia.
You’ve heard me talk about her lots, and up until Wednesday 26 June 2013 she was our Prime Minister.
Yes – our first female Prime Minister.
But first let me give you a little bit of background so you understand the historical importance of that fact.
It was in 1945 when my Nanna broached the subject of ‘Being a Lady’, largely, I suspect because she could see I loved getting my knees dirty on the river bank and kicking a football and playing marbles in the mud. But I can assure you, as soon as she felt she’d done her duty by directing me to include more ‘ladylike’ pursuits in my daily routine our discussions turned to ‘Being a Woman’.
Now you two will remember I’ve talked to you about the political discussions I had at the age of 5 with my Dad (your Great Grandfather). Remember I talked to you about the need to care about people living in poverty, or those living in fear of their lives or having nothing? And remember I talked to you about voting, and how lucky we are here because we all get a chance to have a say in how our country is run? And that it’s called Democracy?
Well! Can you believe that when my Nanna was old enough to vote, she wasn’t allowed to?
Do you know why?
No Hannah, it wasn’t because she’d been naughty.
It was because she was a Woman.
Yes – a woman, just like the two of you will be one day.
Back then, women were not considered to be equal in importance to men, and you know what? Some people still believe that – even today!
Yes – I know, Olivia! It is silly. And yes, you’re quite right, it is wrong.
But history tells us that every few years someone is born to help the world overcome its foibles and ignorance. (I’ll send you a separate list of names you can Google – names like Nelson Mandela for one.)
In my Nanna’s day, that someone was Emmeline Pankhurst – and one day soon, you and I will talk about the Suffragette Movement in England and what a remarkable woman Emmeline was. But that’s another story. The fact remains that even here in Australia, in this wonderful country of ours, women had to wait until 1903 to be allowed to vote – and even then, there were conditions imposed.
Well no, Hannah, boys couldn’t vote either, but the difference is they could vote as soon as they came of age – and girls couldn’t. It didn’t matter how smart the girls were or how much they understood. They were seen as inferior.
No, of course you’re not, Livvy. But the world is still waking up to things like that.
And it’s for that very reason I want to talk to you about Julia Gillard, our first female Prime Minister of Australia, because for me she is one of ‘the someones’ who in this era, was born to help the world’s women overcome some of its ignorance. She dared to challenge the notion that women are not capable of holding the highest office in the land – even though many people saw her as inferior.
This honour did not come easily to Julia nor without its cost, even at the very beginning of her tenure. You see, Julia was shy!
Livvy, do you remember how you used to feel really shy about meeting new people? It was awful wasn’t it… really hard… and you just wanted to run or hide behind Dad? Well Julia as a child was like that too. But the really hard part for Julia was that she didn’t ever completely overcome that sense of shyness. She excelled at school, became a lawyer and entered politics with her fierce intellect – and still remained shy. And here she was – the most important political figure in the land having to meet new people every day, some from far away countries – and still feeling painfully shy.
But she did it. Although from humble beginnings herself with no sense of a ‘Born-to-Rule’ mentality, Julia greeted people with grace, dignity and humility and hid her shyness as best she could.
One day, darlings, we’ll discuss the political reasons of how and why Julia became our first female Prime Minister. There are many reasons and they are varied and some of them extremely controversial. You know that I, like your parents, want you both to be free to develop your own opinions about everything that concerns you and the events that are taking place in the world as you grow up; events that will impact on your freedom, your beliefs and your rights. And no doubt one day – hopefully in school, you will study the political implications of the rise and fall of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and make up your own minds about the rights and wrongs of it.
But there is no doubt in my mind that as you study the history of events in the political life of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, you will see that many people (including your Nanna) have cause to believe that as a woman, she endured, through the Press, the Parliament and the Public, the most horrendous and consistent barrage of bullying, ridicule and misogyny – unparalleled in Australian history.
But first I really want you to consider Julia as a person. A human being – a female one – with real blood flowing through her veins; with thoughts and feelings and desires and attachments just like the rest of us.
Of course she didn’t do what everyone wanted. Who does? And of course she made mistakes. Who doesn’t?
Yes – she had a strong Australian accent. (I’ve never actually heard her voice darlings, but as a lip-reader whenever I saw her face to face on television I could see by the movement of her mouth that, yes she strangled a few vowels – but then, there’s a highly acclaimed female interviewer on the ABC whose vowels are constantly put to death far more ferociously.)
Yes, she chose to remain childless – as many other women do – but Julia was publicly ridiculed for it. She was labelled by at least one man as ‘deliberately barren’, while others made suggestions on radio and television about how she might be dealt with – suggestions that you are not quite old enough yet to understand.
Yes, she chose to live in an unmarried state with her partner – as countless other women do – but was then attacked for her morals.
And you can but imagine what those who followed the Religion-of-Anything-but-Tolerance made of her Atheism.
As a woman with red hair she chose her clothes and her glasses accordingly – always meticulously groomed but pronounced ‘frumpy’ or ‘maiden Auntish’ by her detractors.
Even her poor nose was mocked. One day I shall tell you about a male Prime Minister of the past, one Paul Keating, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to relate to you what I think he’d have done to the perpetrators had his nose been mocked.
If she fell over, it was because of her poor choice of shoes. And if she stood for hours answering inane questions it was because she lacked the nous to sit down.
But did that make it right that while enduring the death of her most beloved father , a second-rate, has-been, shock-jock radio announcer could say in a speech that Julia Gillard’s father had died of shame… because of her?
Can you imagine anything more viciously cruel Livvy? Hannah?
But endure it she did. Month after month she stoically endured what many women have said would have driven them out of their minds.
Forget that she had negotiating skills to make a butterfly befriend an elephant.
Forget that she could rattle off details of the most complicated sections of everybody’s portfolios, because she was on top of her game.
Forget that she made an historic speech in a parliamentary sitting against misogyny that resounded around the world and back again with over one million hits.
Forget the hundreds of pieces of legislation she pushed through whilst leg-roped by a Hung Parliament.
Forget the considerable and historic reforms that she introduced to Education (Gonski), Disability (NDIS), Welfare (Pensions), IT (NBN) and Climate Change (Price on Carbon) – to name but a few.
Julia Gillard had become the Leader of the Pack, putting up with everything her detractors threw at her – physically (a sandwich comes to mind), mentally and spiritually – and many men and women could not cope with that fact.
Julia became the magnet for ignorance, hate, bigotry and sexism – rearing their brave heads no higher than 1 centimetre out of the hole from which they hid – and she largely slapped them down, perhaps unknowingly invoking the metaphysical truth that negative qualities disappear in the face of courage.
She had courage in spades and fearlessness, resilience and Stateswomanlike qualities. And on top of that, an intellectual ability that infuriated those who could not understand it, could not count past eleventy, or could not agree with her politics, her gender or both.
History will come to show that after enduring three years of unprecedented attacks, Julia was ultimately bullied out of office, to the shame and embarrassment of all of us with half a decent bone in our bodies. Some say on one side it was for the sake of winning the next election and on the other side that it was because she was, well, a woman – and any or all of that may well prove to be true.
Darlings, Julia is no longer the prime Minister of Australia, but she is a woman whom I and many fellow Australians and indeed spectators around the world have grown to admire and respect and yes, love.
She is the pioneer of women holding High Office in this country and as such will inspire generations of young women from any background to be brave, meet challenges and show that they too are the equals of any men.
And as I, your Nanna, a disabled pensioner, express my thanks and gratitude to Julia Gillard for her dedicated work and sacrifice – I’d like you to reserve any judgement of her, until you are a bit older and can think about her achievements for yourselves, as so many have refused to do.
May she go on from strength to strength and find peace and happiness in whatever she chooses to do from here – be it in Australia or anywhere in the world.
Julia Gillard’s legacy of reform will live on and this country will thank her. She has stirred our collective consciousness. She has not only made it clear that women have issues particular to women, which should be controlled by women, not men – but she has paved the way for the next female Prime Minister… and the next…and the next…
Who knows, Livvy or Hannah, that could be you!
Last word goes to the very honourable proud father of daughters, Mr Oakeshott.
Farewell & Good Luck PM JG,job well done. pic.twitter.com/uyVk6zVJXg
— Sandra (@abissicus) June 27, 2013
— shane marsh (@giddeygirl) July 2, 2013
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