A toast to Joan Child and the fight for equality
PHOTO: This week, the women of the Labor Party fondly remembered Joan Child, who has just died at the age of 91.
In an era in which women were routinely dismissed as hapless housewives, Joan Child refused to be seen as an aproned anomaly. Julia Baird looks at how far society has come since the former speaker raised her glass to equality, and how far we still have to go.
In May 1974, in the suburbs of Victoria, Joan Child, a cleaner, factory worker and mother of five, was at home celebrating her election to federal Parliament as the member for Henty.
The phone trilled for hours as people rushed to congratulate Child for becoming the first female Labor member of the House of Representatives. It was just two years after the explosive victory of Gough Whitlam had ended a quarter-century of conservative rule, and Child was delirious with triumph.
When Fairfax newspapers rang and asked if they could send a journalist and a photographer to capture the historic moment, she readily agreed.
But when the photographer asked her to pose pegging her washing on the line or scrubbing the dishes, she flatly refused. Instead, she stood with a glass of champagne in her hand in front of the clothesline and beamed: a white sheet with the words “Great Going Gough” was draped over it.
Child’s defiance was significant. She would not succumb to the trick many women MPs before her had fallen for – like Senator Dorothy Tangney, who was snapped pulling a roast out of the oven, or Tasmanian MP Mabel Miller, who was pictured mixing a salad the day after her election.
Child had a lifetime of paid and unpaid housework behind her – she was eager to prove now that she was a capable politician, not an aproned anomaly.
This week, the women of the Labor Party fondly remembered Child, who has just died at the age of 91. The woman who became the first female speaker of the House of Representatives had been an inspiration and a role model, said Prime Minister Julia Gillard, referring to her “remarkable gifts of common sense, good humour and persistence against the odds”.