Long an advocate and activist for women, the environment and education, Joan was invariably guided by her ideals of social justice, gender equity and making the world a better place. Joan died recently after a long battle with cancer of the osopheagus, having battled many health issues in her most recent years.
I had the privellege of meeting Joan on a number of occassions and was amazed at her capacity to always recognise me and remember my name, despite our usually fleeting encounters. I well remember her revealing to me that Nelson Mandela was amongst her own personal idols and that one of the greatest highlights during her time as Premier of Victoria, was meeting him during his visit to Melbourne. She was moved by human misfortune, as I discovered when meeting her shortly after the disasterous Boxing Day tsunami that devastated far flung places from Indonesia and Thailand to Sri Lanka, showing clear empathy for the human condition when it came to human suffering. Indeed, Joan was often able to turn her own grief and despair into action, be it by donating funds in such situations, or transforming herself into a parent advocate for better education, or entering parliament to take her activism to where it might best affect change!
Joan was invariably generous with her time, both during and after her time as Premier, making time for friends and political allies, even at her busiest, if albeit, briefly. She also made a point of visiting schools to meet students as an inspiring role model, speaker and advocate of gender equity, parliamentary democracy and the environment. She was regularly invited into schools as a keynote speaker for International Women's Day celebrations, often making it to several schools on the one day. Even as late as last year and in very poor health, Joan managed to meet with students and teachers here in Ballarat as an International Women's Day inspiration. This included a long journey to and from Ballarat, from her home in Williamstown. It may well have been one of her last opportunities to leave a final mark on education.
I was at the very exciting meeting Joan Kirner and some others called in Melbourne, to launch Emily's List. An organisation that assists women of the left seeking to enter Parliement at either the State or Federal level. Emily's List has seen parliamentary gender profiles both Federally and across the states of Australia, transformed since its inception, rather than continue as the once very male reflection of our society. Modelled on its American counterpart, Joan's vision and commitment to Emily's List, volunteering many unpaid hours running the office, saw her personally befriend and mentor many current and past women members of Parliement, including former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, of whom she was particularly proud.
During her time as Premier of Victoria, Joan was an object of ridicule in the media, lampooned for always wearing spots, which, ironically, she never once did. At the time the media struggled with the concept, let alone reality of a strong women in power. Her Western Australian counterpart, Premier Carmen Lawrence, was similarly hammered. Both women gained their Premierships at a time when the writing was on the wall that there would be a change of government at the next election. Their positions as Premiers were essentially and very sadly, unwinnable for subsequent terms. It came as little surprise to those of us that had followed the sexist and sometimes mysogynist sentiment directed towards Joan and Carmen Lawrence, that Joan's protege, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, would also be subjected to scrutiny and comments that would never be accorded to their male counterparts. It is up to all of us to continue to fight the good fight when it comes to overcoming sexism and pursuing gender equity. We owe it to Joan as much as ourselves!
Joan indeed was so lampooned, that a group of her supporters decided to organise a function at Dallas Brookes Hall in Melbourne, to entertain and celebrate this remarkable woman at the height of her political prominence. This is where she first performed the "I Love Rock and Roll" song, which she later performed on television. The YouTube clip at the top of this page, illustrates her good humour and willingness to send herself up a little.
In the 'Women and Power Handbook' which Joan co-authored with long term friend Moira Rainer, Moira Rainer describes Joan as "the LATE Joan Kirner", as she was regularly known to be tardy when it came to punctual arrival almost anywhere, despite then being very much, full of life. Sadly Joan now truly is "The late Joan Kirner" and the world , particularly here, in Victoria and Australia is the richer for her enormous contributions!
I will remember Joan especially fondly, for her passion, values, commitment as an advocate and activist for change and her extraordinary capacity to remember names. She truly will remain an idol and influence, for all of us who share her struggle!