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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Bacon, Janet (1948–1994)

by Chia Moan

15.8.1948 - 10.4.1994

Dr Janet Bacon was a force in both women's and Aboriginal health. She took her own life in April this year.

She was the first medical director of the Aboriginal Health Service in Fitzroy in 1973 and at the same time was helping to set up the Women's Health Collective and Rape Crisis Centre in Melbourne which were the forerunners of Women's Health Centres and Sexual Assault Services. Her work in both areas was extensive, influential and visionary. It ranged from Perth, to Melbourne, Adelaide, Tamworth and Castlemaine.

It was not only what Janet did that counted but how she did it She created a model for doctoring that was unpretentious and accessible. She did not hesitate to admit and expose the shortcomings and privileges of her profession while remaining committed to practising and teaching by her own ethical lights.

She was a brilliant clinical doctor and possibly even a better educator. While she educated people formally as a medical educator, she also constantly educated informally by how she herself treated everyone. She had a profound respect for people and refused to be lionised as a doctor.

I remember talking to her after she had come back from a remote Aboriginal community where she had been sent to evaluate traditional birthing practices and help them to improve. "What did you tell them?" I asked. "I told them that I had nothing to teach them," she said. That was the substance of her report back: they know what they're doing. In the 70s Janet was one of a few practitioners committed to de-mystifying medicine and encouraging people to take control of their own health. She passed out speculums and would do a matter-of-fact session on doing internal investigations at the drop of pin. This seemed incredibly exciting at a time when none of us had ever looked up our own vaginas, never mind in a group! Throughout her life Janet sustained her commitment to women and Aborigines and was central to the development of the Aboriginal medical service in Melbourne. In their obituary to her the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, "together with Aboriginal people across Australia," described her thus: "Treasured loving memories of a wonderful person, a wonderful doctor, a wonderful friend to everyone. She gave her all to all."

She did give her all to other people, and people in turn sustained her will to live. In her last letter to her friends she said, "Depression has been a permanent feature of my remembered life. At times I have diverted consideration of myself into work, submerging my fears and central lack of will to live in other people's needs. This is somehow no longer successful. "I am not prepared to live an existence where my total energy is diverted daily and sometimes minutely into decisions to live or not to live," she wrote. "Please have no regrets for me. I have made the choice I wanted."

But of course there are regrets. She was a big woman and she has left a big hole in the hearts of many people across Australia.

Original publication

Citation details

Chia Moan, 'Bacon, Janet (1948–1994)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/bacon-janet-32170/text39766, accessed 27 November 2022.

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