Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

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.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Gloria Joan Child (1921–2013)

by Harriet Veitch

from Sydney Morning Herald

In the late 1960s, Joan Child was a young widow in Melbourne with five sons, trying to raise them on a pension. It wasn't easy and she worked in a factory, in shops, as a cleaner and as a hospital cook.

In 1974, she was elected as the first female ALP member of the federal House of Representatives. In 1986, Child was elected as Australia's first female speaker of the House. It was big news – a woman was speaker. Could she possibly keep order? Did she know what the role entailed? Would she wear a robe and wig?

Yes, she did keep order, yes, she knew what the role entailed but no, she wouldn't wear the wig – it would squash her hairdo.

At various times Child had members ejected and she was occasionally accused of bias – par for the course, of course – but she dismissed that with, ''When your team is losing, the umpire often gets the blame.''

She retired as speaker in 1989, realising that, after a car accident the year before that had crushed her ribs, she could no longer work the hours required. She stayed representing her seat of Henty until it was abolished the following year.

Gloria Joan Liles Olle was born in August 3, 1921, in Yackandandah, Victoria, daughter of Warren Olle – a conservative postmaster who didn't approve of the ALP – and his wife, Hilda (nee Seedsman). She went to Camberwell Girls Grammar School.

She didn't talk much about her married life but her husband was Hal Child, the manager of a firm in Tasmania, until the middle of the 1960s when he suddenly died of a heart attack, leaving her with five boys, aged seven to 17, and £57 in the bank. The widow's pension was small, less than $20 a week, and allowed her to earn only about $8 a week more, which was inadequate for five growing boys, even when her father invited her to bring them to live at his place.

She took what work she could and she started thinking about politics because she had always been interested in helping people.

When the boys had left school, she started working for Dr Jim Cairns, at first as a campaign volunteer and later as a liaison officer. In 1972, she stood for Parliament in Henty and lost by only a few hundred votes.

In 1974, she started campaigning again for Henty. Despite all the press about being a woman, and loving the garden and being so nicely dressed, and being a grandmother, she refused to be photographed doing housework, saying ''I'm not standing as a housewife, I'm a member of the ALP.'' This time she won, beating the then Liberal Party whip Max Fox.

In Parliament, she wasn't just about women, as many people had expected. She stood up for the elderly (''They are angry about broken [government] promises''), the unemployed (''It's a major issue nationally'') and ordinary workers (''The cost of living is crippling the average wage earner'').

Then came 1975 and the election that toppled Gough Whitlam. Child lost her seat but was certain she would be back, ''I feel the people of Henty had a slight mental aberration. I wouldn't mind betting that quite a few regret it.'' She was right too, she was re-elected in 1980.

In 1984, she was elected as a deputy speaker and chairman of committees.

After leaving Parliament, Child refused to just sit around and read detective novels (a favourite pastime). She was an adviser in public and government relations and a long-time patron of the Epileptic Society.

In 1990, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia. She was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001, named as a Paul Harris fellow with Rotary, and awarded a 40-year badge with the ALP.

Joan Child is survived by her sons Peter, Andrew, Geoff, Gary and Roger and their families.

There will be a state funeral at the religious centre at Monash University in Melbourne on March 5.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Gloria Joan Child

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Harriet Veitch, 'Child, Gloria Joan (1921–2013)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 29 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024