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Jean Craig (1910–2000)

by Bronwen Douglas

Jean Craig, 1979

Jean Craig, 1979

photo supplied by Bronwen Douglas

Jean Craig died on 13 June in the Repatriation Hospital, Heidelberg, in Melbourne. She was born in Perth in 1910 to Alice Dora Sorrell (nee Naughton) and Frank Harold Sorrell, a commercial traveller. She was the eldest of seven children, all but one of whom predeceased her as adults. Aged ten, she moved with her family to Adelaide where she lived and worked for sixty years. Her entire life was defined by an ethic of selfless service to family and community. Having attended several different primary schools and Adelaide Technical High School, she completed her Intermediate certificate in 1924. Although an ardent student, she had to leave school aged fourteen to help care for her youngest sister, whom she virtually brought up and to whom she was always more a mother than a sister. Within a year, she obtained work as a typist and stenographer at the Brighton City Council where she stayed for twenty years. Despite the constant demands of family and job, her life was unsettled. There were endless changes of residence and she lived in no house for more than two years before she was forty. Early in the Depression, her father abandoned the family, adding a heavy financial burden to the emotional responsibility Jean had always borne.

Thus far her story is unremarkable, if fairly typical of her sex, class, and generation. But during this period she laid the foundations for an outstanding, now largely forgotten career as a pioneer in the public health system. During the 1930s, she completed her Leaving certificate at night school and studied successfully for the certificate of the Royal Sanitary Institute of London. In 1941, she was appointed health inspector and remained one for the rest of her working life: at Brighton from 1941 to 1946, with the Adelaide Local Board of Health in 1950, and with the Woodville City Council from 1951 until her retirement in 1970. For nearly thirty years, she was the only female health inspector in South Australia, eventually becoming the only female Fellow and Life Member of the Australian Institute of Health Surveyors. There were fewer than four years between 1926 and 1970 when she was not employed, always in local government. That short break followed her marriage in 1945 to Joseph Craig and the birth of their daughter, but financial necessity forced her return to paid employment in 1950, at a time when it was still widely regarded as unacceptable for a married woman to work outside the house. When her husband died suddenly in 1955, she was fortunate to have a job in which she had already begun to make a significant mark, despite the largely unsympathetic environment.

Jean Craig's achievements as a health inspector with the City of Woodville were typically understated and equally typically downplayed. She did her share of general health inspection and bore considerable responsibility for visiting sufferers of notifiable infectious diseases, such as poliomyelitis and tuberculosis. On one occasion, in a brilliant piece of detection, she tracked down a typhoid carrier who worked in food preparation. Her main mission and great triumph, however, were in public immunisation. During her career she was largely responsible for expanding the Council's immunisation program from an average of 2,000 injections per year in 1952 to 11,500 in 1970. She achieved virtually total coverage of babies and school-aged children in the municipality, through a mixture of cajolery and threats foreign to her gentle, self-effacing nature but impelled by her passionate belief in the critical importance of immunisation. The program she had developed, helped by a team of volunteer Red Cross aides, was neglected after her retirement. In Woodville, as elsewhere in Australia, there was a sharp decline in public immunity to common infectious diseases, a matter of considerable present concern for health officials and politicians alike.

In 1980, to the great distress of her two sisters who depended on her still, Jean followed her heart by going to Melbourne to live near her daughter and her family. She enjoyed a quiet but happy life until her final years were shadowed by a battle against the terrors of dementia which left her only shreds of a life and a past. She won the battle, though unaware of it, by retaining her quiet dignity and the core of her being—selfless concern for others. She was both an ordinary and an extraordinary woman who combined endless service to her family with an outstanding career, during which, as a woman, she was consistently underpaid, undervalued, taken for granted, and finally forgotten. Jean Craig is survived and very fondly remembered by her brother Reg, daughter Bronwen, son-in-law Charles Douglas, and granddaughters Kirsty and Allie.

Original publication

Citation details

Bronwen Douglas, 'Craig, Jean (1910–2000)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 May 2024.

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Jean Craig, 1979

Jean Craig, 1979

photo supplied by Bronwen Douglas

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