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Jeannette Tweeddale Patrick (1929–2011)

by Margaret Fitzherbert

Jeannette Patrick, n.d.

Jeannette Patrick, n.d.

Jeanettte Patrick, whose early career and working life foreshadowed the social changes of the 1970s, during which she was elected to the Victorian Parliament and became an architect of the Hamer government's Equal Opportunity Act, has died at a residential care facility in Brighton following a series of strokes. She was 81.

When she joined the re-elected Hamer government in 1976, Patrick was only the fifth woman elected to the state Parliament, and for two of her years there she was the only woman in the House of Assembly.

One of three sisters, she was born and raised in Brighton, and steeped in the electorate she represented. Her mother, Marie Breen, a Victorian senator between 1962 and 1968, was appointed a dame; her father, Robert Breen, was a local solicitor.

In some ways hers was an early life that was typical of its time and place. She attended Firbank Girls Grammar School and was involved in many community activities, particularly those of her local church. She was also roped in to help with political campaigns; her parents were founding members of the Liberal Party in Brighton, and their daughter recalled that as a teenager she delivered Liberal Party pamphlets on her bike.

After leaving school, she started training as a kindergarten teacher, but a run-in with the principal of the college led to her departure. She then worked as a dental nurse.

Shortly before her 20th birthday in 1949, she married Vernon Patrick, then a clerk at Malvern City Council. They set up house in East Bentleigh and then Brighton Beach, and by the early 1950s had two children, Jane and Robert. The marriage was a close and supportive partnership until Vernon's death in 1999. By then she had qualified and was practising as a lawyer. Both her children followed her into the law; Jane is a Country Court judge, and Robert took over his mother's practice when she was elected to Parliament.

Patrick and her mother had both began significant new careers in 1962: Marie Breen was elected to the Senate, while her daughter started a law degree at Melbourne University; she also started work at her father's law firm, R. T. Breen and Co.

A decade before the second wave of feminism ignited in Australia and Patrick developed broad experience, she was able to juggle study, work and family through delegation, with everyone in the family pitching in. Her daughter, Jane, grew up thinking that everyone's father did all the family ironing; as a teenager, her son, Robert, did the family's weekly grocery shopping. Patrick's sisters also stepped in to assist.

Patrick qualified as a solicitor in 1967, shortly before her father was seriously injured in a car accident. Her mother, Marie, retired from the Senate in 1968 to care for her husband and Patrick began to manage his legal practice.

She became used to being mistaken for a secretary and took a particular interest in representing women in family law disputes.

Patrick was tall and slim, and usually dressed in a sharp suit. Her well-coiffed hair turned grey early and it became her trademark. Cigarette in hand, she kept up a busy social life.

Patrick also had a run of success on television game shows, especially with a win on Take the Hint.

In 1973, Patrick was elected to Brighton Council. She was simultaneously on the Brighton Technical School council, Firbank School council, Brighton Hospital committee of management, and Gardenvale Central School council. She also served on the Consumer Affairs council (1974-5) and the Melbourne University council (1979-1983).

In 1975, following Sir John Rossiter's announcement that he would retire, Patrick defeated six male candidates — including future ministers (state) Brian Dixon and (federal) Peter Reith — to win Liberal Party preselection for Brighton. She served on various parliamentary committees and was shadow minister for consumer affairs and for local government. When asked about her proudest achievement in government, she nominated the Equal Opportunity Act (1977). She assisted in its research, drafting and passage.

In 1984, Vernon was diagnosed with lung cancer. Patrick did not contest the seat of Brighton at the election held the following year and was replaced by Alan Stockdale, who became treasurer in the Kennett government and is the incumbent president of the federal Liberal Party.

Described by her daughter, Jane, as feisty, kind, impulsive, argumentative, socially conscious, dutiful, confident, yet on occasion plagued by self-doubt, Patrick's life was celebrated at St Peters in Brighton Beach, where she had married more than 60 years earlier.

She is survived by her children Jane and Robert, six grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and her sister Prudence.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • wedding, Argus (Melbourne), 26 October 1949, p 6

Citation details

Margaret Fitzherbert, 'Patrick, Jeannette Tweeddale (1929–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Jeannette Patrick, n.d.

Jeannette Patrick, n.d.

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Breen, Jeannette Tweeddale

2 November, 1929
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


24 May, 2011 (aged 81)
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Events
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