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Jean Dorothy Sinclair (1940–1991)

by Michael Gordon

from Sunday Age

When Jean Sinclair arrived at the ACTU in 1973, she was ushered by Harold Souter into an untidy office with a Clifton Pugh painting of a naked woman on the wall. "Don't worry about that,'' the then ACTU secretary remarked. "We'll have it removed.'' Bob Hawke had hired her despite her confession that she knew nothing about trade unions. He then promptly departed for six weeks, leaving his new personal assistant with a chaos she would later say was beyond description.

"There were boxes all over the floor, papers and letters piled up, files which had no indexes,'' Mrs Sinclair told Mr Hawke's biographer, Blanche d'Alpuget. "Mail was arriving for the president literally by the bagful each day, and there was no system for filing it or answering it.

"The telephone system, which was new, was useless — I couldn't switch a call through to the president's office. About 5000 people knew the president's private phone number and would ring him direct.'' She once told a story from those early months of having to hire a suit for Mr Hawke without knowing his irregular measurements. When the clothes fitted perfectly and the young Sinclair asked if her boss was surprised, the then ACTU president replied: "I asked you to fix it and you fixed it. Why should I be surprised?'' So began an association that would endure for 18 years and encompass Mr Hawke's turbulent presidency, his transition to Parliament and record tenure as a Labor prime minister, an association that ended with her death last Monday after a long battle with cancer. Mrs Sinclair was 51.

An indication of the importance of her role and her standing in the political, industrial and wider communities came on Thursday when friends gathered at St Peter's Anglican Church in East Melbourne to say goodbye.

Among them was Mr Hawke; his deputy, Mr Brian Howe; his former deputy, Mr Lionel Bowen; a slab of the federal ministry; the Premier, Mrs Joan Kirner; distinguished arbitrators, prominent employers and leading trade unionists, including the ACTU secretary, Mr Bill Kelty.

Those who dealt with Mr Hawke were struck by Mrs Sinclair's smiling face that seemed to project a calm, a wisdom, a wry sense of humor and a generosity of spirit.

Mr Graham Freudenberg, a speechwriter and consultant who shared Mrs Sinclair's Parliament House office, spoke at the thanksgiving service of her "rare and remarkable combination of gentleness and strength'' as an abiding source of support for Mr Hawke.

"It was, perhaps, this quality which he — and all of us — valued, above even her wisdom ..."

But she never sought influence, in the sense of seeking to influence power behind the scenes. And of course, with the man she served with such fidelity and integrity, it would be inconceivable that she would try to do so.''

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Jean Dorothy Sinclair

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Citation details

Michael Gordon, 'Sinclair, Jean Dorothy (1940–1991)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Parker, Jean Dorothy

11 May, 1940
Coulsdon, Surrey, England


9 September, 1991 (aged 51)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (uterine)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.

Political Activism