Vale Joan Kirner

Posted by on August 30, 2015 in General, Winter 2015 No 81

Vale Joan Kirner


Claire Moore


There have been many public statements about the life and achievements of Joan Kirner…daughter, sister, teacher, partner, mother, environment activist, politician, minister, premier, feminist, rock icon….she made a real difference, and influenced lives and policy.


At her beautiful memorial service at the wonderful Williamstown Town Hall, which she loved dearly and was the scene of many Kirner events, there was sadness that this seemingly indomitable woman was gone, but much more importantly, there were memories, stories, music and laughter as we shared our life with Joan.


Naturally, the service was meticulously planned by Joan and her very special partner Ron, and after the acknowledgement of country, a protocol deeply respected by Joan, there was a personal message to all the staff at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre where she had spent so much time. This was so natural that the packed hall settled into the service for a woman whose incredible interest in people, and amazing memory for details and names ensured that we all felt that she was a mate who really just wanted to have a chat...and she did love a chat!


The service reflected the passions in her life...her love and devotion for family, and the life-long partnership with Ron, a fellow teacher who provided strength and support for her public work.


Joan studied to be a teacher, and worked In Victorian education until her forced retirement when she injustice which she never forgot and shared with women of her generation.


Joan’s political activism was stimulated by her work as a parent to improve education services for her children, this led to engagement with the government and policy development and “a star was born”…or perhaps a comet. Her intelligence, hard work and resilience enhanced the Australian Labor Party; as a candidate, elected member and Minister.


Joan was dedicated to her community, and understood the special responsibilities of representation and advocacy. While she developed a strong reputation as a negotiator within the party structure, she maintained a personal relationship with the community. She truly lived the statement that we live in a community, not an economy, and her policy work in environment, education and as premier, was firmly based on the people, and the impact on lives and futures.  This approach ensured the development of programmes such as Land Care which linked protection of the environment with local communities and expanded the knowledge and experience of local communities, originally in Victoria ,and then across the country, practical and personal policy entrenched in people.


Her election as the first woman leader in the Victorian Labor party at a difficult economic time for the state and inheriting a no win election, did not change her style. There were tough decisions which caused union response and community anger.  A strong unionist, she did not flinch, though the personal costs were great. In her book, co-authored with Moira Rayner, The Women’s Power Handbook, first published in 1999 and a must read, Joan described the pain of coping with recrimination as the State Premier, with the state of the economy and a community mood where she, as leader, had to take the blame for everything. The then opposition leader, Jeff Kennett, even blamed her when the West Coast Eagles became the first non-Victorian team to win the AFL premiership.

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