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Marilyn (far right) with Brett Yeats, Kate Cottingham, Danielle Ngiem, Ruth Ingram, Jennifer Hendy
I was born at the Canberra Hospital, Acton on 17th April 1951. My father was a bricklayer who had come from Yorkshire, England, after the war as part of the building of Canberra. My mother had come from Sydney to join the public service. I have two older sisters, Jennifer and Lynette, with about a gap of about a year in age between us. We lived in Novar St, Yarralumla. The back garden was a huge vegetable garden with fruit trees and chooks.
When I was three, my mother left us, came back and left again. A very long story in itself, with many twists and turns. It was only 20 years ago that I discovered I had a half sister who is two years younger than me who was adopted at birth by a Canberra family. We have the same biological mother.
With our mother absent, my father organised for our care initially by his cousin Mavis and then Una Rogers, who came from Queanbeyan to live with us. She had two children, Geraldine (one month younger than me) and Julie, who was one at the time. She became our mum. Mum and Dad then had a child together, my brother Marc, who is ten years younger than me.
I went to Yarralumla Primary School. I spent a lot of time by the river, when I should have been at school. We would often go yabbying along the creeks at the back of the school or catching tadpoles in the Cotter River. In addition to working on building sites, my dad worked as a peace officer (now probably called security officer) at Government House so we often went into the grounds and garden there. We would play in the paddocks around us. We would go around all the high commission offices for material for our school projects.
From Yarralumla I went to Telopea Park High. I have very fond memories of Mrs Thompson, who taught me my love of reading and writing and Miss Milliken, my love of history. I also remember wonderful geology expeditions onto Capital Hill, where it was very easy to find fossils. It has now been excavated for the building of the new Parliament House.
I left school when I was 15 and worked at JB Young department store, Kingston. in the Fancy Department. I sold everything from wool, haberdashery, perfume and cosmetics, to stockings. I was working there when panty hose first hit the shops, amazing to have to learn how to put them on so we could explain this wonderful new product to our customers. I worked there until I was almost 17 when I went to Sydney to start nursing.
I was a student nurse at Prince Henry Hospital, Little Bay (the southern suburbs of Sydney) between 1968 and 1971. This hospital is now demolished to make way for up market residential accommodation. Not difficult to understand as it was on the most beautiful coast line with its own little beach. Many a day was spent on the beach sleeping having worked all night. Nobody was sympathetic to the frequency of sunburn. I loved nursing and found I was very good at it.
In addition to working as a registered nurse at Prince Henry Sydney, I worked in many places in Australia through the 1970s including Fremantle Hospital and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA, and in Sydney, with the Rockdale Mobile Nursing Service and for many years as a nurse practitioner at the Haymarket Foundation Clinic for the Homeless.
I moved to Adelaide in 1980 and worked with street kids and illicit drug users, becoming interested in working with the large number of women with prescribed drug addiction.
My activism for change has been a constant through my working life. I have always found it difficult to be silent when I witness a wrong. This has involved me in many very personally difficult and challenging situations, and also many wonderful opportunities to make a difference. As I have aged I am sure I have become more skilled at challenging and questioning and drawing from my vast network of wonderful people.
My activism led me to employment and then elected office in the Australian Nursing Federation. I held the positions of Liaison Officer, ANF (SA Branch) 1981, elected ANF (SA Branch) Secretary 1982 - 1987 and then elected ANF Federal Secretary for 2 terms between 1987 – 1995. These were extraordinary times of change in nursing with the first equal pay cases, removal of the no strike clause from the ANF Constitution, the first strike by nurses in Victoria, transfer of nurse education from hospitals to universities, professional rates wage cases, access to superannuation for nurses and development of clinical career structures. I took particular satisfaction in negotiating the NSW Nurses Union and Queensland Nurses Union into the national federation which had the effect of consolidating the previously warring state organisations into one organisation, one voice. I worked on many issues and disputes, in many states and places, cities and remote communities and represented Australia in international nursing forums.
I lost the 1995 ANF Federal Secretary election. This was a very difficult time and another long story. I spent time gardening, contemplating what was next. Great support from family and friends, with professional guidance to get in touch with my skills led me to women’s health. I held the position of Executive Director, Women’s Health Victoria from 1995 to November 2010 when I resigned having made the decision to move from Melbourne and do something different. I think one of my greatest achievements in this role was to co-ordinate the successful campaign over 5 years to remove abortion from the Victorian Crimes Act in 2009.
I have been honoured in my life with being awarded the Australian Centenary of Federation Medal and inducted onto the Victorian Honour Roll of Women for leadership and advocacy in improving women’s health. (Not wanting to skite).
A year ago, my partner Susan and I bought 25 acres between Daylesford and Malmsbury in Victoria, and have lived there for the last year. The vegetable garden is very big with raised garden beds providing an excellent environment for luscious vegetables. The orchard and berry beds are planted. The dam is stocked with trout. The chooks are laying and we are looking forward to a productive and healthy next part of our lives.
My sisters and brother have been extraordinary in producing and nurturing their many amazing children. I have 12 nieces and nephews and now a growing tribe of great nieces and nephews, many of whom live in or around Canberra. I have no children of my own.
I continue to work within health promotion and the health sector on health boards, consulting in planning and organisational development and mentoring up and coming managers.
Some years ago, my public profile associated with my work generated an email enquiry asking whether I was the Marilyn Beaumont that went to Telopea. This was from Ruth Ingram, which brought back memories of our ‘group’ at lunch time sitting under the big trees around the oval. I am looking forward to the Telopea reunion very much.