Among the Chosen: The Life Story of Pat Giles

Among the Chosen: The Life Story of Pat Giles

by Lekkie Hopkins, Lynn Roarty

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Spotlighting a woman who was strongly dedicated to improving the lives of the disadvantaged, this biography celebrates the accomplishments of Pat Giles. Her entrance into Parliament as a Labor politician is reviewed, acknowledging that she came on board not as a raw recruit but as an experienced trade unionist, policymaker, feminist campaigner, and grassroots activist. This account reveals a woman whose determination never faltered and whose work ethic never flagged, telling the story of an activist working from within the established order to effect social change.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781921696480
Publisher: Fremantle Press
Publication date: 09/01/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 17 MB
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About the Author

Lekkie Hopkins is a feminist academic in the women’s studies program in the school of psychology and social science at Edith Cowan University. She is a former archivist, radio broadcaster, literary critic, and teacher. Lynn Roarty is a research associate at Curtin University’s National Drug Research Institute.

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Among the Chosen

The Life Story of Pat Giles

By Lekkie Hopkins, Lynn Roarty

Fremantle Press

Copyright © 2010 Lekkie Hopkins Lynn Roarty
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-921696-48-0



Personal details

Patricia Jessie Giles

Born 16 November 1928 at Minalton, South Australia

1952 married Keith Emmanuel (Mick) Giles

1953 – 1960 five children (Anne, Timothy, Penelope, Fiona, Josephine)


• Woodville Primary School (South Australia)

• Croydon Junior Technical School for Girls, Adelaide

• General Nursing Training, Renmark District Hospital

• Royal Adelaide Hospital (honours certificate)

• Midwifery Certificate (honours), King Edward Memorial Hospital, Perth

• Infant Welfare Certificate, Sister Kate's, Adelaide 1953

• Mature-aged matriculation, 1970

• BA (Industrial Relations, Political Science), University of Western Australia 1971 – 1973

• Awarded Honorary Doctorate, Murdoch University WA, 1996


• Employed by the Hospital Employees' Industrial Union of WA as Industrial Organiser (private hospitals and nursing homes) 1974–1981

• Senator for Western Australia, 1981–1993

Voluntary and community work

• Voluntary work associated with education at public schools, disabled children, and with aged care services, 1959 – 1973

Political, Perth and Trade Union

• Joined Australian Labor Party 1971

• ALP policy committees on social security, community services and status of women

• Inaugural convenor of Women's Electoral Lobby, Western Australia, 1973

• Appointed by the federal government to chair WA State Committee on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation, 1974–1976

• Member of Australian non-government delegation to the First United Nations World Women's Conference in Mexico, 1975

• First woman elected to executive of the WA Trades and Labour Council, 1975

• Member of delegation of Australian and New Zealand trade union women to Bulgaria, 1977

• Appointed to chair the first women's committee of the Australian Council of Trades Unions (ACTU), 1978

• Appointed to the ACTU/Australian Government Consultative Council, 1979

• Nominated by the West Australian branch of the Australian Labor Party as candidate for the Senate and subsequently elected (1981–1993), 1980

• Delegate to ALP National Status of Women Committee

• Delegate to ALP National Conferences

• Member ALP National Executive, Junior Vice President

Parliamentary and International

• Member, Women for a Meaningful Summit, from 1986

• Inaugural member, World Women Parliamentarians for Peace, 1985. President 1988–1990

• Led Australian Government delegation, UN End of the Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi, 1985

• Special Parliamentary Advisor to Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Violence Against Women, 1990

• Australian Government delegation to meeting of Commonwealth Ministers for Women's Affairs – Nairobi 1985, Harare 1987, Ottawa 1990 and Cyprus 1992

• Led Australian Government delegation to meeting of Commonwealth Ministers for Health, Cyprus 1992

• Representative of Australian Government to UN General Assembly 1992

• Appointed chair, World Health Organisation's Global Commission on Women's Health 1993–1996

International Alliance of Women (IAW)

• Elected President IAW 1996, 1999

• Attended IAW Congress Helsinki. Elected board member, 1992

• Delegate, Beijing UN Conference, 4th World Conference on

• Elected President IAW 1996, 1999

• Delegate, Beijing UN Conference, 4th World Conference on Women, 1995

• NGO delegate, UN Commission on the Status of Women, New York 1999–2003

• Delegate for IAW to International Symposium on Domestic Violence, Nicosia, Cyprus, 2000

• Contributor, IAW Symposium on Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW), Odense, Denmark, 2000

• NGO delegate, UN Conference Beijing+5, New York, 2000

• Participant, Regional Initiative Against Trafficking of Women and Girls, Manila, Philippines, 2001

• Participant, Conference on Violence Against Women, Valencia, Spain, 2000

• Participant, Conference on Violence in the Home, Nicosia, Cyprus, 2000

• Rights and Humanity, London select group, consultation and drafting amendments for document, UN Conference on Racism, Durban, South Africa 2001


• Inaugural convenor, Women's Electoral Lobby (WEL), Perth, 1973. Life member of WEL

• Convenor, Women's Health Care House 1993–1999

• Patron and Treasurer, Women's Health Care House, 1999–present

• Member WA Centenary of Women's Suffrage Committee (1999), 1997–2000

• Convenor, Committee of Management, Women's Legal Service WA, 1999–2001

• Member, Committee of Management, Patricia Giles Women's Refuge, Joondalup. Awarded life membership 2001

• Participant, Constitutional Convention Celebrating 100 Years of Australian Women's Suffrage, Canberra ACT 2001



Pat Giles first emerged as a public figure in 1969, when she stood for federal parliament for the seat of Perth as an independent candidate for the pressure group with the unwieldy title of Council for the Defence of Government Schools – more affectionately known as DOGS. There's a photo to mark the occasion, published in The Sunday Times. The sight of it still makes Pat chuckle. A comfortably maternal Pat in early middle age stands at the garden gate surrounded by four children, three horses, a bicycle and a goat. Beside her is a sign reading

Save Our Schools. VOTE GILES 1

In Pat's memory, the children have been skylarking. She recalls it as a photo of a hurly-burly, roisterous sort of family, evocative of a Perth that has long passed. When she speaks of it, you can almost hear the din. In the actual photo, Fiona, Tim and Penelope sit rather demurely astride their horses; nearly-nine-year-old Josephine, the youngest, is riding the bike. That afternoon, only Anne, the eldest at sixteen, is missing, probably still on her way home from school. In the background, through the trees, past the horse-float, you can glimpse the roof of the sprawling family home that sits in a paddock on the banks of the upper reaches of the Swan River. Some say that 25 North Road, Bassendean was itself a character in the drama of the lives of this extraordinary family. There is no suggestion in this photo that even then those lives were beginning to unravel. (Figure 1.1)

It is fitting that Pat Giles should make her public debut in the company of her children. Since her marriage in 1952 she had devoted herself almost exclusively to the care of her growing family. She was a trained midwife and was by her own admission 'daft about babies'. She willingly had five children in seven years. At 25 North Road she set about the running of her household with a brisk and almost military efficiency. She was a practical woman who loved routines. She baked and sewed and knitted. She gardened and sang and kept order at the dinner table. She rostered the care of the family pets to one child or another. As the children grew older, she supervised homework and ferried them to music lessons and to after-school sports. On the weekends she saw them off to pony club, or to the family farm at Gidgegannup. She and her husband took pride in their children's intelligence, in their good health, in their physicality. (Figure 1.2)

They encouraged their children to be original and independent. Music was important in this family. Between them the children played the cornet, the oboe, the flute, the cello, the bassoon, the guitar and the recorder, and everyone played the piano. Pat herself was an accomplished pianist with a love of classical music. On Sunday nights, after the weekly treat of fish and chips and a home-made cake, she would gather the children around the piano to sing. She recalls that her husband, himself a non-singer, delighted in watching this activity. Her daughters remember her as a busy, well-organised and caring mother, but not physically affectionate, except when they were hurt or sick. Then she would become the most compassionate and tender of nurses. The one regular expression of physical intimacy was a weekly ritual brushing of hair.

Pat recalls that it was while her children were still small that her husband, Mick, a brilliant young medical doctor running a general practice in the blue-collar suburb of Midland, actively encouraged her to become involved in community activities outside the home. Among his patients were middle-aged European migrant women who had turned to alcohol to assuage the emptiness of their lives once their children had grown up. He did not want this to happen to Pat. And so Pat became immersed in a life of volunteerism in her local community that fitted around her domestic life: for more than a decade she played the piano and helped with patients at the Spastic Welfare Centre at Mt Lawley on Friday mornings; for six years she delivered Meals on Wheels in Bassendean to the sick and the elderly; and from the time Anne and Tim began kindergarten in the late 1950s until Penelope and Fiona and Josephine were in high school in the 1970s, she was involved in the parent body of each of her children's kindergartens and schools.

In those years Pat discovered an aptitude for committee work that was to prove immensely useful throughout the following four decades of public life. With characteristic wit, she claimed expertise in chairing committees based on years of experience of keeping order at the dinner table. As the doctor's wife and a trained nurse in a semirural district where professional families were a rarity, she readily assumed a leadership role, but was also prepared to do the hands-on work. Always, year after year, this meant the need to fundraise. And fundraising meant, inevitably, holding fêtes and street stalls. Her memory of those days gives an insight into the enormous energy she brought to everything she did. It also provides a sense of the lack of sophistication, of the unruly effervescence of community life in this part of the world, in the context of the wider political sphere. 'Every time we were going to have a street stall, I'd be one of the people who'd drive around to everyone's house saying "Give us a jar of jam for the stall?" You used to get known very quickly ... One of the most ghastly memories I have in my whole life is [about something that happened at] the fête we had one lovely warm Saturday afternoon. A kind, helpful person rolled a keg of ginger beer down the hill, then opened it straight away. Out came the ginger beer, WHOOSH! Everybody within a few yards got drenched! And you know why it's pinned in my mind? It was the weekend that President Kennedy was murdered ... Ginger beer and assassination ...'

One of the traits that seems to have distinguished Pat Giles from her fellow committee members was her nose for politics. She was very much aware of the history of the kindergarten movement in Western Australia and of the politics of the Kindergarten Union's struggle for adequate funding. Throughout the 1960s she became increasingly aware of the different suite of political issues surrounding the funding of state schools. She became passionate and outspoken about the need for good quality state education, from pre-school onwards. This was a passion she shared with her husband. Both Pat and Mick had experienced education as the means of moving from economically, geographically and socially straitened circumstances into a larger, richer, more personally and professionally satisfying world. They were equally fervent in their desire to give their children opportunities that they themselves hadn't had, and egalitarian in their belief that no family should have to consider kindergarten to be a luxury they couldn't afford for their children. They were both aware of the ways that the education of children could expand the horizons of the entire family, and both saw this as part of the process of increasing career opportunities to children of the working class. Pat's sense of social justice had grown out of a Presbyterian moral code inherited from her family of origin; Mick's views were underpinned by a deep commitment to communist principles. Figure 1.3)

To an outside observer it seems clear that Pat and Mick Giles' interest in the provision of an excellent state-funded education to all Australian children was intricately caught up in the rather tricky negotiation of issues of class within their local community. For Mick, as a communist, class lay at the root of social disadvantage; but Australia in the 1960s was generally seen as a classless society, where the myth of 'the fair go' meant opportunity for all. The Giles children felt the tensions implicit here. As the children of a doctor in a working-class suburb, they had access to experiences and opportunities denied to those around them; consequently, they always stood slightly apart from their neighbours. Almost in recognition of their privilege, the children felt under a lot of pressure from both parents to perform. Their mother expected perfect manners and good behaviour; their father expected academic and sporting prowess. Fiona recalls that, in the context of their local community, there was little that was ordinary about their family. They were, by their circumstances, constructed as different. She remembers her father as being intellectually interesting and a bit of an outsider, but that also felt a bit special too. From the young child's perspective, 'We were the ones who gave the pony rides at school, and I remember one of my friends asking us about the floor to ceiling bookshelves, was this really true, that kind of thing, and did you have a servant? But we were being told by our father that we were working class because he worked, and got the same wage as a train driver or some bullshit, some communist rhetoric that he carried on with, so we were then taught to believe that we were working class ...'

When in 1969 an opportunity for high-profile political action on the issue of adequate funding of government schools was offered by the federal election, Pat was delighted to accept nomination as the candidate for the Council for DOGS. She threw herself into campaigning. She door-knocked tirelessly and did letter-box drops with help from the children. Clearly, this was a family affair. In a report in The West Australian she joked that her youngest child, Josephine, whose birthday was on election day, 'would have to be the most politically aware nine-year-old in the land'. As with all her previous community-based activities, the DOGS campaign was run on a shoe-string budget. Pat paid the nomination fee of $100 herself. Other expenses amounted to $430. Support from the Victorian and New South Wales branches of the Council for DOGS came in the form of campaigning leaflets and a modest sum of cash. Posters and other materials were donated by sympathetic friends and individuals.

Pat's candidacy on behalf of DOGS had been initiated as a gesture, as a means of drawing attention to the issue of state-school funding and, in particular, as a means of publicly debating the support for private education that was the policy of the Catholic Democratic Labor Party (DLP). Her electoral success surprised everyone: she gained more than half the number of votes polled by the DLP – 'and this in an area where a large proportion of voters might be expected to vote DLP'. Perhaps even more significantly for her future career as an Australian Labor Party politician, her preferences flowed to the ALP candidate Joe Berinson, pushing him over the line ahead of the Liberal's Fred Chaney (senior). Barely eighteen months later, Pat stood again as a DOGS candidate, in the state election of February 1971. This time her share of the votes was significantly smaller. But in these early forays into the public arena, her strengths had been noticed. Dr Hugh Owen of the History Department of the University of Western Australia took the time to write to congratulate her, saying he was impressed by the quality of her public speaking, which demonstrated her genuine thinking-through of the issue rather than 'pushing a line calculated to win friends' as was often the way of the 'professional politician'. Her thorough grasp of the issue was obvious. He remarked admiringly on her sense of humour and proportion, and on her spirit, 'entering the fray as you did'.

In a community as small as Perth's, such public recognition was important. In September 1970, less than a year after the DOGS election campaign photo had appeared in the local press, Pat was appointed to the Management Committee of the peak non-government body committed to supporting state education, the West Australian Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations, and was soon elected Vice President. Her expertise and abilities were further recognised when in 1971 she received a Ministerial Appointment to the Health and Education Council of Western Australia. These appointments linked her into national networks of like-minded community-based activists, and heralded the beginning of what she later described as her 'giddy rise to fame'. (Figure 1.4)


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Table of Contents


Title Page,
THE 1990s,

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