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Joan Child

Joan Child
Child in 1987, in Old Parliament House
19th Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives
In office
11 February 1986 – 28 August 1989
Preceded byHarry Jenkins Sr.
Succeeded byLeo McLeay
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Henty
In office
18 May 1974 – 13 December 1975
Preceded byMax Fox
Succeeded byKen Aldred
In office
18 October 1980 – 19 February 1990
Preceded byKen Aldred
Succeeded byDivision abolished
Personal details
Gloria Joan Liles Olle

(1921-08-03)3 August 1921
Yackandandah, Victoria, Australia
Died23 February 2013(2013-02-23) (aged 91)
Melbourne, Australia
Political partyAustralian Labor Party

Joan Child, AO (3 August 1921 – 23 February 2013) was an Australian politician. She was the first woman to be Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives.[1][2] Up until the election of Anna Burke on 9 October 2012, she was the only female Speaker of the lower house. She was also the last Speaker to serve in the Old Parliament House, as the newly constructed Parliament still in use today opened in 1988, under her Speakership.

Early life

Gloria Joan Liles Olle was born in Yackandandah, Victoria in 1921, daughter of Warren Olle, a postmaster, and his wife Hilda née Seedsman. She attended Camberwell Girls Grammar School.[3] She married Hal Child, a business manager who was dismissed for stealing while working in Tasmania; but he died suddenly in the mid-1960s, leaving her a widow with five sons (Peter, Andrew, Geoff, Gary and Roger) to raise, the eldest of them 17 years old and the youngest only seven. To keep the family fed and clothed, she worked in factories, shops, as a cleaner and as a cook. When the youngest boy left school, she joined the entourage of future Deputy Prime Minister Jim Cairns, first as a campaign volunteer and then as a liaison officer.[4]


A member of the Australian Labor Party, Child was elected to the House for the seat of Henty, in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, in 1974, having narrowly failed to win the seat in 1972. She was the first female Labor member of the House, and only the fourth woman elected to the House in its history. After less than two years, she was defeated in the landslide Liberal victory in 1975. Her attempt to regain the seat in 1977 failed, but she won it back in 1980 and continued to hold it until her retirement in 1990.

During the second term of Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Child became Speaker on 11 February 1986 as the sole nominee of the ALP, and was elected by 78 votes to 64 over her opponent, Allan Rocher. She was re-elected Speaker after the 1987 election, winning against Don Dobie. She was liked and respected by MPs from both sides of the Chamber, but she found the notorious rowdyism of Australian parliamentary conduct difficult to deal with, and her health suffered under the strain. In August 1989 she resigned from the role.

Among the most notable events of her term in office was when the Provisional Parliament House was closed and the new Parliament House was opened on 9 May 1988, and first sat on 22 August. Some discussion took place as to whether the old Speaker's Chair, which had been a gift from the Parliament of the United Kingdom, should be installed in the new building; but Child, as Speaker, refused to move the chair. She left the House of Representatives at the 1990 election, when the seat of Henty was abolished.

In the Queen's Birthday Honours of June 1990, Child was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.[5] She enjoyed an active retirement, her activities including membership of the Patrons' Council of the Epilepsy Foundation of Victoria. In February 2013, aged 91, she died. A state funeral was held on 5 March.[6]


  1. ^ Julia Gillard pays tribute to Joan Child, Australia's first female speaker, Herald Sun, 24 February 2013
  2. ^ Policy Officer (2 March 1986). "Joan Child became first female Speaker of the Federal House". Retrieved 16 May 2019. ((cite web)): |last= has generic name (help)
  3. ^ Veitch, Harriet (1 March 2013). "First female speaker had a lot to say". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  4. ^ Harriet Veitch, "Speaker of the House knew what it was like to do it tough", The Age, 4 March 2013
  5. ^ "It's An Honour has a new home". Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  6. ^ Political pioneer Joan Child farewelled in Melbourne, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 5 March 2013
  • Gloria Joan Child at The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia
Parliament of Australia Preceded byHarry Jenkins Sr. Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives 1986–1989 Succeeded byLeo McLeay Preceded byMax Fox Member for Henty 1974–1975 Succeeded byKen Aldred Preceded byKen Aldred Member for Henty 1980–1990 Division abolished
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Joan Child
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