At 74 years old, a euthanasia campaigner says that she is determined to die on her own terms
Ann Rickard talks to Sallyanne Atkinson, a woman of substance
I’ve always had the philosophy of ‘you take your job seriously, you don’t take yourself seriously’
SALLYANNE Atkinson is a role model for all women and girls, although she does not see herself as such, even though her achievements are extraordinary.
She was the first (and only) female Lord Mayor of Brisbane and a woman with a legacy of political achievement.
She has told her story in a book entitled No Job For A Woman which she will bring to the Sunshine Coast on March 15, hosted by Annie’s Books on Peregian.
In No Job For A Woman Sallyanne shares the challenges and triumphs of a life dedicated to public service in Australia and overseas, including her role in three Olympic bids.
The book is an easy read despite its potential for heavy political prose.
“I did not want to write a book that was bogged down in politics,” Sallyanne said. “I wanted it to be engaging, easy to read. I’ve always had the philosophy of ‘you take your job seriously, you don’t take yourself seriously’.’’
A memoir that goes back to Sallyanne’s wartime childhood in Sri Lanka, to her first jobs as a Brisbane journalist and television presenter, through all the challenges, pitfalls and triumphs of a long life devoted to public service, No Job For A Woman brims with personal anecdotes, self-deprecation, and delightful vignettes of home life including all the trials of a woman raising five children while forging a career.
While her myriad achievements over four decades leave most people overwhelmed, Sallyanne takes it all as a matter of fact.
“I wish I could say my political life began with a great and noble cause,” she said. “It actually began in a laundromat in Edinburgh.”
Sallyanne was living and raising a family in Scotland in the 1960s with her then husband Leigh, a neurosurgeon studying in Edinburgh, when she met a woman in the laundromat who invited her to a Conservative Party Young Mothers’ Group. It was not the enticement of the group’s guest speakers that interested Sallyanne, but the offer of babysitters during the meetings, something any young harassed mother would jump at.
“I never really planned anything in those days, just fell into them,” she said. “I always knew there was no point in planning. If anything happened (sickness) to the children, I’d be the one to stay at home. Back in those days, the career choices for women were either a teacher or a secretary.”
After Edinburgh and back in Brisbane in the 1970s, it was a burst drainpipe in her Indooroopilly street that ignited Sallyanne’s interest in politics. She was asked by neighbours to contact the council about the pipe. She did, had it repaired, enjoyed the sense of power it gave her, and went on to enter local politics and eventually become elected as Lord Mayor of Brisbane in 1985.
Sallyanne’s achievements during her time as mayor include overseeing Expo 88 which was the springboard to begin Brisbane’s metamorphosis into one of the country’s most vibrant cities.
She has been Queensland’s special representative in South-East Asia, chairman of Queensland Tourism, Senior Trade Commissioner to France, Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Deputy Mayor of the Athletes Village at the Sydney Olympics, and a member of the Olympic Bid Teams for Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. She has an Arts Degree in History and Political Science, Honorary Doctorates from three universities and has been on the boards of nine public companies.
She was awarded the Australian Catholic University’s highest honour, Doctor of the University, for her extraordinary contribution to Australia’s international reputation as a location for sporting events.
In 1993 she was made an Officer of the Order of Australia.
She considers her greatest achievement (among so many) to be her role with others in the development of South Bank.
“I had to fight so many battles (for its development). It is an ongoing legacy for the people in Brisbane. The old buildings along the river all faced away from the river. It wasn’t attractive. We didn’t realise what we had with the river. Expo 88 was the turning point. We came to recognise our city rather late. In a way that is a good thing. We learnt from the mistakes of other cities.”
While the book closely follows Sallyanne’s career and chronicles her innumerable achievements, it is peppered with charming insights into her personal life along with insider peeks at some of the famous people, including royalty, she encountered during her global career.
When she met Gina Lollobrigida, her impression was that
“she was old and lined with far too much make-up’’ but when Sallyanne later saw a photograph of herself with the Italian superstar she realised the power of heavy make-up. “She looked gorgeous, I looked drab.”
Now, at 74, life is just as busy for Sallyanne. She is on the boards of the Queensland Brain Institute and the Waltzing Matilda Centre, she is in demand as a public speaker and is in equal demand as a mother of five and grandmother of 14.
Sallyanne at her Brisbane book launch with family: Damien, Genevieve and Nicola.
Richie Ah Mat, Chairperson of the Cape York Land Council in 2015 as Sallyanne was the Ceremonial Naming Lady for the Australian Border Force Cutter CAPE YORK, which was launched near Fremantle, WA.