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

Life & Style Weekend - - WELCOME // INSIDE TODAY -

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.

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