First Female Member of the House of Representatives & First Female Speaker - Joan Child

Date of Record: 1974

A member of the Australian Labor Party, Joan Child was elected to the House for the seat of Henty, in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, in 1974, having narrowly failed to win the seat in 1972.

Joan, a widow at just 42, a cleaner, factory worker and mother of five, was at home celebrating her election to federal Parliament as the member for Henty.

She was the first female Labor member of the House, and only the fourth woman elected to the House in its history.

When the newspapers rang and asked if they could send a journalist and a photographer to capture the historic moment, she happily agreed.

On their arrival she was asked to pose performing mundane domestic house duties, she declined. In fact instead Joan proudly stood with a glass of champagne in her hand in front of the clothesline and was aglow: a white sheet with the words "Great Going Gough" was hung over it.

Joan had a lifetime of paid and unpaid housework behind her - she was eager to prove now that she was a capable politician.

After less than two years in the House she was defeated in the landslide Liberal victory in 1975. After unsuccessfully contesting the seat in 1977, she regained it in 1980 and served until her retirement in 1990.

Joan became the first female Speaker on 11 February 1986 as the unanimous nominee of the ALP, and was not opposed by the Liberal Opposition. 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. She resigned as Speaker in August 1989.