Josephine (‘Jo’) Vallentine, born in 1946, is an Australian peace activist and former senator for Western Australia. She entered the Senate on 1 July 1985 after election as a member of the Nuclear Disarmament Party but sat as an independent and then as a member of the Greens Western Australia from 1 July 1990. She resigned on 31 January 1992. This interview was conducted as part of the ‘Women in Leadership’ project in 2011.
Interview with Jo Vallentine
J Elix: I’ve got standard questions but what I’m finding, I tend to just go from what the person says and we explore different ideas. These questions are really about — I’m interested in things to do with leadership. I had a really good interview with Giz [Watson].
J Vallentine: Oh good.
J Elix: I suspect that you may have some of the view about leadership that she does.
J Vallentine: She is fabulous.
J Elix: She is fabulous. I’m really just going with what people come up with, although I have a structure in my mind. It will probably take about an hour, is that alright for you?
J Vallentine: Yes.
J Elix: So the first sort of things that I’m — okay, where were you born?
J Vallentine: In Perth, 1946.
J Elix: Really.
J Vallentine: Yes, West Australian.
J Elix: West Australian, born and bred. And your date of birth?
J Vallentine: 30th fifth, [May], ’46.
J Elix: What’s the highest level of education that you got to?
J Vallentine: Bachelor of Arts and then a Dip Ed, Dip Ed I suppose at UWA.
J Elix: Family religion?
J Vallentine: I grew up Catholic.
J Elix: Okay, interesting, the reason we ask that is because one of the women who is associated with the project, Heather O’Connor from Melbourne, is writing a PhD thesis on the connection between Catholicism, Catholic Education and women and leadership.
J Vallentine: Fabulous, that sounds good, because the Wilderness Society, years and years ago, thirty people sitting around a table and they were talking about the campaigns they’d all been involved with and someone thought to ask, ‘How many people around this table have had a Catholic education?’, about two thirds.
J Elix: Yes, and so I’m asking that question. So did you have a Catholic education?
J Vallentine: Yes, I sure did, Loreto Convent Boarding School, daily Mass.
J Elix: So here in Perth?
J Vallentine: Yes.
J Elix: Why did you go to boarding school?
J Vallentine: Because I lived in the country. I was actually broad up on a farm, eighty miles from Perth, one of my daughters to a farmer. So it was — there was a local convent that I went to for the first few years but my bigger sisters had all been to Loreto, and my mother, and my grandmother and my aunt and so Loreto …
J Elix: Was where you were going to go.
J Vallentine: … yes, and all of the families in that little country town, who could anything like afford it, sent their kids off to boarding school when they were about twelve, but actually I went earlier because my parents went overseas.
J Elix: How old were you when you went boarding school?
J Vallentine: Nine, I’ve got a big sister who went when she was five, shudder, shudder, I mean it’s awful really.
J Elix: I went to boarding school but when I was fifteen. My husband went when he was eight. So your religion now is?
J Vallentine: Quaker.
J Elix: When did you become a Quaker?
J Vallentine: Well I started attending Quakers in about 1972 and I actually became a Quaker about thirty years ago, so it was between the birth of my two daughters I actually applied for membership, but I’d been around for about ten years by then already. So it takes a long time to pluck up the courage to ask for membership in the Quaker community, or it did me, ten years.
Are you interviewing Veronica Brady by any chance?
J Elix: No because she’s not, I guess, in my mind identified as an environmental, woman leader, would that be true?
J Vallentine: She supports a lot of the environment causes but that hasn’t been her main thing, she has been mainly a teacher of English literature, but very hot to trot on Aboriginal land rights issues and stuff.
J Elix: Yes, I know of her stuff.
J Vallentine: Yes, okay.
J Elix: I’ve read her book on Judith Wright.
J Vallentine: South of my Days.
J Elix: Yes, I just finished reading that. Okay, children, how many children?
J Vallentine: Two: thirty-two and twenty-nine.
J Elix: How old were you when you had your first child?
J Vallentine: I was thirty-two, so delayed.
J Elix: That must have been quite old at that time.
J Vallentine: In those days, yes, well I kept my own name too, which was totally extraordinary. Peter and I flossed around Europe for a few years and had the big debate, for six years we debated whether to have children or not, because we saw pollution, and we saw poverty, and we saw over-population. We knew it was going to be tough for another generation, so it was really kind of a leap of faith in the end, but yes it took that long to work that through …
J Elix: To work that through.
J Vallentine: Yes, six years.
J Elix: And they are both girls.
J Vallentine: Yes.
J Elix: How many were in your family?
J Vallentine: There were five girls in my family.
J Elix: How would you describe your mum?
J Vallentine: Well she lived until she was nearly one hundred, she was gorgeous. She was a very hard worker. I never heard her say she was tired but she did used to have a rest. We were talking about, just the other day, my sisters and I because she used have a rest after lunch every day. On a farm you could do that, so she was a farmer’s wife, very engaged in community affairs. She was the daughter of a politician actually so the politics skipped a generation. She used to help her father write his speeches, and do his accounts for him before she fell in love with this farmer and went to live in the bush.
J Elix: So she wasn’t a country girl herself?
J Vallentine: No, well her first few years were spent in Marble Bar …
J Elix: Very country.
J Vallentine: … very country, yes, so that was always in the blood, but her father was George Miles and he was an Independent politician for thirty-three years in the Upper House in this State parliament. He was a conservative independent but he had some forward thinking ideas, he was talking about tidal power back then. They thought he was a bit loopy I’m sure. He also got the railway line built from Port Hedland into Marble Bar so he had some really good ideas but he was very conservative as well.
J Elix: But your mum was never interested in doing politics ?
J Vallentine: She saw what it was like for him and she saw what it was like for her mother, so I think she steered clear. She helped him but I think she was quite glad to get out of it. So she never had tertiary education but she could have and done well. I think she was quite bright really. Her younger sister went to university for a year, but actually in the next generation, five girls, I’m the only one who went to university, so we’re kind of a bit slow on the uptake, a bit slow.
J Elix: So your mum was very active in community …
J Vallentine: Very active, Country Women’s Association and the Dale Ladies Guild, great at sport too, very good at tennis and golf and always in the sporting things as well, as was my dad.
J Elix: Sporty.
J Vallentine: Very
J Elix: Was your dad involved with community stuff?
J Vallentine: Yes, everything to do with sport, anything else, sport, sport, sport, sport, he loved sport, playing it, not — this is before television days, they didn’t watch sport, they played sport. So in everything in the local town.
J Elix: Okay, now I know, well I don’t know really, but I’m assuming that the peace movement was your first involvement in social change?
J Vallentine: Well, came through the Quakers, and I was just thinking, we got married in 1972 and so I’d been around the Quakers for at least a year and a half by then, so I came across Quakers in 1971 and I was in some of the Vietnam marches. That is how I noticed the Quakers because they were marshals, keeping the crowd in order and everything. So as a teacher in 1967 or so, I was going to the Vietnam marches, I just knew that it wasn’t right for us to be in that war, and that’s how I got involved with Quakers.
J Elix: So you noticed the Quakers and then you got involved with the Quakers?
J Vallentine: Yes.
J Elix: And then through that became involved in everything else.
J Vallentine: Everything else, nuclear disarmament, I suppose in the Vietnam War days they hadn’t really, certainly hadn’t joined up uranium mining with nuclear weapons, but the Quakers are very strong on nuclear disarmament, so as soon as I got in touch with them that was clear. Then we had this Premier Charlie Court who was very keen on development, development of the north-west. He was the previous incarnation of Colin Barnett really, who we’ve got now. So he said, when I was pregnant with my first daughter, he said, Western Australia will be the first State in Australia to have a nuclear power station and that was it. Pregnant with Kate at the same kitchen window. Listening to the radio, which I still do, in that little corner and I heard he say that and I thought, I don’t like the sound of that. But I didn’t know much about nuclear power. I knew about nuclear weapons so that very day I hopped on the motor bike and went into the Environment Centre and met up with Annabelle Newbury who is a name I would like to give you for one of the people who has worked with me for a long time.
J Elix: I know that name. So hang on, you hopped on your motor bike when you were pregnant, as one did in those days.
J Vallentine: Yes [laughs]. I suppose we wore a helmet I can’t even remember that. It was certainly before bicycle helmet days.
J Elix: Okay, so you went into the Environment Centre.
J Vallentine: The Environment Centre.
J Elix: There was an Environment Centre?
J Vallentine: There was it was in Wellington Street, 637 Wellington Street, I think, just opposite where the bus station is now. It was up stairs and I can remember doing a bit of a waddle up the stairs. I did have a helmet because I can remember having the helmet, a funny little helmet. I met Annabelle and I said, ‘I want to find out about this nuclear power that Charlie Court is talking about’.
But before that I’d been really interested in Aboriginal issues. When I was at uni I did Aboriginal Anthropology. I thought it was such an amazing course that every Australian really should do it, so that we have some understanding of this extraordinary culture that is being decimated around us, and the Berndts were still there, Catherine and, what was name, Catherine Berndt. There is a museum at UWA in their honour. They went out and sat with Aboriginal people and recorded songs and stories. They were some of the — not really the first anthropologists to do that but they had direct field experience so it was really great to be in their classes, to hear them talk. So actually that led to a lot of interest in Aboriginal issues. Having grown up in a country town, on a farm. I knew Aboriginal people. They’d been in and around our farm, shearing and everything so I wasn’t afraid of that. A lot of urban Australians, still have had nothing to do with Aboriginal people, which is pretty amazing but there are people like that. So I think I was fortunate in having that experience, then I’ve run into some of those families in the many years since and talked about how dreadful it was and the conditions they had on our farm to live in and so on. It’s been really interesting to do a very personal kind of apology.
J Elix: So I want to talk about you and your leadership, maybe — would you call yourself a leader?
J Vallentine: I think I’ve got leadership capabilities but I don’t really like being at the head of anything. If I’ve ever do anything, it’s usually as co-convenor, co-founder, there has been a group of people. I still work that way. I suppose I did get catapulted a little bit into a leadership position by that extraordinary thing in the Senate. Then you are out front. You are standing out, you are accountable, and it’s very public and so on.
J Elix: So before you stood that time, you had been a leader in the sense of being co something or other?
J Vallentine: Just working in community group, yes, working with other people in community groups. I still think that is the most powerful way to work actually.
J Elix: So what possessed you then to actually …
J Vallentine: Run for that position?
J Elix: … not so much run for the position. I can imagine the passion and the concern and all those things, but what possessed you [someone comes along, irrelevant conversation].
What does your other daughter do?
J Vallentine: She is doing at the moment Energy Auditing which is with Green Skills and WACOSS, the West Australian Council of Social Services, so that’s an area that we need to look at of course, but she’s also just started at uni doing community, what is it called, something about International Community Development something like that. So she’s just started that. She started uni ages ago and didn’t continue with that, but she could do it very well. Sam is dyslexic and has issues with formal education and everything but anyway she is great with people with disabilities, I know, because she knows what it’s like, she is one. So she’s found that little niche which is good.
J Elix: Excellent. So where I was …
J Vallentine: Sorry about that, quite an interruption.
J Elix: No, not at all, lovely to meet your daughter. You were talking about how prior to the election, the Senate election, you had been working with other people in community groups, co-convenor, co-founders those sorts of things. I was asking what possessed you then to, in a sense, put yourself out there as, and become a leader.
J Vallentine: Yes, in the front, because there is no doubt you’re in a leadership position, as is Giz [Watson], she’s probably a bit of reluctant leader but she is very good and she does keep, kind of — the Greens try and operate on a flat structure but she is really seen as the leader, she is fabulous.
J Elix: Can I come back to that, because she was very much, I don’t see myself as the leader or …
J Vallentine: She is the leader. I mean Greens don’t call a leader, except Bob Brown is okay to be called a leader because Bob Brown is happy to do that, but not a woman, it is very interesting.
J Elix: Nobody else can, no, I know we’ll come back to that. Why did you do it and what was it like?
J Vallentine: It was in those — the year itself was quite important, it was 1984, so this one was only three and her sister was five. It was terrible really. We had this doctor in Canberra, Michael Denborough. At the National Conference of the ALP which was at the Lakeside in Canberra that year. Bob Brown and his cohorts had decided that Labor could allow uranium mining, three mines only. So it’s been totally illogical ever since, it’s like being a little bit pregnant, how do you stop it. People were coming out of that conference, streaming with tears, they were so upset, there was such passion. People had really felt the Labor party had lost it way, and I would say, it has never found it again, to be honest.
But there was this doctor from Canberra who said, ‘Join us’ had a little card table outside the hall, all these weeping people coming and he said ‘Join the Nuclear Disarmament Party’, fifty cents and you don’t have to disqualify yourself from the Labor Party, you can still be a member there and do what you’ve got to do in there, but we’d like you to be a member of our party. So it was one of those things, straight away, open to everybody, fifty cents. Nice, welcoming and so on, therein lay the seeds of its destruction. He was quite pushy with people around the country. He was ringing people all round the country, after that, because it took off, the NDP just took off. He wanted to have a Senate team in each State.
People for Nuclear Disarmament, which is very confusing, we had PND which was formed in 1982 and then NDP, people were massively confused. We had a meeting and thought well what will we do about this, there is this doctor, yes it’s great to have a doctor on board. We had our very own lovely doctor Harry Cohen who has always been great on the nuclear issues. So we had a meeting and thought shall we run a candidate and thought, no, we’ll do what they did with the no-dams campaign the election before, in 1983, remember they had the Franklin, no dams, the little triangles.
J Elix: Yes I do.
J Vallentine: Anyway we thought we’d do that and then a week later we all got together again to think how that campaign would go and in the meantime several of us had been phoned by this Michael Denborough saying, ‘What you’re not going to put up candidates’ I mean come on. Then we heard that other States were putting up candidates, so we started thinking, we can’t have WA left out, that wouldn’t be right, so we decided we would join up, be part of the NDP and field candidates. Then we asked this Dr Harry Cohen if he would be the candidate and he said, oh no, he couldn’t. It was really funny the line was, I wouldn’t be able to keep my four children in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed on a Senator’s salary [laughs], which wasn’t very much in those days. I think it was, well it was a long time ago now, it was something like fifty thousand, which still sounded like a lot to me because I had been out of the formal workforce looking after these children and had just got back into a part-time Peace Education job.
Anyhow, Harry Cohen was our first choice and he said no. I was the next choice, I wasn’t even the first choice, that felt fine to me but we had a bit of a laugh when Harry said, no he couldn’t do it for that reason.
J Elix: So you were the second?
J Vallentine: Yes, we made up a list of people we thought would be good. They had to be people who had been around for a while so had a bit of experience, people who could string a few words together, people whose commitment was known. So we had a few other people who wanted to be the candidate, students and that, and we thought student no, it’s not going to cut it. This is one occasion in my life when a woman with two young children was the right candidate. It’s not just because that was me but I fitted a profile that I think other people hadn’t really realized was going to be, hit a spot in the electorate. We had Ronald Reagan prancing around saying we are going to nuke the ‘Ruskies’. People were really, really scared in 1984 that we would find ourselves nuked and so a person who could project into the future, with her two small children beside her. They were used in the campaign.
J Elix: How did you feel about having them used? Was your husband used?
J Vallentine: Yes, he was, the whole family, photos in the garden and all that sort of business. Well actually he pretty soon decided that he would give up his job and stay home and be the house parent, but actually that wasn’t until after the election. People had reassured him, they said, ‘Oh Peter, don’t worry about it. She’ll never be elected but she’ll be a good candidate. It’s just for a couple of months’ [interruption to the recording].
Anyway, so Peter was absolutely assured by everybody that we’d never win this campaign, it was just for the sake of not letting this WA side down, being in the candidate. But there was one woman, who was a very good friend of mine, she and I had a conversation and she said ‘I’ve got a feeling, if you put your name forward you’re going to end up a Senator’. I said ‘I’ve got that feeling too but let’s not say it to anybody else, let’s not tell anybody’ so we didn’t. We quietly had this. I don’t know how we knew, but we did, we knew and things started to fall into place, not everything as you’d want, but it was very heady, very heady indeed, very exciting. It was a campaign like no other I’ve ever been involved in, it was magic, because it was women and children mostly. At that stage I have to say, it was before the Men’s Movement really got going but the Women’s Movement had been going for quite some time already. We’d had twelve years, Women’s Electoral Lobby ’72, so we’d had quite a bit of time for women to find their power and to be in groups and to say, yes we can do whatever we want. It was women who were the workers in that campaign. So it was mostly women with small children. They had the future very much in their minds.
J Elix: So how did you cope with doing all that work that was necessary in a Senate campaign, and then in those early days of being a Senator, how did you deal with the kids?
J Vallentine: Well we tried with having nannies and …
J Elix: What happened?
J Vallentine: … didn’t really work very well. They’d take them to the corner shop on the way home and buy them sweets, which we didn’t want to happen. They would let them watch television instead of reading to them and engaging in activities with them.
Q [Sam] They would buy us treats.
J Elix: Got that Sam.
Q Lollies, ice cream and pizza, more than once a year.
J Elix: So you tried having nannies?
J Vallentine: Yes.
J Elix: Did you have family support?
J Vallentine: Not really at that stage, no. I think my family all thought I was absolutely mad, my parents included. My mother, I can remember saying, ‘They will just chew you up and spit you out’ and she said it like that, they will spit you out, well that happens.
J Elix: How did you do it?
J Vallentine: Well Peter was very helpful and this woman I spoke about who said, you’re going to end up a Senator, she was cooking casseroles because I had to give up my first job that I’d had for years. We were in a job together, three of us, in this Peace Education Project, and she gave me half her salary each week to buy the grocers, which was absolutely amazing. Peter had a job at that stage but it wasn’t paying very much. He worked with people’s disabilities as well. We’ve never had big earning jobs in this house.
J Elix: So one, that woman friend gave you half her salary.
J Vallentine: Yes, and then other people cooked, casseroles would come into the office. That was good, the support during the campaign was extraordinary. We had like a little crèche in the office, which was not far from here, so we had tricycles going up and down the centre hallway all the time. If the media ever rang up we had to absolutely say, ‘Okay kids outside, shut the door’.
J Elix: Okay so once you got elected what happened?
J Vallentine: This was, oh well then it got much harder. Actually the campaign was terrific because there was heaps of enthusiasm, there were heaps of volunteers, there were people who had never been involved in party politics or the peace movement before, who came in and said ‘I really want to help you and what can I do’. So we’d say, ‘Okay’.
J Elix: So leaving that aside now, you’ve been elected, big shock.
J Vallentine: Yes, bit shock to everybody except this Vanessa and me. Annabelle will tell you, if you interview her, or if she responds to the blog. We were sitting here on election night and the numbers were coming in you see. We were really in competition with the Democrats for that last spot, it’s the seventh spot. It was the year that the Senate was expanded in size, so did ever everything get handed to us. The timing was right. It was obviously meant to happen. So the seventh spot and the numbers were coming in and Annabelle looked at me and she said ‘Oh my God, we’ve done too well, you’re going to get elected’.
See people didn’t really want that necessarily. They wanted a good campaign. They wanted the Labor party to get the message about nuclear disarmament, but then Annabelle knew immediately. She’d obviously thought about it, but then what, because we’re not prepared for this. This is just a little community group. This is just a bunch of mums. We’ve got organised and we’ve done better than most people thought we would.
J Elix: Okay, so then …
J Vallentine: Shock.
J Elix: … you would have had a period of time before you actually went into the Senate.
J Vallentine: Absolutely, it was dreadful, Senator elect.
J Elix: Yes, you don’t get any money.
J Vallentine: No, from the December 1st, we didn’t actually get the official acknowledgement until mid-January, but on December 1st we knew because we could see the numbers. So we knew that it was going to come up but it was ages before it was actually official. So it was from December 1st until July 1st, that’s a long time to be Senator elect. In that time we had the MX Missile crisis when Bob Hawke had said, the American planes could come into air bases into Australia and refuel. I happened to be at a Quaker Peace Conference in London at that time, so all of sudden there was international media all over. This is pre-mobiles, pre-emails …
J Elix: So how were you managing from moving from being a mum with the kids at home to being able — because you would have been trapped having to travel to Canberra as well.
J Vallentine: No, not in that period, no there was this international conference, which I’d already promised to go to before the election in January in London, so that happened. In that time I got Peter Jones, whose was a fellow Quaker peace activist …
J Elix: Yes, I know Peter.
J Vallentine: … to come and give me the biggest briefing ever, so we talked bombs, for days we talked bombs. I had to absolutely get skilled up on the information and the knowledge about the Soviets, vis-à-vis the Americans who had what. I can remember saying to Peter ‘Oh God do I really have to know this. This is boy talk. This is bomb counting stuff’. I know here, as a woman does, that nuclear weapons are a bad idea and we don’t want Australia to have any part in helping the Americans to deliver them. So we knew, bases – no, warship visits – no, uranium mining- no, linked up all those. That was the platform, it was just three items. So I was clear about all those things but he thought that I should know more about everything including what Pine Gap does, which is of course still a mystery to most people because we are never given a full and proper briefing. We just know that it is very, very awful and it serves the American military totally.
J Elix: So you were on a learning curve …
J Vallentine: A huge learning curve.
J Elix: … and no money.
J Vallentine: No money, no, I borrowed money from friends. I don’t think I asked my family because I think they still thought, oh God what’s she done now, kind of thing. I never even thought to ask family, so I asked Quakers and a few other people in the peace movement. I owed fifteen thousand dollars, which in those days sounds like quite a lot. I borrowed fifteen thousand dollars because I had to get clothes. There was a woman who helped me with a wardrobe. She’s another name I could give you. She was very generous. She came with her cheque book and we went shopping. She came and looked at my wardrobe, I’ll never forget it. She came and looked at my wardrobe here and I said ‘Oh look I’ve just got this and that’ I’d just been to the op shop and got a few new things [laughs]. She looked at it all and she said, ‘Oh no’, she said ‘out, out, out’. I said ‘Heather, I’ve just bought that. I haven’t even worn it yet’. She said ‘No not suitable’. It was really funny. I mean she was absolutely well meaning and she did buy me a few lovely outfits which lasted for the duration of my eight years.
J Elix: Oh really.
J Vallentine: Oh yes. I hang onto clothes for years and years and years. This is op-shop for example, anyway …
J Elix: So then you got to go to Canberra.
J Vallentine: Yes, Canberra started July 1st. We were over there and it started with a real bang because George Shultz was in town Secretary of State.
J Elix: Sorry, I just want to stop you there. I’m interested in then, how you started to go back and forward to Canberra and how you managed.
J Vallentine: Well that’s when we really realized that the nanny thing wasn’t going to work out. By the end of that year from July to December we had a nanny. I mean we didn’t in the first months. I just was juggling, coming home and cooking and being exhausted and still looking after the children and whoever would have them, would have them. I just worked from the little office we had and the kids were around. Kate, she started school that year and Sam was in day-care for a couple of days a week. No she was from the year before so I had a bit of time without the children. Then by the end of the year we tried these nannies and decided, no, and Peter — I came home one time from Canberra and he said, ‘I’ve just resigned my job’ and I said ‘Really’. He said ‘Yes, this isn’t working. I’d rather be at home and look after the children and that will be how we will do it’, support. So it was a very, very interesting decision, because he doesn’t usually make unilateral decisions. We generally discuss everything. I just came home one day and he said, ‘I’ve resigned my job’ and it was fabulous, he did a good job, a really good job.
J Elix: Did you feel comfortable with that arrangement?
J Vallentine: Oh yes, I knew that he could do a better job than any nanny. I mean he’s not fabulous at cleaning the house, but pretty tidy, he could feed the children, he could be here, he was the parent and he did a good job.
J Elix: Did you feel that you missed much?
J Vallentine: Oh yes, I mean the teeth as they came out, were transported to Canberra for the viewing before the tooth fairy got them and everything. Yes, I missed a lot. I have great regrets about that. I missed a lot.
J Elix: When you say regrets, do you think you shouldn’t have done that, would do it differently?
J Vallentine: I don’t know. Given the way it was then I don’t know that there was that much other choice. The girls would come to Canberra occasionally for a weekend. See the spouse gets quite a lot of trips, the children get a certain number, but less, so they would come over a couple of times a year. It was quite an upheaval for Peter to get them ready at this end and take them to Canberra. And pre-school, there was nobody else in Canberra, no other spouse who had pre-school children except for Ros Kelly at that stage, she had a breastfed baby and she lived in Canberra. Her home was Canberra so she could wiz home at lunchtime and feed the baby if she wanted to. So Peter went to a couple of the spouses things and discovered that there was nobody else who had pre-school children.
J Elix: Men or women?
J Vallentine: Men or women at that time and he was the man doing the looking after, so he was pretty — Oh they all loved him, they thought he was fabulous, couldn’t work out who he was attached to at first because his name is different from mine. So there was quite a lot of intrigue. He was invited to speak at a spouses lunch and he absolutely floored them because it was after one time when I’d been in prison and the other women — yes mostly women, saying ‘oh I get so fed up with having to do the fetes and the school presentations’ and he said ‘Oh, well I haven’t been asked to do any of that, but I have had to explain to the children’s teachers what their mother is doing in gaol’. Evidently, you could hear a pin drop because at that stage they couldn’t quite place him. Anyway he had a good time.
J Elix: How did you feel when you suddenly had a whole lot of media focus on you and a lot of expectations on you to be able to speak at the drop of a hat on some of these very technical issues?
J Vallentine: Well, I think I managed okay because a lot of the initial attention was from women’s magazines. They wanted to know about the family and how we were coping so it was great to have Peter as a role model doing things differently. That was fabulous so that was a story.
J Elix: And you didn’t mind talking about that?
J Vallentine: No, no not at all. I think it was good.
J Elix: Did you let the kids have their pictures taken?
J Vallentine: Yes, they were in — that’s what I mean, they were used, and we would just say, there is a photographer coming, ‘Do you mind, are you okay with that?’, and sometimes they were in a bit of a pout but mostly they were very good, better for the media than they were for their grandparents I have to say. They would actually — our elder daughter in particular is often in the pictures really pouting, but for the media, they did well, I must say. They did well.
J Elix: So that part of it, you were okay with all of that?
J Vallentine: Yes, I was.
J Elix: This was fairly comfortable for you?
J Vallentine: Yes, I know they were being used. They didn’t really understand how much they were being used. I’ve always thought, well they will both end up on psychiatrist couches, and yes that has happened. You know. My mother left me at the age of three. It’s a terrible thing to do. It’s a terrible thing to do.
J Elix: Do they understand now?
J Vallentine: Look they understood then, to a certain degree. Kate was eight when I went to gaol. She wrote me this gorgeous little card which I’ve still got. It was a Quaker meeting one Sunday and one of the women said, ‘Okay we’re going to write to a card, to whoever. It can be somebodies birthday, or somebody you’d just like to send a nice message to, or whatever’, a card to somebody. Kate wrote one to me and she said ‘Dear mum, I am so proud’ underlined, it makes me weep every time ‘I am so proud of you for going to gaol’. Isn’t that sweet she was eight. I had to explain to her teacher and she got a bit of ribbing at school, but she got it. She knew that I was going into prison and the teacher actually backed this up, when the kids were teasing, she said, ‘Now look, I want to talk to you about this. Yes, Kate’s mother is in goal, but she is in gaol because she is standing up for what she believes in. She hasn’t done anything wrong. So that’s the end of it’. It was really good that kind of back up from the teacher.
J Elix: Would it have made a difference if you had done all of that when they were teenagers do you think?
J Vallentine: Look it might have been worse. Peer group pressure is so strong. In fact when Kate was going to High School that was when I decided I had to be home. It seemed to me to be more important to be home — I was getting awful migraines as well. The fact that Kate was moving into adolescence and High School. My body and my soul was saying that is enough of that. I said right from the outset, this political life, it’s bad for your soul, it’s bad for your body. Ten years of this, you should get out of it, so I was there for eight and that was enough.
J Elix: It was enough.
J Vallentine: It was enough absolutely.
J Elix: So it was a clear decision from you to stop.
J Vallentine: Yes, well thought out decision. Much more carefully thought out than going in, yes.
J Elix: Okay, with this idea of going from being a co-convenor, and a co-founder and working with others, to a situation which, doesn’t really understand that. How did you operate in Canberra that was different?
J Vallentine: Was different, yes we did a few things that were different. We had — a Senator normally gets three staff. I went to the Special Minister of State, who took care of all that. I went and I said, ‘Look, I’m the only one who has got elected on this thing. Peter Garrett should have but your mob kept him out’. Talk about the irony of that. ‘I’m the only one’ it was the International Year of Peace in 1986. I said I’m being invited to go all around the country. I can’t do this with just three staff. This is a special situation. Brian Harradine was there and I think Brian Harradine had already appealed for and was in the process of perhaps getting an extra staff member. Independent’s lot is pretty difficult, anyway we got four staff members, got that, but we turned that four into six by sharing jobs and by having a much more flat structure than anybody else.
Also Annabelle and I, Annabelle was on my team almost from the beginning. She was on the campaign team and came in by the end of the year I think. She had gone off and got another job, you know, anyhow. She came on board and we went to see the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation and we said, ‘This electorate allowance, we want to use it differently. We don’t want to be …. It’s not just going to go into my account, that whole electorate allowance we would like to put into a special category, separate account. Like it to be tax deductable please, and thank you very much because it is going to be used for community education. It’s going to be used for the movement’. So it was.
J Elix: And they agreed?
J Vallentine: Yes, that was a first. The man couldn’t believe it. He said ‘Never had anybody ask this before’
J Elix: Yes, they allowed it. It’s interesting that they did it.
J Vallentine: It is. I don’t know whether that would be like that now, if any of the Greens do that now. I don’t know, but that was a first. Then we also had the situation where everybody on the team got the same salary. See you normally have a PPS and different grades and so on. Actually we had a big discussion about it and they decided, I mean the group, by then there was six of us. We decided that I would actually keep my salary, minus the electorate allowance, because I was at that stage the only one who was the sole breadwinner and I had two children. All of the others were single, or had a partner who was working in a proper job, but nobody else was the single breadwinner for two children. So we very kindly agreed that I could keep my — I think it was fifty-six thousand, I’ve got that in mind, which sounded to me like buckets of money. Anyway, it was because, I think, we really needed — then it felt a little bit like boarding school. We would plan from one holiday to the next for the family. So that we could go away somewhere. We’ve got a campervan and so we often just went camping, occasionally we’d go somewhere a bit more exotic by plane, like Broome or something like that. We had to make sure that there were family times and coming home at the weekends was really quite hard because I’d get off the plane, get dropped off here and the girls were just all over me. So I had to be one hundred and ten percent mother for the weekend and sometimes Peter would just go to the park for a walk because he knew that he wouldn’t be able to speak to me until the girls would, everything. So he was very good actually throughout that.
J Elix: Did you ever have times when it was really difficult?
J Vallentine: Oh very, yes we did. We had some times. It put a lot of strain on the relationship there is no doubt about that. There were times of great stress.
J Elix: What — without, I don’t want you to go into details, but I’m just interested in a general sense what was the things, or the area that caused the most strain?
J Vallentine: Well actually I think it was just very domestic things like me coming home and thinking I was in charge of the kitchen still or sweeping the floor when he’d already swept it.
J Elix: Oh okay, so little things like that.
J Vallentine: Little things like that, and he would get really quite upset. He didn’t really complain too much because often when I was home for the weekend. I still had engagements here.
J Elix: Yes, wasn’t like you were just always here presumably?
J Vallentine: Oh no, no, but I did try to have a couple of nights home a week when the Senate wasn’t sitting and I worked out that the Senate sat for less than a third of the year actually. Then for the other times, especially that International Year of Peace when there were invitations to go everywhere. I thought well, I’ve got to be home, at least fifty percent of the time and then I increased that to a bit more for the years after that. He could see that I was working on that. I was at home — because if you count the Senate time and then a few other bits of time, when you need to go to conferences or whatever. So I chose once or twice only in the whole time to actually have a weekend on the other side of the country, just so that I could have a rest, but mostly I would come back each weekend.
J Elix: So, I mean I have trouble flying long distances, I just don’t know how you would have done something like that.
J Vallentine: Well it was actually a rest, being on the plane was a rest I have to say. It was extraordinary. That was one thing I did take up. I took up the first class seats because then you didn’t get bothered so much on — there is a code of conduct. It was all then first class and business class and down the back. I tried down the back a couple of times and people would just talk at you all the time. I needed that time to separate from Canberra to arriving home. So I’d write my diary. I would cry and sometimes I felt like I needed a little sign saying, not having a nervous breakdown, just de-briefing. But it gave me time. So there was no telephone. Nobody had laptops in those days, didn’t do any of that. I could actually have three hours, three and a half hours, actually five, from Canberra to here, it was about five and a half hours, that included a stop down at Melbourne or Adelaide, there weren’t any direct flights then. So the long flight, usually from Melbourne to Perth I really relaxed and I saw that as my time. So I didn’t mind it all that much.
J Elix: It wasn’t so much of a burden as a pleasant thing.
J Vallentine: Yes, almost. What was really hard was leaving. If I had to leave on Sunday afternoon to go back. Sometimes I could go back on the Monday morning, usually I went back early on the Monday morning because I didn’t have party room meetings you see. I was all on my own, so I didn’t have to rush back for Caucus or any of that.
[altering arrangements for the recording]
J Elix: Okay, so that is interesting, because I have to say I thought with Perth people.
J Vallentine: Yes, so often people would say, how did you do it, and I’d think well actually that was my break.
J Elix: That wasn’t a hard thing at all. Okay, and what about — other people have talked to me about when they’re doing leadership things that the media, dealing with the media, dealing with the urgency of the media, that sort of thing was an incredible stress for them. Did you find that?
J Vallentine: Not so much actually. I mean sometimes there were very early morning phone calls but usually I’d know that something was coming up so I’d be half prepared. I didn’t really have too much trouble with the media. I mean at times they would print a very, the worst possible picture they could find, of you had a rally or something like that.
J Elix: That didn’t worry you.
J Vallentine: No, didn’t really worry me and then you would, sometimes be misquoted but not so badly that — I mean I did actually once, I went to the West Australian to complain that we weren’t getting enough coverage on the issues. I think it was in the 19, I forget which campaign it was now. It was very old Newspaper House and the editor saw me and he said, ‘I just want to show you something’ and he got out Senator Peter Walsh’s file, this is the Minister for Finance. Hated me — so it was about that thick and he said, ‘I just want to show you your file’ and it was … so I thought okay, but in election time you’re desperate for every bit of coverage you can get. So actually it’s probably different from some of the other people in leadership that you’ve been talking about. Although Beth with her campaign, she would have always wanted publicity and not got the right kind or not enough or something, but it’s a constant struggle.
The media in this country is awful. At times the radio interviews could get quite unpleasant but — I don’t really remember getting terribly upset by it really. I just thought well that’s part of the job they’re going to attack you, ignore you or attack you.
J Elix: And you were able to have a degree of calmness about that.
J Vallentine: A bit of detachment I think really.
J Elix: How did you get that detachment?
J Vallentine: I did meditate and thought that it was really important not to take things too personally. I took things more personally if they were about the staff in the team. The first person who resigned from the team. I thought, oh this is terrible, I’ve totally failed. I’ve totally failed.
J Elix: So it was the leadership of your staff?
J Vallentine: Yes, it felt like that.
J Elix: You were more vulnerable to that one?
J Vallentine: I felt so upset.
J Elix: Oh interesting.
J Vallentine: She said, ‘Well, if you look around other politicians you will see that most staffers last, it’s two years on average. It’s such a hard job’. So I thought, oh my goodness, I’ve been very lucky then, haven’t I. Over the years I had some people who were there nearly all the time. But every time somebody left I would feel either — the first time I felt really upset. I thought I’d failed. I must be a very bad team member, didn’t want to be boss, absolutely did not want to be boss. So we had staff meetings that were absolutely circular. We had three day staff meetings twice a year when we talked about, evaluated what had happened, planned for the future. First of all got anything onto the table that we were upset about, who said what …
J Elix: So you did all the non-violent action stuff.
J Vallentine: In the workplace.
J Elix: Did that work?
J Vallentine: I think it did. I think it worked really well so that is why when people left I’d think, oh my God what have we done wrong, or what have I done wrong, because I’d always blame myself. Then, at one stage, I can remember someone saying, ‘I’ve just got to have a break. I’ll probably come back. If you still want me I’ll come back’. I thought I can’t do that. Everybody else who worked on the team could leave if it got too stressful, I couldn’t. I couldn’t leave. When I got these dreadful migraines, the Commonwealth doctor who examined me in Canberra said ‘I recommend that you have a year off work’. I said ‘You just can’t do that’. If you were in a major party.
It had the example of Ruth Coleman, wonderful Senator in the Labor Party. She had a really bad illness when I just got elected. So my first year in Canberra she wasn’t there. She had a year’s leave of absence, so they just made do with one less Senator. They had the numbers in the Senate so it didn’t matter. They wouldn’t be doing that now probably, but they could do that then.
J Elix: No [can’t hear her voice here].
J Vallentine: Yes that’s right, so she could do that. But I said ‘I can’t do a year’. There is nobody, there is no cardboard cut-out, there is nobody who can replace me. I’m in the job or I chose to resign, or I don’t go for re-election, every time re-election came up that was a huge soul searching thing. It was a huge thing and I did it twice, got through three elections.
J Elix: So this non-hierarchical, non-leader, staff classic thing …
J Vallentine: That’s what we tried.
J Elix: … do you think it worked?
J Vallentine: Yes, I do. I think — well it would be interesting to hear what the others say about that, but I think so, to a certain extent. Although, if there was ever a mistake, there weren’t many, but if there was a mistake in anything that went out. I can remember saying, ‘Look I’m the one who cops it. If there is an error in anything we send out. I’m the one who is going to cop that. So we’ve actually got to be a lot more careful’.
J Elix: It must have taken a huge amount of your time to make decisions like that.
J Vallentine: Yes, but we were pretty clear about how — you see we saw ourselves as community educators, not as legislators. A Private Members Bill. I put in three or four. They were never going to go anywhere, they were just a tool for campaigning.
J Elix: So you didn’t see yourself as legislator?
J Vallentine: No, I made mistakes in the parliament and I didn’t mind. I am very humble like that. I mean I didn’t mind that I made mistakes. I got hauled up before the President of the Senate, it felt like going to the Headmaster, you know. He said ‘You’re not allowed to do that’ and I said ‘Well, okay, I won’t do it again, but’ you know.
J Elix: So that wasn’t a concern to you?
J Vallentine: Well it made me look a bit foolish at the time, you don’t really like that, but on the other hand. It’s underneath the computer, now it’s that thick, the book written of the Senate, written by Odgers. It’s all the rules and regulations. I could spend all my time learning how to do that and then the community wouldn’t have got any …
J Elix: So did that mean that you then focused your attention on that speech, giving that attention to functions and all those sorts of things.
J Vallentine: Yes, speaking to community groups. I would speak to a community group, wherever people asked me, pretty much. I’d say well there are two jobs that are really difficult and one is being a parent, that’s the hardest job in the world and the most important, and the next one for which there is no training, is being a representative, being a politician. It’s pretty hard and there is no training for it and there should be. So we learnt a lot. We learnt heaps but I really enjoyed talking to community groups. I enjoy a challenge so I didn’t mind the barbs too much. At times — I would never let them see in the Senate that I was upset, but at times they did dreadful things to me, they really did. I was never sure of whether it was because I was a woman, or because I was on my own, or because of the issues that I was representing. There were three avenues …
J Elix: Weakness.
J Vallentine: .. nastiness for them, yes, and so I would hold on to whatever I thought until I got back into my office and I can remember just shutting the door behind me and bursting into tears on a few occasions and Peter Jones saying, ‘Well, you’re doing your job, otherwise, if they’re not going to have a go at you, you wouldn’t be being effective. They’re only having a go at you because you’re getting under their skin’ or something like that.
J Elix: So did you actually participate in the debate process within the Senate?
J Vallentine: Oh yes.
J Elix: I mean it’s quite — it’s very masculine, very oppositional …
J Vallentine: Adversarial and male dominated totally.
J Elix: I look at that process in all of the parliaments. I find it extraordinary that it’s still operating like that, name calling …
J Vallentine: Shocking waste of energy.
J Elix: Yes, so how did you?
J Vallentine: Well I determined that I wasn’t going to bite back if people said rude things about me and I did once. I was a bit sorry I did that, that was a Peter Walsh effort. He accused me of — and it was actually a true accusation which is probably why it upset me. He said, ‘In 1965 you were handing out How to Vote cards for the’, what was it called then, ‘the Country Party’. The Country Party was in Coalition and 1965 was the year the Vietnam War thing started. I can remember, because I grew up in this country town, Junior Farmers was where all the boys where and so you know, that’s where you went.
J Elix: How did he know that?
J Vallentine: Because he had links into the country. He’d obviously gone back and had somebody …
J Elix: Had somebody do that.
J Vallentine: … had somebody find that out. It was more than twenty years earlier. I said, ‘Look, at least I have moved in an ideologically sound direction. If you have to put me in that position, yes I was there at the extreme right end and I’ve come to the other end. That’s more than can be said for people on the Frontbench of this Chamber’, who were like Gareth Evans and so on, who had been great student leaders at Melbourne Uni and so on in their time, Kim Beazley and John Dawkins, and they’d all gone from left to right. So I said, ‘at least my move has been in an ideologically sound direction’.
J Elix: It sounds like you had a very, kind of — I guess I’m interested, did our Quakerism — how important was that to you …
J Vallentine: Of very, in terms of the non-violence, in terms of not biting back. Another historic moment was when Bob Hawke talked about the first Gulf War. I found myself on my feet in the Gallery shouting out at Bob Hawke. I never meant to do that. In fact I went in there because the attendant had said, ‘Look, your people’ this is the peace movement, they’d all come to have their say. They were calling out and they said, ‘We’re going to have to clear the Gallery. You better go in there … do you want to go in there and calm they down’. I went in there to calm they down and ended up — I was so mad. But very rarely did I do that kind of thing. I did everything usually, having thought about it a lot, like arresting situations, thought about it a lot and actually prayed about it a lot. So the Quakerism was very grounding and very important in terms of mostly, really respecting other people and not getting into the slanging matches.
J Elix: So did you attend Quaker meetings in Canberra?
J Vallentine: Yes, sometimes, and in the end, yes Quakers were quite supportive in Canberra, it’s nice because it’s like another — it’s like a family. It’s very familiar territory from one Quaker meeting to another in Australia. I didn’t know everybody then the way I do now but yes I’d been to their yearly meetings. They all knew that I was a Senator that they really wanted to support.
J Elix: What about in your housing in Canberra. I’m sounding like I am asking you about all these things but I suppose for me they are the little bits and pieces that make up being a leader and how you manage that?
J Vallentine: Yes, well the first place I stayed actually was a — she is actually a Quaker now too but Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, this is where the network is so good. So I house sat for her for a while and then I moved into the backyard of a Quaker’s house where they had a little granny flat in their garden. They were dear, dear people but they were quite elderly and by the end of the year they said, ‘We don’t want you back next year’ virtually because the Commonwealth care would come and go at, you know …
J Elix: Odd hours.
J Vallentine: … very odd hours really for them, they were people who liked to be in bed by ten o’clock, well the Senate in those days, it went on and on and on. That part has been reformed now but my very last speech in the Senate was delivered at two-thirty a.m. in the morning, you know, crazy. So I went from Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, then to a Quaker house and then somebody told me about a little place that was vacant. A woman who lived down at the coast, her father was in Canberra and she used to want to pop back and see him. So it was a perfect arrangement. It was an old nun’s convent, so I mean I was actually …
J Elix: Back in your home.
J Vallentine: … yes back in my home. I had a tiny little bedsitter there where Pete and the girls used to squeeze in when they came over because we didn’t want to waste money on hotels. It was terrific. I used to give her my sitting dates, when I needed the place and then she would come and see her father at the other time. So I only paid for the days that I was actually there, it was the best arrangement and that lasted for the next six years.
J Elix: Did you have a lot of friends in Canberra?
J Vallentine: No, the Baha’i would invite me out to their place occasionally for a really peaceful evening. You would get there and everything was all quiet and you’d take off your shoes and walk into this … it was just fabulous, that happened a few times, and the Quakers sometimes. But I think they thought I was probably a bit too busy, which I was really. Then, there was one night, Wednesday we didn’t have — the Senate shut down at eight o’clock so it was kind of like a night off and you could go to the movies well I just used to grab who was ever in the office. It was easier because you didn’t have time to organise a social calendar, did not have time.
J Elix: So you had your group in the office then.
J Vallentine: Well mostly Peter Jones actually. He was the only one who was there all the time and then we used to take one other person over from Perth quite often but not always.
J Elix: Right. You strike me as a very — having a strong sense of your own confidence and identity. Do you think you were like that when you went into the Senate?
J Vallentine: I think I was.
J Elix: I must finish soon, but I’m just interested in that sense, your confidence — you understand yourself and you understand where you fit into the world and what you want to do.
J Vallentine: Yes, I think so and you see that goes from a long way back. That goes back to Loreto days, it really does. I would say that I do recognise in myself leadership potential and if anything I hold myself back because I think it’s important to share the responsibility and to share the leadership. I was in the Debating Tem, I was a School Prefect I was the Student Council President at my little Teachers’ College. The first women of the age that everybody was at, so leadership has been there.
J Elix: Okay, so leadership was there all the way along.
J Vallentine: Yes, I had an Exchange Student Scholarship to the United States when I was seventeen and I spoke in public all the time. So I was ready for it, that, and I think I’m a born teacher. If you think about when did it first strike you that you might have had leadership. Well I can remember playing schools in the playground at school. How did I do that, we were in the lunch hour and I’d have everybody lined up and I was the teacher. I mean, it’s a bit bizarre, but you know, I wasn’t beating them or anything. I was just saying ‘Let’s play schools and I’m the teacher’ [laughs].
J Elix: Do you think this is a genetic thing? I’m just interested where it comes from.
J Vallentine: Well it could be you know because there is that grandfather who was obviously leadership material, my other grandfather was a missionary, and that grandmother was a very well educated woman who ended up living in a tent on the farm when they first came here. So I think I’ve had examples of people who could do things and who were social change agents, as we would say now, but they wouldn’t have seen themselves quite like that. But you’ve got to have a bit of that in you in you’re going to be a missionary in Africa, for goodness sake.
J Elix: Absolutely, live for some proselytising …
J Vallentine: Yes, I think I’ve been holding myself back actually.
J Elix: Do you, what would have happened if you’d let yourself go?
J Vallentine: Oh, out of control you see, yes.
J Elix: What would you have done?
J Vallentine: Well I went to a course once and they said, now we’re really wanting to talk about motivation and I can remember saying ‘Look if I’m any more motivated I will burst’ [laughs] no more motivation thank you I will burst, so that’s never been a problem. But you do get down at times and think well, how are we going to keep going when the same old, same old, same old. Like the nuclear thing, this Barnett man getting into government, which he really — it’s a minority government. He shouldn’t be promoting the nuclear industry as much as he is but, you know.
J Elix: So how do you keep going, because I find that a very frustrating thing when the same campaigns come back again and again.
J Vallentine: Again and again and it’s never finished.
J Elix: So how do you keep …
J Vallentine: Well I’ve got my labyrinth just down the back there. I walk my labyrinth. I go to the park every morning and do spiritual ritual that grounds me for the day.
J Elix: Walking, spirituality …
J Vallentine: Yes, and of course my dog until last week was my great spiritual … she died right here actually, just about a week ago. Yes, so that — Matthew Fox said that, my dog is my spiritual director and I identify with that so beautifully.
J Elix: Really I have to read that because I’m feeling that about my dog too.
J Vallentine: Yes, your dog is such a good friend, and they don’t answer back, and they take everything in.
J Elix: And they live in the moment.
J Vallentine: They empathizing, absolutely live in the moment …
J Elix: They are living in the moment, that is something I admire.
J Vallentine: Yes, that is the most important think, your dog is in the moment, absolutely.
J Elix: Who said that?
J Vallentine: Matthew Fox, he’s a bit old hat now, but in the early ‘90s he was the go, circle dancing and all that business.
J Elix: Not so into the circle dancing.
J Vallentine: He was the Catholic theologian, and he left the Catholics because he was too radical and then he joined the Anglicans and I thought well that’s out of the frying pan and into the fire if ever I heard it.
J Elix: I have to let you go soon but I just wondered whether, okay one last quick question. Who are your role models?
J Vallentine: Well, I’d say the grandparents who did things and changed things and showed that they could be active in the community, they were pretty important to me.
J Elix: They were around when you were young?
J Vallentine: One was and the others I heard about, so they were definitely there and then there was a woman by the name of Dorothy Day in the United States, Catholic worker movement. She has passed on now, but she was feisty. What she managed to do, which I thought was absolutely fabulous, she was running the soup kitchens and campaigning about nuclear disarmament. So she was right there on the ground with the people who were in poverty, of course, Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day is the other non-violence person, and Joanna Macy since 1985. I met Joanna in 1985.
J Elix: I just lost that there, I was listening without typing. Martin Luther King, Gandhi …
J Vallentine: Yes, and Joanna Macy.
J Elix: Who is she?
J Vallentine: She is an amazing Buddhist scholar and teacher. She is now about eighty-two, and I met her in 1985. She wrote a book that we had had — yes I met her the first year I was in the Senate, at Sydney railway station. I remember the conversation and so much wanted to go to her weekend workshop and I couldn’t.
J Elix: She was a US person?
J Vallentine: Yes, and she’d written a book called Despair and Empowerment in the Nuclear Age. It came out in 1984 and so it was like a Bible. You go into the despair. You absolutely understand the despair and you don’t deny it but then you move through various stages and you end up with, what you’re going to do about this. She talks about coping mechanisms, structural change mechanisms, that whole business of the feedback loops, and all of that stuff that made absolutely sense. So she is actually a Buddhist, an engaged Buddhist and she has been actively my Guru since 1985. She is gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous woman. So I’ve done a five day workshop with her, a ten day workshop, a thirty day workshop, a ten day workshop over the years.
J Elix: Really.
J Vallentine: Yes, and she’s mostly here. She comes to Western Australia, or she has. I don’t think she is probably going to come again but she has been fabulous.
J Elix: I’ll have to look that up, sounds interesting.
J Vallentine: Yes, Joanna Macy, no e in it.
J Elix: And Joanna.
J Vallentine: Yes.
J Elix: Is there anything else that you’d like to tell me?
J Vallentine: Well actually yes, because we’ve only really talked about that parliamentary stuff, you see what’s happened since then and this is so much, really who I am, it’s like going back into the small circles. So People for Nuclear Disarmament I was in on the ground floor of that 1982. It’s still going. We’re old all. I am one of the young ones in PND the others are much older. We retired our office worker when she was 85 [laughs]. We said ‘Silvia, somebody else had better do this now’. She still comes to meetings, you know that kind of thing. So people who plod on, stickability for me is very important. So those groups, the little groups, you see we do things like, Keep Chernobyl Day, keep Hiroshima Day, we do a few things like that, so it’s a little tiny group. Then I’m part of the Anti-Nuclear Alliance and as part of that I will give you a book about a pilgrimage that we did in 1997 so this is post-Senate and it shows how you can organise something really creative and beautiful. It hasn’t stopped uranium mining and that’s what it was meant to do but I think it all helps to raise the awareness. We’ve brought two people from the Chernobyl affected area to speak with Aboriginal groups around the country, fifty-five days on a bus. We went to a lot of the communities where they are experiencing uranium mining, or they are at risk from uranium mining, that kind of thing is very, very powerful. Then we actually wrote a book about PND because it was huge in its hay-day. It was formed in ’82 it was really big in ’84, ’85, ’86 when we were having all those Palm Sunday rallies, now it’s a shadow of its former self, but a few years ago a very enterprising young man came back from the other side of the country, having worked over there for a number of years and said ‘I think we better do this history’. So I’ve now been part of two books by committee, don’t actually want to do that again, a quilt by committee.
J Elix: You’re a stronger woman than me.
J Vallentine: Yes, they are hard work, but they are also what community is actually all about, everybody’s input and its fun. We did this quilt to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of women getting the vote in WA, well I was the only woman alive who actually helped stitch the quilt about her. But a group of us got together and we had all kinds of very interesting discussions about what should be in there, what shouldn’t, what the emphasis should be. I had somebody from my teacher college days who didn’t want anything political in there and other people saying ‘It should all be about the politics’ and someone else from the Quaker community saying, ‘Well it should be all peace and light’, somebody else said your Celtic background is really important. So there is this extraordinary quilt that is very complicated. It is like fabric art, not a quilt in the traditional sense.
J Elix: Where is it now?
J Vallentine: It is in the Greens’ office. Yes, it sat here for ever so long actually, only just this year I’ve got rid of it. I thought I can’t bear it sitting around here any long.
J Elix: After all that work.
J Vallentine: Yes, keep thinking of moving house, smaller place, got to start getting rid of things, so that was something. Somebody who is good at quilting, or really loves quilts in the Greens’ office, said ‘I’ve heard about this quilt. I want to see it’ and then she said ‘We want it in here’ and I said ‘Okay fine you can have it. I’ve been wondering what to do with it’.
J Elix: I didn’t want to not talk about what you’ve done since. Maybe I have to ring you up and talk to you again if that would be possible?
J Vallentine: Yes, sure, well it’s actually more of the same, so I feel like I’ve come full circle to the small community groups.
J Elix: And you feel okay about that?
J Vallentine: Absolutely, its powerful the small community groups.
J Elix: I would like to talk more about that because …
J Vallentine: And now I am so keen to hand over to the young ones. I am so thrilled when there are young ones coming up. So mentoring is a really important part of what I’ve been doing.
J Elix: Yes, that was one of my questions which I didn’t talk about but I might come back or ring you if that is okay.
J Vallentine: Yes, sure.
J Elix: I should be back in a few months’ time anyway.
J Vallentine: Yes.
J Elix: Thank you so much for taking the time.
J Vallentine: Oh that’s alright.
J Elix: It’s quite wonderful to meet you.
J Vallentine: Well it’s quite fun, because I forget a lot of these things and then, of course, they all come flooding back.
J Elix: I’m just enjoying this project so much.
J Vallentine: Lucky you.
J Elix: Jane would you like to go and talk to all these people.
J Vallentine: How fabulous.
J Elix: And then somehow make sense of it all.
J Vallentine: Well the writing up — you’ll be earning your money when you are writing it up, hearing the stories is one thing, isn’t it.
J Elix: It is, I’ve done a PhD. I’ve done a lot of writing for this sort of thing I think I’ll be okay.
J Vallentine: It will be quite easy.
J Elix: I was going to do it chronologically, but just having done the interview in Perth I think I’m starting not to because it’s just not working out that way. The way people talk about their lives and stuff …
J Vallentine: All over the place.
J Elix: It’s all over the place.
J Vallentine: So strands …
J Elix: Yes strands. I don’t really want to talk about the nuts and bolts of the campaigns even though people want to tell me about that. I actually want to find out about this leadership and the relationships within the groups, that is what I am actually interested in. So thank you for what you’ve done. Thank you very much.
J Vallentine: Yes, okay.
J Elix: I will look forward to talking you again but I will get in touch about this blog.
J Vallentine: Yes, okay, good.
J Elix: Look at the interview that you did with Greg …
J Vallentine: Greg, there will be a lot of the same stuff in it but look there might be quite different stuff too. I mean a man asking questions is very different, very different. I think he was looking for outcomes and what were the Private Members Bills I put up. I think — I know I’ve got it sitting in there now. I could probably go and find it actually.
J Elix: That’s alright I can find it myself. Well I’m have to say I’ve interview six people I think four of them have been in tears at various stages. It’s not necessarily tears of sadness it’s just emotional stuff.
J Vallentine: Yes, it’s big.
J Elix: It’s big, these are important things in our lives.
J Vallentine: And thank God that it’s like that, because it would be pretty damn — it would be a pretty damn shame if you didn’t have emotional …
J Elix: Exactly.
J Vallentine: … pinpoints that are sensitive for one reason or another. There have been a lot for me. Another one that I didn’t mention was that my younger sister committee suicide when I was in England for that Quaker conference in 1985. I just got elected, there were these two little girls here, Peter was looking after them, and Peter found her.
J Elix: Peter found her?
J Vallentine: Yes, well it was just extraordinary, it was awful, awful, awful and awful time. Things like that come back to haunt you really. They just never go away totally.
J Elix: And such a time in your life too.
J Vallentine: It was tumultuous. I allowed myself a one day nervous breakdown on the beach at Coral Bay, that year when I was Senator elect and Jane had died, amongst all the rest of it. Me trying to get a handle on being at everybody’s beck and call. People expected me to be a Senator even though I didn’t have an office even, nothing, no staff, nothing. So doing my best and then Jane dying in the middle of that and then — so we decided we would go on a holiday in May and we got up to Coral Bay and I said to Peter, ‘Look, I’ve just got to go and have a walk along the beach’. I stayed on the beach all day crying, came back and said ‘Right that’s it now’. I couldn’t afford any more time than that because the NDP had blown up as well, that was the next thing.
J Elix: That’s the other thing I wanted to talk about, we haven’t got time …
J Vallentine: No.
J Elix: I would like to talk about that because that is such a …
J Vallentine: I think I probably did talk about that with Greg, and so feel free to use any of that.
J Elix: I’ll read that.
J Vallentine: That was huge.
J Elix: I know a bit about that.
J Vallentine: It was shocking, and that is one area where I felt could have done better, should have been able to do much better. Should have been able to do much better with the training in non-violence and everything, but there was Peter Garrett, Gillian Fisher and Ted St John who is former member of the Liberal Party in New South Wales and they had, at the time of the walk-out the constitution for a new Green Party. I’m saying …
J Elix: Excuse me.
J Vallentine: … I really felt like the bunny in that situation, anyway that is another story.
J Elix: Yes, that will be interesting.
J Vallentine: But all of that. So I had that nervous breakdown for one day and I said to Peter ‘I haven’t got any more time’ because then there were these children who wanted to have a little holiday with their mum. I couldn’t be weeping, I couldn’t do it.
J Elix: Was that bad just to have the one day to do all that?
J Vallentine: Oh it was better than not having any time at all. I didn’t deny that I needed to do something. I don’t know whether I saw a counsellor or anything. I can’t at that stage but over the years I have been to counsellors quite often, and then given myself a few days at the Buddhist retreat in Fremantle. I do that every eighteen months or so, sort of have two days there, where absolutely nothing.
J Elix: So you do take care of your mental health?
J Vallentine: I think so probably.
J Elix: To an extent, as much as you can?
J Vallentine: Yes, often people say, look after yourself and I think yes I do try to, I do, it’s probably not necessarily as balanced as you’d like it to be, but you can’t be too self-indulgent can you. My mum was just a hard worker and my dad …
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