Mary Court

About this interview

Mary Court shares the origins of her rising up against injustices, her entertaining and inspiring first time at the microphone at a rally, and her decades of activism both in and outside of unions.

Transcript: Mary Court interview.



Facilitator:                Okay so thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed, I’m very pleased to interview you today. I just basically want to hear, in your own words, your story and how you became involved in the union and your experiences.

Interviewee:             Mm-hm.

Facilitator:                I’ve got a few questions that I’ll prompt or - if we don’t, sort of, get to those particular aspects.

Interviewee:             Sure.

Facilitator:                But I guess starting from when you first became involved in the union.

Interviewee:             Well I first became involved in the union when I started work in schools, about 24 years ago. So, when I started at a big public high school, when I joined up well then, I was also handed the papers to join the union. So, it was like a done deal.

                                 I always thought being a good union member was to pay your dues and attend any stop work meetings.

                                 So that’s what I thought being a union member was. Pay your fees, attend stop work meetings, and I also understood that the union was there to support workers in the workplace. So, during my time in school, there were occasions when I had to call the union in to help with certain issues within the school, so that worked out very well.

Facilitator:                And what was your role in the school, what job were you doing in the schools?

Interviewee:             I was School Admin Manager.

Facilitator:                Okay.

Interviewee:             So, I started off as the School Admin Officer, and then I got the job as the manager.

                                 We had quite a lot of issues back then because there was a lot of bullying going on in the 1990s, and early in the 2000s. So, I had to call the union in on several occasions.

                                 So that was good, I had a very good relationship with Sharon Vassar of the PSA, she was fantastic. And I remember her coming in to work one day, had called all the team, and she just wanted to let us know about certain things that are happening with the union movement and for us to be careful. Because at that time you were not allowed to be alone with students anywhere in the school.

                                 So, this was happening where some of our teacher’s aides were put in a position where they had to be in a classroom or that with no one else. So, she came in and she said to us, it’s okay to say no if it’s not your job.

                                 Now that was such an empowering statement, because we were all too scared to say boo let alone say no. I was thinking, so you’re telling me that if it’s not in our job description it’s okay for us to say no?

                                 And she said yes, she said you just tell them the union, your union has stated that it’s okay to say no. So, we’ve been saying no ever since.


Interviewee:             I still remember her saying that, it was such a defining moment, because we then realised that, okay we can - if there are things, because a lot of things get sent down the line and it’s not your job and fair enough - a lot of people you do it anyway, for goodwill. But there comes a time when it has to stop because you can’t – it just gets too much.

                                 So anyway, that’s how I got into the union. But then one day, it was a Thursday, in 2011, I got a phone call from Sharon: Mary we’re just having a little rally in the city and we were wondering whether one of your teacher's aides can come out and just say something - I can’t even remember the exact details but she wanted one of our teacher’s aides to go and speak at this small rally.

                                 And I said to her, Sharon, I can’t even get the teacher’s aides to talk here in school, let alone at the rally. So, she said, well can you come? I said what’s it about? She said, oh something, some legislation. And I said oh no I wouldn’t know what to say. She said, we’ll give you a script. And I thought, oh, okay.

                                 I didn’t want to go in, but then I thought of all the times that she had come in to help us so I felt obligated. Okay I said but where is it? She goes in the city, and I went oh I don’t even go that for a cut lunch. I mean, we’re out in the Blue Mountains.

                                 But because she had helped us in so many situations - and I said to her, oh, how am I going to get there? She goes, it’s all right, I’ll come and pick you up. And I went, oh okay so I’m going in the city and she’s going to pick me up. And when? She told me the next day, it was on the Friday. I went oh okay, all right. And she says, and you can take union leave and all this.

                                 So, she came to pick me up the next day. I said where’s my script? And she goes, oh you’ll get it when we get into this rally. So, okay, she goes, we’re going to join a bus and I went oh okay. So, she goes, yeah so, we’ll go on the bus, the bus stopped off at the hospital, picked up some workers there. Still didn’t twig with me.

Facilitator:                Nepean Hospital?

Interviewee:             Yes, down there. Then we picked up some people at the university and I’m going, okay. Bus people are getting on the bus and there’s all these t-shirts and they had their banners.

                                 I said to her oh, how big is this rally? And she goes, oh, it’s only a small one.

                                 Okay, so we get into town and there’s all these firies, there’s police, there’s all the nurses, there’s everybody with these banners. The whole of Macquarie Street was chocka, and I’m going – and I’m getting panicky by now and she’s walking me over to the stage opposite Parliament House and I said where’s my script? [Laughs].

                                 And she goes oh we’re just going to look for Mary, Mary’s got your script. So anyway, she puts - she takes me out of - I mean I only came out of school the day before, into this crowd, onto the stage. Anyway, and as far as I could look, all the way down Macquarie Street, to the right and to the left, there were flags everywhere and building up.

                                 And, I said to her, I thought you said it was a small rally, she goes oh I thought it was too. She goes, so many people have turned up.

                                 Anyway, and I’m going where’s my script? Anyway, she’s running around, left me on the stage with all these people looking at me wondering who’s she?

                                 And next minute, it’s starting, and the MC is out there and he’s naming all the speakers. I hear my name, and I’m starting to get a bit panicky. And by this time, she’s down in the crowd and I said - and I’m on the stage going, what? Where’s my script? She goes, it’s coming.

                                 Anyway, Mary comes up and I went oh, Mary, you’ve got my script and she goes, we’re trying to find the person who’s got it, and I went what? And then I heard my - two people before me - I knew the person’s name before me, and she goes that’s alright, just tell them why you’re here. I says I don’t know why I’m here, I’ve got no idea, I was only asked yesterday. I was told I would be given a script.

                                 And she goes all right we’ll keep looking, by this time I’m thinking oh my god and by that time I’m thinking, lord, you’re doing a number on me. Oh my god. And then, I could hear what these speakers before me were saying, something about a legislation and I thought you’d better hurry up with it. Then I heard my name.

Facilitator:                Oh my god.

Interviewee:             And by this time, Sharon had thrown the PSA flag over my shoulders, she gave me a banner in my hand. So, I had the flag over there and I thought, oh my god. I went, lord, okay, this is just a bigger congregation. Because I do worship leading in church.

Facilitator:                Oh right, okay.

Interviewee:             I’ve been used to 1000, there were 12,000 people at that, I found out later. And I thought oh my god you’re doing a number on me. Okay.

                                 Mary Court, the mic goes into my hand, I walk out and I look at them all and I go, I know, I’ll give them a scripture. [Laughs] We shout with the voice of triumph. Well they roared and roared. I went okay, all right. Mr O'Farrell you ain’t seen nothing yet, and they roared again.

                                 I’m going, what were they talking about, some legislation? I went oh – that’s right, and I'm going oh - and while they were roaring I was sitting there thinking what can I say next?

                                 We will take it to the streets, we will take it to the shopping centres, we will do whatever it takes. You dump this legislation or we will dump you.

                                 Well they roared, and I’m going, oh hello comrades, my name is Mary Court and I work in public schools, let’s hear it for all the schoolies. Yay, yay, yay, they’re all going. Then I went, this is warfare.

                                 So, every time I was trying to think of all the things I do in church, trying to rally up the troops in church.

                                 I don’t know what else, whatever I said, they all loved it and they roared. And then at the end I was going well, I’ve got nothing, so I go hallelujah and they all went, huh? [Laughs] And I went thank you very much and then I got off.

                                 And people were coming up, pounding me on my back, hugging me, where have you been hiding? And I went what, who’s got my script? And they go, you don’t need a script. I went who has got my script? All I kept thinking about was where is my script?

                                 Anyway, and that is how I started, that is what catapulted me up into not only being at work doing my thing, but being out there in the campaigning. I had no idea about all the campaigning.

                                 But after that people were coming up, and I was - all I wanted to do was get up and leave the place. Coming out, where, that was fantastic, blah, blah, blah. And then, I went up to Sharon Vassar and I said to her, even to this day I cannot tell you what that legislation was, I would not have a clue what it was, what legislation was it? When I tell people they go, I remember you from that rally in 2011.

                                 The Teacher’s Federation, they wanted me to speak at theirs, I spoke at their conference. I’ve been speaking at other people’s conferences – And I says, I’m writing my own, I am not waiting on anybody to give me a script. So, since then I write all my own speeches.

                                 So, since that was 2011, the different people - 2012, that’s when Unions New South Wales started their initiative of community groups, local community union groups. So anyway, we started off in Penrith, and I became the founding secretary, and I’m still the secretary.

                                 And since then, well it’s just gone from - I mean whatever we do, because schools have always been events management. So, for me, organising events for the unions, piece of cake, but to other people it’s like - they walk in and they go, is this the union meeting, when they come out to ours out in Penrith.

                                 I go, this is how we do union, everything is done with the spirit of excellence, and everything is done professionally, everything. So, we’ve spent the first two years bonding the team, everyone had their portfolios, bonding the team, getting it all up and running.

                                 Anyway, so that we had all the big forums, we had all the big GenSecs coming to ours, everything. So, it went from that 12,000 people, the rally, and then the Penrith Valley Community Union, so we’ve been very instrumental. We helped get the Four Warrior Women of the West over the line.

                                 So, we had Prue Car. She acknowledged us in Parliament House, which was really something. Emma Husar has acknowledged our work in Parliament House. Susan Templeman, we helped her in her campaigning, we also helped Trish Doyle. So, all of those women came in and we’ve since been out there, whatever campaigns are going, we’re out there.

                                 So that was my beginning, and then of course the PSA had their elections, so I’ve been elected onto the central council of the Public Service Association. So, I’m two years into that, that’s why I come in for my monthly meetings, for the Public Service Association.

                                 And I’m also the Branch President of the New South Wales CPSU. And that was all from that volunteering - getting up there and doing it. Everything stemmed from me getting up there.

                                 And people, people say to me [laughs] – oh that’s right, I was in Trades Hall here, I gave a speech on something, I can’t remember, I’ve given so many speeches since.

                                 And I told that story, and one fella comes up and he goes, I had your speech. [Laughs]. He goes, I’m the one that had your script. I said, so you’re the - it’s your fault. And he goes, I’m so sorry. I went, well obviously this is what was supposed to happen.

                                 That was it. But yeah it was so funny because he had my script and he had been trying to look for - who was, who was this Mary that he was looking for? So yeah, that was so funny. But yeah that’s how it all started.

                                 So, ever since then I’ve just been busy with the team. We’re, we have the Penrith Valley Community Union Stall at Penrith Markets every fortnight. So, we’re out there with all the petitions

                                 We’re in the Change the Rules, the big campaign.

                                 We’ve got the stop the M4 toll, we’ve got the protect penalty rates, unaffordable housing, which we do for the Vinnies, St Vincent De Paul, that’s their petition. We’re doing the petition for fair funding for schools, as well as stop TAFE cuts.

                                 As well as, big business have too much power, where one third, one-third don’t even pay tax, so we also have that petition for the Change the Rules.

                                 Oh, what’s the other one? Anyway, so we’re at the markets and we’ve got all these petitions there and we’ve got all our banners and everything. But we’ve been doing it for so long now, they come to us. We don’t even have to ask, they see the signs, where do I sign? So, they’re all up there.

                                 So, on our Facebook, Penrith Valley Community Union’s Facebook, it’s got all the photos, of every fortnight of everybody signing all the petitions. Because they’re just so over it, just so over the fact that, you know, a lot of them work and they say that the work is barely covering the bills.

                                 So, ever since that happened, then, with the Penrith Valley Community Unions, I said we need to get in with the community groups, see what’s happening in our area and let’s say come on, we’ll come along side, we will help you with your campaigns, now they come and help us with ours.

                                 So, out of that came - we’re now in with the incinerator, so we helped the incinerator – it was the world’s largest toxic incinerator was going to be built out at Eastern Creek. So, we joined that team there, we had all their petitions. Anyway, 12,000 petitions. It was debated in Parliament, now it’s off the table, even the bill went through, only a couple of months ago, and so we’re out there telling the people, this is people power.

                                 It works, because people would come and sign the petitions, what good will this do? We go well, the incinerator is no longer coming to Eastern Creek. Okay, so that’s people power, that’s you signing these petitions.

                                 With the M4 toll, I think we got invited by WestConnex, anti- WestConnex groups, different areas. Yes WestConnex, then there was the Rozelle against WestConnex.

                                 So, I was invited to speak at the Fix New South Wales Transport. They had the big one in Martin Place earlier this year, 2000 people were at that. It was all right I wrote my speech, so it was good.


Interviewee:             I think I include - oh that’s right, they said to me - because they came out to our M4 rally out at Penrith, and that’s when they said we would like you to come and speak at Fix New South Wales. And he said we want you to bring the shout. I said what shout is that? He said you know the one about triumph. I went, oh the scripture. And he goes, what? I said you don’t get a speech out of me without getting a scripture. He thought about it and he goes, well we still want it. I said I’ve got a few.

                                 At their one I put, we lift up our shout to the north, south, east and west, right across the state, we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.


Interviewee:             They all roared - I’m doing all mine now, give them a chance to roar and say, yeah. The M4 toll may have already started but Western Sydney will continue to rise up and roar with purpose and passion, with a clear message to this government. You dump this M4 toll or we will dump you, and then they all roar, so that’s my, that’s how I do my speeches now.

Facilitator:                That’s fantastic.

Interviewee:             Yeah, anyway so they all - then Rozelle - we want you to bring your speech to our one. So now, they’re having the M4 enquiry and they’ve invited me to come and speak at Parliament House.

Facilitator:                And have you written –

Interviewee:             That’s for tomorrow.

Facilitator:                And is that a prepared thing, or do you just go and answer questions?

Interviewee:             Yeah, I’m going to do my statement. So, I’ve written my statement, I’ve got that. Do you want to hear it? Or?

Facilitator:                Yeah, sure.

Interviewee:             So, I’ve got my statement. She said - oh that’s right, because when she - I said why are you, how did I get on your list? That’s when she said, oh an MP. An MP suggested that we contact you, so I think I’m probably one of the only people that hasn’t put in a submission.

Facilitator:                Right.

Interviewee:             And she said you can have an opening speech, opening statement of two to three minutes. I said oh I think mine is about four minutes. And she goes, that’s all right.

                                 Anyway, I have to take out, you know, the theatrical - the theatrics of the shout. And it’s before seven, seven committee members from all the different parties.

                                 My name is Mary Court and I am the founding secretary of Penrith Valley Community Union since 2012. I come before you today on behalf of the workers and their families of Western Sydney.

                                 The M4 toll on motorists may have already started, but Western Sydney will continue to rise up and roar with purpose and passion, with a clear message to this government. WestConnex and the M4 tolls are a vote-changing issue for our people.

                                 Premier Gladys is presiding over a total frenzy of private toll road building that is sucking billions out of transport for generations to come.

                                 We the people of Western Sydney will continue to rise up and stand in solidarity and defiance about the continued destruction of communities by WestConnex and the burden of the huge toll tax being inflicted on families for decades to come.

                                 Western Sydney is a vibrant community for hundreds of thousands of people. It is not a dumping ground for Sydney’s problems.

                                 The M4 toll is just another tax being inflicted on Western Sydney for the next 43 years; a toll that is set to increase at twice the rate of inflation.

                                 For most residents, this massive toll tax is an assault on their standard of living and will have a long-term chronic effect on household stress, especially when the toll is going up 4 per cent a year.

                                 Shame on the Minister of WestConnex for putting this new toll tax on his own electorate, especially after former Premier Barry O’Farrell promised in 2010 that a Liberal Government would not put any new tolls on existing roads.

                                 Commuters across Western Sydney must now pay more than $2000 a year extra in tolls to travel on the M4 each day to get to work, and for what? An extra lane for a seven-and-a-half-kilometre trip between Parramatta and Homebush?

                                 That road upgrade will only take two years of tolls to pay off. So why are Western Sydney and regional New South Wales being exploited to pay this massive toll tax for the next 43 years?

                                 This is unfair and unaffordable for families struggling to put food on the table. The M4 toll is highway robbery.

                                 Western Sydney trades people who need their tools to do their work are severely disadvantaged by the cost of these tolls. All goods and service from the city would have the toll costs included.

                                 The cost of living in Sydney is out of control and leaving people on the edge. Family budgets are already under pressure from soaring electricity bills, stagnant wage growth, insecure work, cuts to penalty rates, record rents and over the top house prices.

                                 And the added burden of the toll is just too much. One toll leads to another toll and another in this, the largest toll city in the world, where Sydney will have more road tolls than any other city by 2023.

                                 Enough is enough, we need to get the high volume of cars off the roads, and one of the answers is fast, efficient, cheap public transport. Including more trains and more express services.

                                 The Australia we once knew which our parents experienced is not the reality anymore, because the rules that made our country fair are broken. We need to bring fairness back to Australia. 

                                 Inequality is at a 70 year high, wage growth is as low as it’s ever been, but profits are up. 40 per cent of Australians now have insecure work and youth unemployment is in double digits. The richest one per cent of Australians owns more wealth than the bottom 70 per cent of Australians combined.

                                 Stop pillaging our communities. We are talking about billions of dollars to be paid in tolls over decades to national and international interest. There needs to be proper scrutiny and urgent reform of why this is so.

                                 If this government thinks it can keep dumping on people and getting away with it without a fight then I repeat the message coming out of Western Sydney today. Don’t mess with the west. The WestConnex and M4 toll are vote changers.

                                 For the past 18 months, the Penrith valley community unions has had a stall at Penrith Paceway Markets as well as around Penrith’s main street, gathering signatures for a letter addressed to local MP Stuart Ayres who is also the minister for WestConnex.

                                 So far, we have delivered two lots of 2000 letters to Stuart Ayres office, and we are about to deliver another 2000 letters in protest about the M4 toll. You can see all the photos of people signing the letter on our Facebook page.

                                 In fact, I can categorically say with utmost confidence, from our poll on the ground, that after thousands of conversations with the public these past couple of years, there is going to be a huge swing in Penrith at the next state election because of the M4 toll.

                                 People are hurting out there and we are hearing the same story over and over again. That it’s more difficult for many people to earn a living wage to provide for their families.

                                 It’s barely covering the bills and groceries, let alone the M4 toll. For some people, it’s now taking longer to get to work because to avoid the toll they are diverting off the M4 along the Parramatta Road, making that even more congested.

                                 A young woman told me, only last week, that she has to fluctuate her travel to get to work because of the toll and whenever she takes Parramatta Road she has to leave home three hours early.

                                 On closing, the one question which people have asked me to bring to the committee today is, will there be a toll from Penrith to the city where the construction works are currently underway on the northern road leading to the M4? Thank you for hearing me today.

Facilitator:                Fantastic, that’s s0 great.

Interviewee:             It’s good because I’ve now had my practice before you, because I’m bringing it tomorrow afternoon in parliament before that committee. And I’ve taken them letters of the - copies of the letters to people that have been signing.

                                 So that’s 6000 that we’ve been delivering. We’re also having a big, Fix New South Wales in February next year. And that’s going to be combined with all the other groups, and the airport have come, everyone, there’s so many, it’s going to be a huge thing.

                                 It used to be Fix New South Wales Transport, but now leading up to the election it’s Fix New South Wales. In fact, I think they should bring in that – I think a couple of years ago, New South Wales is not for sale, they’ve still got all those t-shirts.

Facilitator:                That’s fantastic. Look that’s really, really absolutely fascinating and very interesting to hear about what you’re doing now.

                                 I guess I wanted to get a little bit more on your drive for involvement, your motivations for being involved and just to pull out a little bit, you said that when you started work you signed the union form because that’s what you did at the time and that you went to meetings when you should.

                                 And, and then you had contact with the union organiser. But before 2011, could you give a bit more detail about the types of activities that you were involved in?

                                 You obviously became active in some way before 2011, and I know you said there were various issues, but could you maybe give an example of what your workplace activity as a unionist looked like?

Interviewee:             Oh? In the workplace? Well whenever we would have our meetings, always have our staff meetings, and if there was anything that came down from the union via the news, any PSA news, then I would forward that on to all the staff but also send it to the principal if there were things that they were trying to put on to us.

                                 So, I would always go and say, look I’m sorry but the union have told us that we’re not to do that. Or, I’m sorry but the union has told us that there’s currently a ban on that and we’ve been told, so.

                                 That’s why I say to people in other schools, you don’t put it on yourself, you always tell them the union. Your union has told us that we have to stay by what we’re advised by our union.

                                 And that kind of takes it off you so they can’t come back at you to say well - and it got to the stage where I just said to them - I would just say to the - when we were at exec meetings, and if they wanted to bring something on the, on the admin team then I would say at the meeting of all the execs, well I will just check that out with the union first, and that was it.

                                 Because I felt that because I’m their supervisor, I have to protect the interests of the team because their health and wellbeing, because if you’re too overloaded - because what happens is more and more keeps coming down the line so you have to - and so that’s what we would do, we’d have our meetings, anything to discuss?

                                 So yeah, so we had our team meeting, they were informal though. Informal, if anybody had issues then I would contact the union and ask them about it, things that we weren’t clear about. But we were very good.

                                 I even went to the union about the principal. Okay? So, the principal had to be disciplined, I had to watch my back after that.

                                 But that was fine because the principal did come and thank me down the track, because yes you had to - but yeah so, bullying, yeah she was bullying one of the staff and I had to get the - she wouldn’t stop, so I had to call the union in, she was called in and that was it.

                                 So, the union said that that was a very good thing even though it was very - I mean I didn’t like doing it, But I didn’t like to do it but it was getting worse.

                                 Then not long after that all the bullying in the workplace came out, and it was all legislated and all this type of thing, so everything was nipped in the bud so that was very good. But prior to that yes I did have to.

Facilitator:                And when you had new people start in your office, how would you broach the subject?

Interviewee:             The same thing as I got it. Here - sign on here, here’s your union papers. [Laughs]. Exactly the same.

                                 And they were, everyone was fine, they were all fine to do it and virtually saying, look you’ve got your house, you’ve got house insurance. You get your car, you’ve got car insurance. You’ve got everything you ensure in life. Your work insurance is joining your union. So, it’s just exactly the same as all your other insurance covers but this is to protect you in the workplace.

                                 And people understand that, they go okay - also the fact that I’d say to them, you’re getting most of it back anyway on your tax, plus these are all the benefits. Okay, it’s only $11 to get insurance, not only for you but for your whole family, you’re covered, you know, going to work and from work, so all the benefits, sort of let them - yeah and so they would just do it anyway, they were all happy to do that.

                                 So, all my workplace was 100 per cent union. [Laughter]

Facilitator:                How does that compare to other schools? Do you know, do you have a sense?

Interviewee:             A lot of them are, yes. I think in the PSA, 63 percent are women - members in the PSA, and a large majority of them work in school. So, I think schools are nearly - last I heard I think it was the biggest department in the PSA, the schoolies.

Facilitator:                I guess I want to go back because all of that is kind of leading me to some questions about why, why you feel that drive. And I guess one of the questions that I have on my list is, do you have a family history of, say, union involvement?

Interviewee:             No.

Facilitator:                Or community activism?

Interviewee:             No, nothing. All I can put it down to is my mother. Dad died when he was 48, mum died when she was 39. I was 15 when mum died and I became the mother. Okay. So, I’ve got five brothers all younger than me.

                                 So, when mum died the youngest was three, so I stayed home and did everything. Dad went to work and I was there looking after – looking after making, getting the boys off to school, just doing the mother thing. For two years until Peter went to school when he was five, and then I went out and got a job. With news media, that’s right, all those years ago.

                                 So, I suppose I don’t know, I’ve always got this injustice, I suppose. Anything that’s - and I can remember too, I always remember this woman coming to our house when mum was alive. This woman, I can remember looking out the door and she came up the driveway and she was holding this big carton. I thought oh what’s in that carton?

                                 Anyway, she came, and she was from a church and they had - they just had some big event and she brought all the leftover food. And, oh, I thought it was Christmas, there were, I still remember there were - these are defining moments when you’re a kid.

                                 I can remember all the - there were sandwiches, there were cakes. Because we were very poor, and I thought, I thought oh my god all my Christmases have come at once. I even called the neighbour’s kids over - the neighbours to come over too because it was such a big box, and I always remember that woman.

                                 And I think now in adulthood, I’ve become that woman, giving out, helping out others. Because I also did 10 years in the nursing homes, going in and helping all the oldies. And that’s how I started. I went from the oldies to the wayward, in jail.

Facilitator:                Was that voluntary work or paid work?

Interviewee:             No, no, everything has been voluntary, everything I do is voluntary. The only work that I got paid for was when I was working in school. Because I’ve been retired now 21 months, so that’s good. Yeah, so it’s a whole new world, retirement.

                                 But it’s not retirement, I call it re-firement. Because you’re being refired for other things.

                                 Now, I’m just so busy. But people say, you’re very busy because they see all my stuff on Facebook, but I said but you don’t see me in the mornings, okay?

                                 I have three rules in re-firement. The first rule is I don’t get out of bed until eight o’clock, sometimes nine.

                                 The second rule is, no appointments before 11, unless they’re social.

                                 And the third one is, whereas as I spent 50 years sitting in an office, I’m now spending the next 50 sitting in my garden having breakfast.

                                 So, they’re the only three rules, but after 11 o’clock I’m running around, I’m out and about and all over the place.

Facilitator:                I love that.

Interviewee:             Yes.

Facilitator:                Okay so no one in your family was particularly involved in community activism that you sort of modelled?

Interviewee:             No.

Facilitator:                So, what other - so you’ve spoken about your volunteer work with the aged, with prisoners.

Interviewee:             Yeah, probably in church, I get my inspiration from church. Like, faith without works is dead, it’s all very nice to be pray, pray, pray and believe, but you’ve got to be - being active.

                                 And I always believed that Jesus is the greatest activist there ever was. He was out there for the poor:  feed the hungry, look after the poor. That’s why I say, when people see ScoMo they go oh - all my Christian friends - I went, you know them by their fruit. Okay. Is he feeding the poor, looking after the hungry? That’s how you know, if they’re not doing that, forget it. I don’t care who they are, if they’re looking after the poor, looking after the widows and the orphans, we’re told in scripture, you look after the widows and the orphans, you feed the poor, then I’ll listen. Unless - no he’s looking after his rich mates. So, I get a lot of inspiration when I go to my church on Sundays.

                                 And, yeah. I think, well, Jesus was the greatest activist because he was out there looking after the poor, feed the poor, look after people. So, when I see an injustice, well then I rise up. [Laughter]

                                 The thing is, people like it, and I’m going, I can’t believe it. I go, Lord, you open the door and I’ll walk through it, and the doors open, the doors open. I get invitations for all over the place. But I do like the parties. My Christian friends are going, what are you doing with the union?

                                 Or, you know, I live in the mountains right, so now the biggest thing is the airport. Mary you should get out there, we can’t - I said what do you mean you, don’t you mean we? Well, you know. Everyone is all ra, ra, ra, but get out there, come along to the campaigns. I said there’s so much more there’s no point - even my husband, he goes why are you getting involved with the airport?

                                 I said because, for our grandchildren. That’s why, with the M4 toll, people sign it and some go, I don’t even go on the M4 toll, and I say I don’t either, I very rarely. But I said, I bet you you’ve got family and friends that go on it every day to get to work. What about your grandchildren paying for the next 43 years? Where do I sign? [Laughs].

                                 So, my husband goes, oh Mary, don’t worry about the airport. He goes by the time it’s built we’ll be in our 80s and if we’ve still got our hearing, you know, be thankful for that.

                                 I said to him, you reckon Blaxland, Blaxland, that’s been spoken about as being the merge point, because we live in Blaxland. Oh, that won’t be.

                                 So, people are like that, people are so lackadaisical. I say to my friends, can you imagine 24/7 - there’s no curfew, not yet, not like Sydney. 24/7 coming over our heads, I said because we’re still on - after take-off, it’s not like they’re way up in air. We’re after take-off, so they’re still climbing and we’ve been told 80 planes, 80 planes day and night.

                                 And also, the question is how is the fuel getting out there? So, we’ve been told there’s six tankers, will do one plane. So, if you’ve got all those planes and all those tankers on the roads taking it out. Or if they do a pipeline, whose houses is that pipeline going through?

                                 People don’t think about it. And they’re going, I said the noise pollution, I said it’s a basin, the sink, there’s a basin there at the bottom of the hills. So, all across that area you’ve got all the pollution.

                                 I mean it’s the highest rate of asthma, I said could you imagine how much that’s going to be? All that fuel is going to go into the Warragamba Dam, all our drinking water.

                                 People have got to – people, and they go oh yeah. You feel like going, wake up, because once it’s done you can’t - that’s it, it’s too late, the fight is over.

Facilitator:                What about your family’s impressions of your union involvement?

Interviewee:             I think a lot of them are in the union, my daughter is in the PSA. A lot of people I know are in the union, so, there are a lot that aren’t so I usually - and even on my Facebook page, there’s, I get a lot of people ra, ra, ra on the unions. But I tell them okay, if you are really, if you are really convicted about that and you’re really against them, then you need to give back all your leave, your sick leave and your holidays, you need to give back your long service leave, you need to give back your weekends. Are you willing to do that because that’s all been fought from our union forefathers? Then they shut up.           

                                 Of course, they’re going to take it. The people - and then they rouse on the union but they’re not paying their fees. I said you’re getting the benefits and you’re not even paying the fees like all the people who are, all the members. They all pay to get that security as much as they can, well protection from the union.

                                 So yes, I’ve always been - I’ve always believed - in fact the thing I haven’t liked are those people. Why are they getting the benefits when they’re not paying? Yes, so, you know, it goes to everyone regardless of whether you’re in the union or not. But yeah so, a lot of my friends are but there are a lot that aren’t.

Facilitator:                I wanted to ask a question about what you have seen as the biggest challenge facing unions and has there been a change in that from when you first became involved to what you see now?

Interviewee:             Oh yes, like when I first became involved everyone was out on strike, you very rarely see that now. But I believe it’s because the government has changed the rules. Changed it so that unions will get fined, big hefty fines if they do go out on strike.

                                 Back in those days where there was always strike action, but now you very rarely see that, now. But I think a lot of the downfall and why people have dropped out of the union is because of all that, you know, corruption and thieving and all that that happened with one of them.

                                 But as I say to others, you know, just because one of them has done it, don’t think that all of them have been getting into that and they’ve now been all cleaned up and legislation has made it tougher. But they’re starting to get back up, there’s a big thrust on now to get more people joining the union.

                                 And as the young ones - well actually I brought in the idea, get them while they’re young at the careers' forum. Okay? You get all the senior students going there plus the TAFE.

                                 So, I mentioned it to Mary here at Unions New South Wales. So, this year we started out at Homebush. So, we had a stall there and all the different unions came up with all the freebies, all their, all their join the union type, but we were there just letting the young people know, when you start your job make sure you join your union because that’s your protection during your working life.

                                 So that was very good, because so many of the youngsters didn’t even know what a union was. So, it’s a good thing we had all the leaflets, the booklets, on what is a union, why you need to join your union, and then we had all the different - from all the different unions, all their paperwork and that, plus all the freebies.

                                 That was very - I mean it was packed, really packed with thousands of students coming through, I think it was three days, coming through from all their schools and being able to talk to them about a union. And some of them had heard their parents talking and they wanted clarification, so that was very good.

                                 We tried to encourage everybody around the country, all the different unions around the country, find out where your careers forum is - careers expo, and get a stall. I think it costs $4000 so you need to make sure that, you know, you’ve got your full-on staff there to doing it to get your money’s worth, but it’s an investment in the future, the next generation coming through.

                                 Yeah so education, and that’s what we’re doing on our stall, is out there, letting the public know how all these different cuts are affecting them. Penalty rates, see all the weekend – so it’s all right for you and I to go out and have our coffee, but what about the poor people - the workers out there working so you and I can have our coffee? They don’t think about it that way, I said, they’re missing out on time with their families so you and I can go shopping and all this sort of thing.

                                 And why is this government taking their penalty rates off them? After they’re so used to having it and it’s all been committed to all their bills and now bang, $100 gone here and there, no it’s not fair.

                                 So yeah, so we’re out there very fortnight on all these different issues, letting them know. And that’s what the big thing now is, Centrelink how that’s being privatised, privatisation of all our public assets. The people losing out is the public. Yeah.

Facilitator:                All right well look that’s absolutely fantastic, what a great story you have. Is there anything else that you haven’t mentioned or that you wanted to say or that I haven’t touched on that you want to let me know of?

Interviewee:             Well we need to have more young - I think having more younger people coming in. That’s the big – that’s the big, you know because like retirees, here we have about 15 to 20 and I tell you what, the retirees' group, they’re the most active because they’ve, they’re out there, all the different campaigns, they’re available during the week. So, they’re out there as they are today at Revesby I think, for the Centrelink.

                                 But yes, we need the, we need the next generation to come through because we’re all getting older and if we haven’t got people like yourself coming through and taking up the baton, see running with it, running with it.

                                 And I think probably it might be, in years to come, the union movement might even look completely different to what it does now. But we need people to come alongside and hand the baton on to. But yeah, just, I’ll just keep going because of my grandchildren.

                                 See when you’re growing up - when I was growing up - you always did better than your parents. Not now, not now, very few people - you want - the legacy should be that yes, your children do much better than you and they’re able to - but I look at my grandchildren now and I think, my god, what are we leaving them? You know, it’s hard, it’s hard for the young people to go and get good jobs, secure work, it’s all insecure.

                                 I know my daughter has only just got permanent work after 10 years, 10 years of insecure work, that does people’s head in. Because they’re stressed out, they go into depression because they can’t get a job. And she was like that for 10 years. She had casual work, she was a long-term temp for 10 years. But at the end of her little contracts, oh my god the pressure we went through, and the stress, trying to ensure that she had a job the following term.

                                 Anyway, so, 10 years she just started one two months ago, three months ago, after 10 years in the wilderness, you know, and her father, he’s - I mean she’s married with children but her husband was in a big bad accident so he’s been out of work.

                                 So, her father, he’s been every time the school holidays, you don’t get paid during the holidays, casual. He was paying all their bills, so for 10 years my husband has been doing that, keeping them afloat.

                                 Now though, oh my god she’s now got permanency. During that time, she went and got her Diploma of Business Administration. She passed that the same week she got permanency. So that was a huge - not only that, she got two jobs. She applied for two and she got two.

                                 So yeah for her to have that - so I would say insecure work, that’s a terrible, terrible thing. So, you’ve got to get rid of that and get people - which is what Sally McManus is doing now with the Change the Rules.

                                 Secure work for people, people that have been in secure work should get permanency because it’s a, it’s a terrible stress on families because they can’t plan their lives. And I’ve seen it firsthand with my daughter, but yeah now we’re all laughing. [Laughs]. It’s very good.

Facilitator:                Excellent. Alright well thank you so much, that was really, really fascinating, I very much enjoyed hearing your exploits.

Interviewee:             Oh, thank you. Yeah, yeah, yeah exploits, that’s what it is.

Facilitator:                And good luck tomorrow.

Interviewee:             Oh, thank you, yes. Well I’ll just give them my statement and then whatever questions they want to ask me. But yeah, I was just - I’m just amazed that I was invited, it just came out of the blue, the email.

Facilitator:                Fantastic.

Interviewee:             It is, isn’t it?



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union women activism Australia