I was born in Tasmania and counts convicts on the second fleet to arrive in Tasmania as my ancestors. I grew up on a dairy farm and went on to work as a shearer, in meat works and on farms.
When I left school, I was nearly illiterate and had to work hard as an adult to learn to read and write. It took me four years of study to reach an acceptable level that enabled me to carry out my role as a union organiser. I have served as a member of the Tasmanian Parliament and was first elected to the House of Representatives in Federal Parliament in 1993 where I represent the Tasmanian electorate of Lyons.
Having learnt to read and write as an adult, I am a keen advocate for adult literacy programs and am Patron and Life Member of the Tasmanian Council for Adult Literacy. As a strong supporter of libraries, I am the House of Representatives representative on the Board of the National Library of Australia as well as being Joint Chair of the House Committee on the Parliamentary Library.
My Thoughts on Reading & The National Year of Reading
Since becoming an Ambassador for the National Year of Reading, I have been approached by many primary and secondary schools (both in and outside my electorate of Lyons in Tasmania) to visit and talk to students about the importance of literacy. I am really enjoying these visits and am constantly amazed at some of the questions the children ask.
Recently I received an email from a young man in his twenties from New South Wales, asking how I learned to read and seeking advice on who to contact to get assistance. The National Year of Reading has certainly highlighted issues of literacy in the community which hopefully will help assist all those who have reading difficulties.
My Favourite Book:
The first book I ever bought was a book of poetry when I was working in south-western Queensland as a wool presser. I had been elected as a shop steward. The book of poetry that I bought was by Henry Lawson. His poetry certainly gave me inspiration to build on my passion for the trade union movement and, of course, developed an interest within me for endeavouring to work through the trade union movement for better working conditions, decent wages, and a better way of life for working people. It still inspires me. Lawson understood those who built a good life out of very little, and still had enormous satisfaction with it. Those values are my values; those people are my people.
I would like to quote from a poem written by Lawson in 1892:
'A prouder man than you'
If you fancy that your people came of better stock than mine,
If you hint of higher breeding by a word or by a sign
If you're proud because of fortune of the clever things you do -
Then I'll play no second fiddle: I'm a prouder man than you!
If you think that your profession has the more gentility
And that you are condescending to be seen along with me;
If you notice that I'm shabby while your clothes are spruce and new -
You have only got to hint it: I'm a prouder man than you!
Keep your patronage for others! Gold and station cannot hide
Friendship that can laugh at fortune, friendship that can conquer pride!
Offer this as to an equal - let me see that you are true,
And my wall of pride is shattered: I am not so proud as you!