Gillard, the Ten Pound Pom

July 17, 2010 12:00 am

, SYDNEY, Jul 17 – Julia Gillard  has gone from "Ten Pound Pom" to Australia\’s first woman prime minister helped by her engaging common sense, caustic wit and some ruthless political manoeuvring.

Gillard was just a small child when she sailed into Australia, clutching a toy koala, in 1966, after her parents uprooted from Wales hoping warmer air would cure their daughter\’s chronic lung problems.

Forty-four years later and Gillard, her famous auburn hair dyed a deep red, was Australia\’s first female, atheist and unmarried prime minister after a party coup which stunned the nation and left ex-leader Kevin Rudd in tears.

"I\’m aware I\’m the first woman to sit in this role," she said on June 24, the day of her surprise leadership challenge.

"But I didn\’t set out to crash my head against any glass ceilings."

Julia Eileen Gillard was born on September 29, 1961 in Barry, a port town central to Welsh coal-mining, and has an elder sister named Alison.

Her parents, John and Moira, took advantage of Australia\’s 10 pound (15 US dollar) migration offer, aimed at boosting its workforce, on medical advice.

"(The doctor said Julia) will not be able to grow up in the very cold weather," Moira Gillard said in 2006.

"He said, \’Take her to a warmer climate.\’ So we came to Australia."

Gillard was a bright student who read arts and law in Adelaide, where her family had settled, and became the president of the Australian Union of Students in 1983.

She then forged a career in industrial relations law, becoming a partner with Slater and Gordon in 1990, before edging into politics as chief of staff to then Victoria state\’s opposition leader John Brumby.

After initially being rejected by the Labor Party for a parliamentary seat, Gillard went to parliament in 1998 after winning the safe seat of Lalor in Melbourne.

Gillard, from the left of her party, forged a reputation as a pragmatic politician and consensual leader, as well as formidable parliamentary performer.

She also polished her public image after subduing the harsh "Footscray Fishwife" intonations, a thick Australian accent with nasal tones, which marked her early career.

Handed the employment and education portfolios after Rudd\’s 2007 landslide election, she oversaw a generous spending programme for schools and the winding back of the previous government\’s loathed labour laws.

As deputy prime minister, she spent weeks deflecting talk of replacing Rudd, whose immense popularity had slipped ahead of elections, but the backing of Labor\’s powerful factional chiefs prompted a dramatic change of heart.

"I asked my colleagues to make a leadership change because I believe that a good government was losing its way," Gillard said. "I was not going to sit idly by."

Gillard shrewdly declined to move to The Lodge, the prime minister\’s residence, without a public mandate, dividing her time between her Canberra apartment and her Melbourne home.

Her partner is one-time hairdresser Tim Mathieson, which may help explain her frequent change of hair style and shade.

"That\’s my forte, the famous 5:30 am blow wave," Mathieson told local media.

Gillard, who has no children, is widely respected and comments from a conservative politician in 2007 that she was unqualified to run the country because she was "deliberately barren" prompted a national outcry.

Modern Australian women understood they had choices, she said at the time, and such comments were irrelevant.

She discussed the issue of children during an interview in 2008, saying she was "full of admiration for women who can mix it together, working and having kids, but I\’m not sure I could have".

"If I\’d been a boy and (sister) Alison had been a girl, people would have said almost that\’s the natural order of things," she told public broadcaster ABC.

"There\’s something in me that\’s focused and single-minded and if I was going to do that (have a family), I\’m not sure I could have done this (have a political career)."


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