This is a tribute to Julia Gillard, who I disliked and never even tried to understand until now, despite her having been the leader of my country. Two days ago, the members of the Labor Party held a secret ballot after the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, called for one. The ballot would determine whether she or Kevin Rudd would be Labor Party leader. This was seemingly necessary; popular opinion was that Rudd had been shadowing the PM and gaining support in the face of her unpopularity. It is only natural that people suspected that he was after the job that had once been taken from him. In Gillard’s announcement, she said that she thought the loser of the vote should leave politics once and for all. It seemed extreme, but perhaps also necessary, in order to stop the loser lurking around and stirring up more dissent in the Labor Party. Confident that she had enough support from her own party, Gillard seemed self assured as she announced the ballot a few hours before it took place. Later that evening, Julia Gillard came out of the Caucus room having lost the vote 57 – 45.
I am not going to go into the circumstances of Gillard’s initial replacement of Rudd, nor the events preceding her loss of the ballot. The Labor Party has been divided by disloyalty, confusion, plotting, etc. for the past 3+ years, and it is beyond my limited knowledge of politics to try and point toward contributing factors or people. Instead I will talk about Julia Gillard.
While she was prime minister I saw her through eyes that were not my own. I saw her through a filter, apropos to offhand comments I had heard, articles I had read, and general public opinion I had absorbed. This was entirely my own fault. Had I stopped to consider her competency as PM myself, perhaps I would have appreciated her before it was too late. But I didn’t. I saw her as incompetent, blundering, boring, insincere, and unaware of her own faults. I am an 18 year old girl, not a misogynist, but I saw her through the eyes of a society ready to pick fault with females in the spotlight. Did I blatantly think to myself, “Gee, she’s a female and she’s trying to run the country, look at all her flaws!”? No. Heck, I consider myself a feminist. Did I, at some level, consent to the existence of these apparently existent flaws anyway? Probably.
During the Caucus meeting I took a hiatus from my usual ignorant indifference to politics and sat glued to the screen with my Dad as we waited for the announcement. I was hoping that the winner would be Rudd, and was of course rewarded. Then Gillard came on the screen to give her speech. By this time I was only half watching, but even so, something was happening. Her speech was good. Even I could see it. It was inspiring. It was bittersweet. I could tell she was upset. I willed myself not to care. But as she spoke, something was being conveyed, and it felt awfully like the message of someone who had tried their hardest, believed in their cause passionately, and was leaving abruptly, at once deflated and dignified. As one of the news anchors said, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what this would be like for her. She had worked her whole life for this. It was gone, and I was seeing, live, her fierce, stoic faith in what she had stood for while she had had the chance.
Was the whole ‘the dead are never bad’ effect going on? Was I only praising her because she was gone, and I felt sorry for her considering how it had happened? I started to become obsessed with Gillard, watching speeches on youtube, reading interviews and articles about her road to prime minister, looking at pictures. I wanted to know. Who exactly was she and why had I dismissed her offhand? It took awhile at first to drop all my past perceptions. But nonetheless, I was beginning to see Gillard afresh, now that the circumstances had shifted and my preconceived notions were off kilter. I am just sorry I never paid attention earlier. There was no excuse for allowing others to shape my opinion so much that I never even bothered to reconsider. Even if my perceptions of her had been true, I had been cruelly heavy-handed in taking them on so willingly. I am now a staunch supporter of Julia Gillard. Regardless of anything else she was our Prime Minister, ambassador for our people, and so she deserved our respect and honour. And because of how much she tried, the sacrifices that she made, the lives that she cared about, the hard decisions she was willing to make, the grace that she showed and the passion that she brought, she has my admiration as well.
It broke my heart, to see the clip of her choking back tears as she sat in the back bench yesterday, one of her colleagues who had also resigned with her telling her that her deceased father would have been proud of her. I now know that she put so much of herself into being PM. It was ripped away so suddenly, and the disappointment must be crushing. I can only hope that she knows that there are many people in Australia who are proud of her too. I know I am.
Julia Gillard is strong. In the face of hatred from a portion of the population (and some of her own party), she went to work each day with a smile on her face, confidence in her gait and an untrembling voice. What kind of person could endure such vitriol and not even crack, not even one sliver, for three full years? The same person who was occasionally called unfeeling for this same stoic strength. Gillard wasn’t unfeeling. Her feelings just weren’t worn on her sleeve, and she has taught us that this is okay.
Gillard knew how hard she was working, but she was often viewed quite negatively – and still she refused to let it get to her. She faced criticism for several things, but I now think they are unfounded. Her refusal to go into much detail about her private life? Inconsequential. Many people would be the same. There has to be a job/life barrier, especially if you are in the public eye, and especially if, like Gillard, you devote such long hours to your job.
Some people would say she was boring. But as Gillard herself said, she was there to run the country and make tough decisions, not to be a well-liked member of a TV show. I also think this is grossly unfair. Looking back, Gillard was perfectly friendly, dignified and warm and caring. She was passionate in her speeches and clearly had a great sense of humour. She could balance this with well-thought out, intelligent stances and a thoughtful nature. She was good at negotiation and listening to people. She was also down to earth and jovial. Gillard did have charisma; it was just not the kind people were used to seeing. They weren’t used to seeing a woman who was so devoted to her job that she didn’t see appearing on copious amounts of talks shows and developing her own personal brand for the media as hugely important. Instead, she was driven, a doer – someone ready to push for change in a country that it is evident she genuinely cared about.
I had once decided that Gillard was oblivious to how people saw her, and used this for further proof in my head of she was naive and ill-suited to the task. I now know that much of this was propagated by the media; there were plenty of people who liked her. I also know that she was not oblivious to the more unsavoury aspects of people’s opinions. She knew, and she faced it. And in terms of the ‘gender wars’, she was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. If she asked that people would look past her gender, which was clearly not the most important thing, she was playing the gender card. And if she ignored the obviously sexist pokes at her then she was allowing them to deride her. She couldn’t win, but Gillard fought valiantly. Win, I believe, she did, with every attempt she made.
With my new eyes, I watched footage of Gillard greeting and answering questions from school kids, as well as members of the public, and I saw that she was as sincere as they come. I saw the crinkles in the corners of her eyes and the way her face lit up. I believe her when she says that she loves to hear other people’s stories. Also, some people have used the fact that she does not have children against her. Gillard said she had never felt called to have kids. Why do we have to make this a negative thing? Why is it even important? As well, let’s not forget that where she could have put time into caring and looking after her own children, she put that time and effort into the children of Australia.
It upsets me that Julia Gillard had to resign this way. I am crushed that she had to go at all. It must be horrible for her. But she has left a legacy. She has shown us the power of courage. The power of dignity, of single-mindedness, determination, self belief, humbleness, passion, a warm heart, ambition, kindness, hard work. Bravery in the face of contempt from some. She was always so gracious. I wish I’d known all this while she was still PM. But perhaps, just as I and a few of my friends have done, people will take her stepping down as a time to see finally, clearly, just what she has done for us. She said in her last speech that she knew it would be easier for the next woman to be prime minister, and that she was proud of that. I know that just like me, there are girls all across the nation who, if not aiming for prime minister, are aiming for something great; and that they hold Gillard’s example close to their hearts.
Thank you, Julia Gillard, for being the Prime Minister that you were.