Fighter for rights at work

Jacquie Hart
3 May 1945-14 April 2009

With a character that was caring, charming and challenging, Jacquie was at all times the consummate nurse and unionist. Born in Lockhart, Jacquie entered the wonderful profession of nursing in 1966 at St George Hospital and was soon to enter the world of industrial relations.

During the 1960s and beyond, student nurses were very much at the bottom of the ‘food chain’ but Jacquie had a real problem with that. She took offence at the expectation that the students had to be on the wards half an hour before their shift started. Quick as a flash, she contacted the Association and an organiser was at nursing administration’s doorstep. The practice ceased. As Jacquie remarked, ‘St George never let me forget it, but it was worth it!’.

Jacquie was soon to become a regular at the Association’s Annual Conference. She casually remarked to her colleagues not long before she died that she remembered going to a conference at the Trocadero and putting a motion from the floor for eight hours between shifts. Her seconder was Matron Margaret Nelson from RPA. This was history in the making. Thank you, Jacquie.

It has to be said that 1966 was a big year for Jacquie. Always the party girl, Jacquie was soon to meet a man at a Navy function who was to become the love of her life. Jacquie and Julian married in Hong Kong in 1970 and were, as described by Julian’s brother, ‘luminously happy’. A life with Julian and the soon-to-arrive Samantha and Tracy took them on naval sojourns to London and to warmer climates in north Queensland.

There was a certain elegance to Jacquie. She loved beautiful clothes, jewellery and fine food and wine. Through her 18 years at the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, Jacquie was always sporting some exotic piece of bling or other accessory.

Those 18 years as a Commonwealth Nursing Officer took Jacquie into the realm of aged care. From Standards Monitoring to the Resident Classification Scale validation, she carried her strong sense of professionalism and commitment to all corners of NSW. Highly regarded by her managers and the aged-care industry, Jacquie was very proud of her work and very loyal to her colleagues.

Without a doubt, Jacquie could be very strident about the rights of her fellow nurses at the Department. It was obvious the nurses needed a voice, so Jacquie promptly instigated the branch formation at the Department and was pivotal as the ANF representative during the certified agreement negotiations. The Howard years were not known for their milestones in social justice or industrial harmony. Over that long, long decade, Australians came to believe that ‘something was terribly wrong’ when confronted with such things as Howard’s excruciating inability to utter the word ‘sorry’ to a generation of indigenous Australians; the ‘children overboard’ scandal; the denial of knowledge of the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib; and the dreaded WorkChoices. These were difficult times, but Jacquie held her ground.

As Nick Blake, Industrial Officer with the ANF, said in his tribute to Jacquie in the May issue of the ANJ, Jacquie did the often thankless task as delegate because of her ‘strong view that Commonwealth Nursing Officers were grossly underpaid, professionally undervalued and their employment was always at risk’. She was instrumental in negotiating the professional development allowance for Commonwealth nurses and always actively promoted the objectives of the ANF.

Feisty and a political animal at heart, Jacquie was seen as a bit of an anomaly because she lived in St Ives and joined the ALP Left. As Meredith Burgman, the former President of the Legislative Assembly, put it: ‘Jacquie was one of those lovely ALP members who just wanted to make the world a better place. She and Julian would turn up to help on all occasions with enormous enthusiasm and lots of jokes. I think that’s what my lasting memory of Jacquie will be … lots of laughs and jokes. Since meeting her (probably in the 1970s) during my time at Macquarie Uni I have been continually impressed by her intelligence, tenacity and her commitment to social justice. We will all miss her terribly.’

And so say all of us.

By the Commonwealth Nursing Officers, Department of Health and Ageing