I’m delighted to welcome you to the official launch of Cathy goes to Canberra: Doing politics differently, by former federal independent MP and Monash alumna Cathy McGowan AO.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the people of the Kulin Nations, and pay my respects to their Elders – past, present and emerging.
Well like many events this year, we’ve had to shift this book launch to an online format due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which we’re all currently experiencing.
Nonetheless, we’re so pleased you could join us for this special occasion.
Cathy goes to Canberra tells the inspiring story of how a young girl from rural Victoria grew up to help pave the way for community success and real change in Australia’s political history.
This book is about just that – what a politically active community can do. As Ms McGowan calls it, “the Indi way”.
Raised on a dairy farm with her 12 siblings, Cathy McGowan’s strong passion for the land and farming life was engrained in her from a very young age.
Her dedication to education, along with her drive and perseverance to make change, combined to lead her to run as an independent for the seat of Indi in north-east Victoria at the 2013 election.
For those who might not be familiar with the division of Indi, the seat takes in Victoria’s snowfields and mountains, including eight major rivers that capture over 50 per cent of the water in the Murray-Darling Basin.
In the north are the larger urban centres of Wodonga and Wangaratta, and it runs as far south as Kinglake and Marysville – towns that were devastated by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
Cathy McGowan was in her late 50s when she launched her campaign to become the next member for Indi, but by this age she was certainly no stranger to the world of politics.
Her father, Paul, was involved in the social organisations of the 1950s that led to the formation of the Democratic Labor Party, including the National Catholic Rural Movement, which promoted a vision of living the rural lifestyle and creating community in the country.
This commitment led him to become, in time, an active member of the Liberal Party, the Victorian Farmers Federation and a councillor for the local Shire of Chiltern.
Cathy, after finishing high school, completed an Arts degree at Monash University, majoring in history and economics. It wasn’t a journey without its struggles, and the struggles were of different types.
The cover photo of the book shows Cathy in 1973 on her motorbike in her leathers, which was her way of overcoming lack of public transport to Monash at Clayton – something she notes is still a challenge.
And as she notes in her book, she failed her first year, but her parents’ high expectations when it came to education saw them encourage her to repeat that year, making up for the subjects she’d failed, while working in the nearby Peters ice-cream factory in Mulgrave.
So, despite the temptation to give up after that first year and return to her hometown to work on the family farm, Cathy says she’s thankful for her parents’ contribution to her life, because it was in that second year of university, working and studying, that she learned resilience – a resilience that she would continue to draw upon throughout her political career.
Cathy also holds a Diploma of Education from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Applied Science in agriculture and rural development from the University of Western Sydney. So that first experience didn’t discourage her from tertiary education.
In 1980 at age 26, after two years of being a teacher, Cathy took her first job in a political office for the then recently-elected Liberal member for Indi, Ewen Cameron.
Despite Cathy not being a “big ‘P’ Party person” and never imagining she would one day have a parliamentary career of her own, she very much enjoyed the work and learnt much from Ewen Cameron and his work as a local politician leading his community.
In 1983 she moved on, and set her sights on establishing her own consultancy business and, more importantly, working within her community.
And although Cathy doesn’t describe herself as a political person – in her words, she’s “political with a lowercase p” – her passion for the people in her community only became stronger over the years.
It was a phone call from her niece and nephew in 2012 that prompted the establishment of the group ‘Voices for Indi’, which began Cathy’s journey to Canberra, and over the next six years she’d go on to break many political records – she became the first female independent to sit on the crossbench; and in 2019 when she passed Indi on to another independent, Dr Helen Haines, that was also a first in Australian political history.
During her time as a politician, Cathy worked tirelessly to develop policy around regional development, a national integrity commission, a code of conduct for politicians, as well as drought policy.
She’s worked as a regional councillor for the Victorian Farmers’ Federation, and she’s a former President of Australian Women in Agriculture.
In 2004 she was made an Officer of the Order of Australia ‘for service to the community through raising awareness of and stimulating debate about issues affecting women in regional, rural and remote areas’.
Now, there’s much more in the book and I won’t give too much more away – I hope you will take it upon yourself to read this lively book – as lively and interesting as its main subject.
But I do want to leave you with some of the many life lessons and observations that Cathy notes throughout her story:
- Her approach to politics and life, for example, is, and I quote, to “begin with the end in mind”.
- She also encourages others to “never be afraid to talk to people and be willing to ask if you want to know how something works. That’s not only because it’s how you learn, it’s how relationships are forged, and ultimately they’re what count”.
- And something Cathy says is relevant to her story is: “if you want to create change in your community, be willing to get involved in your community’s organisations”.
They’re all important lessons that we could all benefit from.
We’re very proud to add Cathy goes to Canberra to the Monash University Publishing collection of books, and we’re very pleased to now include Cathy McGowan in our list of published authors.
I’d like to take this opportunity to warmly congratulate Cathy on what is a wonderful memoir, and it’s a wonderful memoir of what is a wonderful life.
Please enjoy the rest of the launch, and thank you again for joining us.