Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2018


Midgley, Mrs Margaret Roberta

8:14 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last Saturday I facilitated a memorial service at the Hobart botanical gardens for my dear friend Margaret Roberta Midgley, nee Sheen. Margi died on Friday, 2 February, one day before her 72nd birthday. After the service her family and I scattered her ashes in the Hobart botanical gardens at the place where a seat is to be placed in her memory, in the area where she loved to sit, where she felt most at peace.

Margaret and I were the very best of friends for the last 30 years. I first met her in 1988, when we both joined the Hobart Family Day Care Scheme. We went to a coffee morning for new carers and started to chat to each other and the rest, as they say, is history. Margi and Roger had recently moved to Hobart from NSW, having spent some time there after meeting on the ship when they immigrated as ten-pound Poms and then got married.

Margi and I hit it off right from the very first. It didn't take us long to discover we shared concerns about the conditions that family day carers worked under. We were concerned about the lack of appropriate remuneration, considering the responsibility of minding other people's children. We were concerned about being allegedly self-employed but controlled by three levels of government. We were concerned about the lack of access to any accredited training. I must admit that TAFE Tasmania was not very understanding in the beginning about that, but we won that issue, and we went on to win a few more in the areas of training. In fact, we went on to both participate in writing training for childcare workers in Tassie. We also worried about the lack of appropriate family-day-care-specific training, which I just alluded to, and the lack of recognition by the general community about the roles and responsibilities of family day carers.

We were so concerned that we approached the municipal employees union. They were the local government union that were responsible for a number of family day care schemes and coordinators. We approached them about our concerns and we asked them for support. At the time, family day carers in other states were starting to voice the same concerns, and the union were happy to assist us in our cause. The quid pro quo was that they would use the Tasmanian family day care issue in the federal industrial dispute in two states, those being Victoria and Tasmania. Due to time constraints I won't go into all that that involved, but it was the beginning of a few new friendships and a large part of both of our lives.

Many of our childcare peers were of the view that if you worked with children you couldn't be outspoken—you couldn't possibly rock the cradle and rock the boat at the same time. Well, Margi and I did. Between us, we managed to change quite a few people's thoughts regarding that issue. We became known as the tenacious terriers, so named by the union guys because we couldn't or wouldn't let go of the issues.

Initially, it was just Margi and me with this cause, and then we were joined by another woman who became a friend, Rosalie, who worked in another scheme but under the same rules. I tend to think we were 30 years ahead of our time in the charge to make sure that childcare workers are suitably recognised. We'd spend hours most nights, after our charges had gone home, on the phone or visiting each other, writing letters to whoever we thought might assist us about our concerns—politicians of all levels and from all parties, childcare organisations, family day carers themselves, councillors in local governments, and TAFEs. We'd bat ideas off each other, seek advice from each other, drink lots of coffee and sometimes wine, talk over each other, laugh together and at each other and get indignant about some wrongdoing by someone else, but, most importantly, we would support each other.

About 12 months after I went to the municipal employees union to work as an industrial officer, I managed to get funding to train and support long-term-unemployed women who wanted to work in the childcare industry. The then state secretary employed Margaret, who by then had completed her Diploma of Sociology after a number of years of part-time study. She was employed to assist me.

A few months later, when I became a full-time union organiser, Margi became the lead coordinator. Over the next few years, the project went on to place over 350 people in a range of local government areas, both indoors and outdoors, in Tasmania. She did an amazing job. When the project finally ended, Margi was asked to become an ASU industrial officer, and she did this job until her retirement, due to ill health, in 2006. We worked together in the union until I left to go to state parliament as an adviser, and even after that we remained firm friends. We'd still talk on the phone often. We'd have coffee or lunch together frequently.

Through the decades, we watched our families grow up and talked through the good bits and not-so-good bits. We attended our children's various birthday parties and weddings and adult birthday parties and Christmas parties and barbecues and dinners together—although, I must admit, we went to dinner there a lot more than they were at our house because they were much better cooks than us! In our 30 years of friendship we spent a lot of time together and we talked a lot. Some weeks, especially when we both worked for the union, we travelled together and spent so much time together that we used to wonder what our families looked like. We were a team. We shared so much and we had similar values—though Margi was more left wing than me and, to be frank, a bit more compassionate. I was the hardhead of the two. It was often a good cop/bad cop scenario, and we used to even use that sometimes when dealing with our own children.

When I think about Margi, I think about how big-hearted and generous she was, how she encouraged everyone to be the best they could, how compassionate, fun, honest, creative, intelligent, hardworking, strong-willed, tenacious, obstinate and passionate she was. Over the many years that Margi was a proud member of the MEU and, following the union amalgamations, of the Australian Services Union, she was a member, a delegate, a coordinator and then an industrial officer. She worked hard and she gave her best to the members and to the union. She was also, until recently, a loyal ALP Tasmania branch member and, over many years, represented the MEU, and then the ASU, many, many times at ALP state conferences. Of course, she helped with my political campaigns too. She was one of the people who, when it comes to campaigns, often go under the radar of the state office. She'd stuff envelopes for hours on end and she'd letterbox. She'd get her whole family involved in these activities. She'd also cook muffins and food or get us bickies and cheese and wine to keep us going.

Sadly, my beautiful friend was diagnosed some years ago with early onset vascular dementia. Over the past year, this progressed quite quickly. I know she was often sad and confused, and they really weren't easy times for anyone. It's not a nice disease. The phone calls from Margi stopped but, when I rang Roger, her husband, to see how things were, he would, if he was with Margi—which he was so often—put the phone on speaker and we'd have a little chat. I'd visit her as often as I could. We'd have a hug and I'd talk about old times or tell her what I was doing at work or how the family was going. Sometimes, we'd still share a joke or a laugh. I'm not sure that she understood me all the time, or even remembered me being there once I'd left. But she always seemed pleased to see me. So I hope my visits made her happy, if only for a short time.

Margi was a true and loyal friend, and she put high store in those values. I'm sure her friendship contributed to who I am today, and her personal support certainly helped me get where I am today. I just want to say, before I finish, how fortunate and truly honoured I've been to share Margi's life, her death and her family. It was always obvious to everyone that Margi loved her family more than anything else, no matter what was happening. Her husband, Roger, was the love of her life. As in all families, life often wasn't smooth but she loved them all no matter what.

Yes, I'm sad that Margi died. But I'm also relieved she's no longer suffering. I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity to say goodbye to her and tell her how much she meant to me and to spend a large part of the last few weeks with her and the family while she was receiving palliative care. To Margi's beautiful family—Roger, Erica, Michael, Jake, Peter, Mandy, Tom, Jack, Gemma and Adam—thank you. You have been so extraordinarily generous in allowing me to spend so much time with Margi and to be part of the journey of her death. There's no doubt I will miss my dear Margi enormously. There is a special place in my heart just for her. I will remember her with love and with gratitude. I will remember her when her heart was full of spirit. And, of course, I will always remember her final words to me: 'I love you too, my dear friend.'