Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 August 2021


Darcey, Mrs Beth

7:20 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to pay tribute to a remarkable woman, an inspiring teacher, a selfless community contributor and a fearless Liberal, Mrs Beth Darcey, who passed away on 9 August 2021. I've spoken about Mrs Darcey in this place once before, in my maiden speech to the chamber, and I think that's particularly telling of the impact she had upon me when she taught me at St Michael's Collegiate School.

William Butler Yeats said, 'Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.' I have no doubt that I speak on behalf of many of Mrs Darcey's former students when I say that no-one could light a fire quite like she did. It was considered a rite of passage for collegiate girls to attend civics lessons with Mrs Darcey in preparation for the annual year 6 Canberra trip. For weeks in the lead-up to my trip in November 2002, Mrs Darcey taught us the fundamentals of our democracy, from holding elections to passing legislation. Our lessons culminated in a mock election, with Mrs Darcey, of course, performing the role of returning officer.

Once we arrived in Canberra, our lessons were applied even further in practice during a tour of Parliament House, with Mrs Darcey taking the lead. We met with what seemed like dozens of parliamentarians, and questioned them about their role as representatives and decision-makers. I was fascinated with the idea of how my vote could one day, through the structures enshrined in our Constitution, impact upon the decisions that were being made in this place. That fascination was firmly rooted in a strong understanding of how those structures worked, and that understanding came from Mrs Darcey. As the dean of St David's Cathedral, the Very Reverend Richard Humphrey, said in a sermon at her funeral last week, 'She not only taught active citizenship; she lived it.'

Beyond the fundamental importance of our democracy, the other thing Mrs Darcey impressed upon me was that it was entirely possible, indeed necessary, to provide our young people with a robust civics education, in turn creating informed and active citizens with a deep respect for our democratic institutions, in a completely objective and non-partisan way. While, of course, she told us of the existence of political parties, never in any of our civics classes did Mrs Darcey provide any political commentary. In fact, it wasn't until almost a decade later, when I joined the Liberal Party, that I happened across Mrs Darcey at a party function and realised that for all this time she'd been a card-carrying member. As it turned out, she'd even run as a Liberal candidate for the seat of Denison, now known as Clark, at the 1989 state election.

At this time, when I reconnected with Mrs Darcey again, I told her what an impact she'd had on me, encouraging my interest in politics, and even then, nearly 10 years later, she said: 'Please, Claire, tell me you didn't join the Liberal Party because of me! I always tried so hard to make sure I was apolitical when I was teaching you girls.' I reassured her that she was absolutely non-partisan in her teachings but couldn't quite bring myself to say that she had nothing to do with me joining the Liberal Party, because fundamentally I know it was my exemplary civics education provided by Mrs Darcey that fortified in me a deep respect for our democracy and our political institutions and drove me to contribute to those institutions in some meaningful way, by joining a political party and, ultimately, seeking election to the federal parliament.

From that meeting, I came to know Mrs Darcey not just as my former teacher but as a tireless volunteer for the Liberal Party in Tasmania. Her contribution, particularly in the Clark electorate as a member of the west Hobart branch, was well regarded by many, and when Mrs Darcey chose to make her views known on an issue at a meeting—well, we knew very well to listen. Along with her husband, Max, who passed away in 2011, Beth Darcey was a much loved member of the Hobart Anglican community, particularly through her longstanding association with my alma mater, collegiate, and The Hutchins School. While I wasn't able to attend Beth's funeral at St David's, due to the Canberra lockdown, it was a testament to Mrs Darcey's legacy to see so many people associated with those two schools in attendance via the live stream I viewed alongside a number of others last Tuesday.

She was also a committed Rotarian and valued member of the Lyrics Singers choral group. Mrs Darcey is survived by her three children, Jane, Alison and Andrew, and seven grandchildren, all of whom I know will miss their family matriarch so much. But I know Mrs Darcey's legacy will live on in the people's lives she's impacted, in the communities she's given back to so tirelessly and, perhaps most importantly, in the hundreds of fires she's lit in her former students by inspiring them to lives of learning and active citizenship. Mrs Darcey, our democracy is so better for the impact that you have had.