Speech by the Governor of Victoria for the opening of 'Joan's Garden' at Joan Kirner House. 



Members of Parliament

Councillor Peter Hemphill, Mayor of Hobsons Bay City Council

Ms Sonia Ilievski, Vice President, Williamstown Community and Education Centre Management Committee

Dr Mark Brophy, CEO, Williamstown Community and Education Centre

Mr Ron Kirner

Other distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

First, I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathering and pay my respects to their elders past and present and to any elders here with us this morning.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be here today to open this very special garden. A garden commemorating the memory of Joan Kirner.

The Honourable Joan Kirner AC. Our State’s 1st and only female Premier, a statesperson of renown, a major contributor to the Victorian community. But, that description does not do justice to her. Of course, beloved wife and mother, but also, friend to so many.

My friendship with Joan was born of our mutual love of the Essendon Football Club. In 1996, Joan was, with me, a founding member of the Essendon Women’s Network (EWN).

I well remember our first EWN meeting: a lunch with Essendon CEO, Peter Jackson, and the legendary Kevin Sheedy. My favourite moment was when Joan and Sheeds asked each other for an autograph. Sheedy looked so proud to receive the autograph of the former Premier. As he wrote his for Joan, he earnestly asked to whom he should make it out, evidently expecting the name of a favourite grandchild, or constituent, or staffer. He was amazed – and amused – when she said 'Just make it out to JOAN!'

She was such a good sport. With characteristic warmth and humour, she embraced the polka dotted logo for the EWN: a happy thumbing of our collective noses at a cartoonist’s jibes about the spotted dress she’d worn when Premier of our State.

Joan practised what she preached when it came to the support of women. Like so many here and elsewhere, I was a lucky beneficiary of that support. I experienced her encouragement and wise counsel many times. She was generous in her congratulations when I joined Sam Mostyn on the AFL Commission. She so wanted to see women there (I can only imagine the joy Joan would have to see the AFL Women’s League that is soon to start).

And then, when my appointment as Governor was announced last year – Joan was fast on the phone – a warm, supportive positive force. A superb role-model for me – and for us all – as to how to encourage and empower others.

As everybody here knows very well, Joan’s involvement, contribution and dedication to Williamstown has been immeasurable.

She was actively engaged in this Williamstown Community and Education Centre, enabling it to become the vibrant centre that it is today. Named for her, it recognises the warmth and generosity that she brought to her community. She understood people and knew how to draw the best out of them.

'Joan Kirner House' acknowledges her legacy and, now, the commemoration of her passing 1 year ago today, will forever be remembered with this treasured garden.

I had the good fortune to view the garden earlier this morning, and for those who have yet to see it, I can tell you that you are in for a treat. It is a creative and innovative use of this space, and so cleverly references Joan’s passions and achievements and contribution to the community. With a joy and humour that would appeal to her.

The flowers that have been chosen – the spiral sun orchid, fringed daisy and fringed lily, all rare and vulnerable and native to Victoria, are a nod to the flowers that were protected by the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, legislation proposed by Joan to control land clearing, and to protect a number of threatened species.

The purple flowers contribute to the overarching palette of purple, green and white – the suffragette colours – of course reflecting Joan’s strong support of women in politics, and her commitment to social justice and inclusion.

The Williamstown Station sign reminds us of her instrumental role in saving the Williamstown railway line. She rallied the locals in a community campaign that was fought and won.

The image of a Golden Labrador is a dedication to her own pet, and a reminder of Joan’s legacy as the first Premier in over 20 years to visit the Lost Dogs Home in North Melbourne.

And of course, there is a reference to Joan’s love of the footy – and in particular, the Essendon Football Club. Without it, the garden just would not be complete!

I have so much respect and admiration for Joan, her career, values, passion and community engagement. And I am very grateful to be the one to open, very shortly, this little space that commemorates all of those magnificent qualities and contributions by her.

Thank you.