A Change of Guard

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Monday, 3 October 2011

Egalitarian admired for living out her principles [ a champion in training Cambodian women in journalism]

Jenny Austin, 1951-2011: More than lip service ... Jenny Austin, a committed left-winger, led by example in journalism, community development and motherhood

October 3, 2011
The Sydney Morning Herald

In her last column for the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) magazine The Advocate, in July 2010, Jenny Austin argued that there had never been a more urgent time for the union movement to educate people about the "importance of solidarity".

For over 40 years, her commitment to left-wing politics, feminism and egalitarianism never wavered. She was not the sort who paid lip service to these ideologies - she very much led by example. Her whole life was a lesson in what could be achieved if people refused to be defined by their backgrounds.

She proved that a young, working-class, single mother of three small children with little formal education could forge a career and take a university degree. She showed it was possible for a white woman to be a much loved ''aunty'' to Aboriginal friends and neighbours. And she put into action her desire for a more equitable world by doing voluntary and low-paid work for marginalised communities.
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Jennifer Joy Austin was born in Dubbo on March 16, 1951, the middle of five children to John Austin and his wife, Mavis (nee Holland). As Jenny grew up, the family lived in Dubbo, The Rocks and Wollongong.

In 1969, while was working as a geriatric nurse at Waterfall Hospital, Jenny married Michael Rogers. Within four years she bore three children. In 1974, the family climbed into their Kombi van and headed north to settle in the Northern Rivers area, but the marriage didn't last.

Austin had always been interested in writing, so when she met the filmmaker Joan Long, who arrived in the area in the mid-1970s to shoot scenes for her feature The Picture Show Man, she showed Long some of her work. Long was hugely encouraging, and that day Austin rang the editor of Grafton's Daily Examiner. He invited her in for a chat and offered her a job on the spot.

Over time, Austin worked at Radio 2GF (Grafton), NRTV News and ABC Local Radio (both Lismore). One highlight was travelling to China with NRTV to produce a documentary about dragon boats which won her a Prodi Award (for local journalism) in 1991. In the last phase of her working life, Austin was employed by Southern Cross University, and was a branch president and councillor for the NTEU while still writing columns for the Northern Star newspaper in Lismore.

While Austin was well-known in her district as a journalist and commentator, not long before she died she told a friend that she was much prouder of her community development work in Australia and overseas.

Most notably, Austin worked with Australian Volunteers Abroad and, in the late 1990s, spent two years in Cambodia, training women in journalism and helping to establish the Cambodian Women's Media Centre. This was a time of ''political madness'' in Cambodia, including the 1997 coup when the city of Phnom Penh was under siege. Almost all foreign journalists and workers fled, but Austin stayed on despite the danger. In 2001, d/Lux/Media/Arts arranged for two of the women from the media centre, along with Austin, to speak at a conference on Tactical Media - flying them over to Sydney for what was a wonderful reunion.

Austin also worked in Brisbane, on a documentary that represented a community of Filipino brides that was keen to show that unlike the stereotype, the women were actually strong, intelligent, educated and in charge of their destinies.

Austin wanted her three children to expand their horizons and make them better, more compassionate people. She lived with them in Aboriginal communities, and took them to New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. As grandchildren arrived, she became a devoted and loving grandmother.

Jenny Austin, who died of breast cancer, is survived by her mother, Mavis, brothers Bob and John, sister Wendy, children, Blake, Jane and Jasmin, and seven grandchildren.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tae Ong History Video clip from U Tube site. Vietnameses used three khmer heads to boiled tea for their officers.

Please watch the true khmer Tae Ong!