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Curtin University
John Curtin Day
John Curtin Medallists

Dame Rachel Cleland (2000)

At a time of life when many would expect to be enjoying retirement, Dame Rachel Cleland has been lobbying, campaigning, and actively ‘working for the forests’.

She is also someone who knew John Curtin, not only as a prominent politician but also as her local member. After Curtin died in July 1945, Dame Rachel’s late husband Don won pre-selection to contest the vacant seat of Fremantle, the very first candidate in Australia of the newly formed Liberal Party.

Dame Rachel was a kindergarten teacher when she married in 1928. Like all married women at that time she was required to resign. She dedicated the ensuing years to working for others, especially in New Guinea when Port Moresby was being rebuilt in 1951. Before and after her husband was appointed Administrator in 1953, she served the New Guinea community with great distinction, continuing after he retired in 1967, and for four years after his death in 1975.

Her vision then, which she pursued with her customary vigour, was for the development of associations for women of all ages in the towns and villages of Papua New Guinea.

Since returning to Perth 20 years ago she has thrown herself into many causes. The first major cause was rescuing her old Kindergarten Teacher’s College, Meerilinga, in West Perth. Not only was the building saved but it now houses the Meerilinga Young Children’s Foundation, and the Young Children’s Services Inc., filling a long felt need in Perth.

The most recent cause, which also saw her described as “the matriarch of the Liberal Party”, is saving the old-growth forests in the South-West of Western Australia. According to Dame Rachel, it is these sorts of activities that are the secret for living a long life.

Dame Rachel is still a role model for others. The Hon Colin Barnett is on record as saying about her only last year: “She reminds party members and politicians of what their true values are, or should be”.