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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 45

Senator FERRIS (12:57 PM) —Today I want to pay tribute to a woman who was well known to many of us in this house and who was a trailblazer for women in the profession of journalism. Gay Davidson died in Canberra last week and several hundred of her friends gathered to mark her passing in a service last Friday. Gay was a journalist in Canberra for 30 years, many of them at the Canberra Times and much of that time in the Canberra press gallery. In fact, Gay Davidson was the first female head of bureau in the Canberra press gallery for the Canberra Times from 1975. Gay's face is among those preserved forever in that famous photograph on the steps of the old Parliament House as Sir David Smith dissolved the parliament of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

When I think of my friendship with Gay, lasting as it did for more than 40 years, three words come to mind to describe her: `tenacity', `capacity' and `generosity'. Let's start with `tenacity'. How many young girls drove themselves to school in the 1950s in a pre-war Singer sports car wearing their father's World War II RAF flying jacket and refused to accept that uniforms were compulsory? Gay's entry into journalism as one of the first women reporters on a New Zealand newspaper came at a time when girls covered mainly women's or social issues. Now, that's tenacity. Gay told me recently that she regarded newspaper reporting as a bit of a game. She recalled how she had lurked one frosty winter night outside a local trade union headquarters listening through a ventilation grille to a highly secret meeting of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, who were determined to manipulate the vote to get a strike that they wanted. Gay wrote the story and split the New Zealand Trades Council as they searched for the rat who had leaked to `that girl reporter'. Now, that's tenacity.

But her capacity to achieve, to organise, to mentor, to befriend and to counsel even the most challenging friend earned her early respect from those in Canberra fortunate enough to be invited to her bountiful dining table in Hobart Avenue. Senior bureaucrats, academics, politicians, layabouts, strays adopted by her and her husband Ken and on occasions pure ring-ins were all made welcome and often left at lunch there wondering as darkness was falling where on earth the afternoon had disappeared to, lost as it was in a swirl of fascinating conversation that had captured all of us.

Gay's years as a senior and highly respected journalist in Canberra gave her a unique insight into the workings of the bureaucracy, academia and, importantly, government. She became a respected health and social welfare policy commentator and later served on a number of boards and committees in the ACT. Her generosity was boundless and, as a regular boarder at her Hobart Avenue home, I can attest to the number and variety of people I would find there when I returned from a late night parliamentary sitting. Apart from those who had stayed on from lunch, there were teenagers with parental conflicts, women escaping from troublesome relationships, men ejected by exasperated wives and lovers—all of them finding solace, a comforting meal and a warm bed in the generous hospitality of Gay's home. That spirit of generosity lives on today in her daughter Tui, who has so patiently and compassionately supported her mother in these last difficult years.

Many people will remember Gay Davidson as the tireless campaigner for a compulsory measles vaccine after the tragic death at the age of 12 of her second daughter, Kiri, from complications arising from what appeared to have been a simple childhood illness. More recently, Gay has struggled with a difficult illness herself, borne with great dignity and the courage that was characteristic throughout her life. Dozens of Canberra friends gathered to say goodbye to Gay and to celebrate her life at the Canberra Press Club where, ever the trailblazer, she had also served as the first female president. Her many friends mourn her passing.