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Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
m other, grandmother
and first fe ale Union secretary, Yvonne
Heydon, has overcome many setbacks in her
remarkable life. Aurora invited her to share
I didn't go to a Catholic school because
I didn't know I was a Catholic. Dad was
a Methodist and Mum, I discovered, a
Catholic. They were mar ried in the 'back
room' of the church and there was always
tension in the house about religion.
My only association with religion was a
Methodist Church youth group. I went
there to be with the other kids actually. It
was an escape because I wasn't allowed
out much ; Mum thought the kids weren't
good enough and always found something
for me to do, even if the house was
They didn't know it then but Mum had
early dementia. She was in her thir ties
and some days couldn't get out of bed. As
the eldest, it was my role to look after my
brother and sister, prepare their lunches,
walk them to school and back.
Dad had an accident in the mines and
lost his finger s . When he finally received
compensation, it was the only time I saw
Mum happy and the fir st time she kissed
me. I didn't realise her face was so soft. It
just r einforced my love for my children;
they would not grow up without that.
I had three sons with my first husband, Bob.
He was a seaman and he gave it away after
we mar ried. However, he fell quite ill not
long after we had our sons and was sick for
a long time.
To suppor t the family, I star ted working
under a cleaning contr act at BHP Steel. It
was a real awakening to what the women
went through; I had worked in real
estate, accounting and finance; always the
secretary in suits and high heels.
They kept reducing the hour s and taking
cleaning products to other sites, leaving us
with water to keep the floors at BHP clean.
We decided, after three reductions in
hour s for the same area's cleaning, not to
put up with it anymore and withdr aw our
labour. This was my fir st encounter with
a Union organiser and with the process
of negotiation -- and the beginning of
my twenty-three year career in law and
I eventually left the cleaning contract after
I collapsed. It was the
stress of work, my ill
husband and my children,
par ticularly the youngest
who was battling
I worked part time at the
Teacher s' College as job
delegate. From there, I
went into the Office of
the Union, then became
Organiser attending to
some 300 awards -- the
biggest group being cleaner s
working in schools and colleges.
Then I became the fir st female
secretary to the Union.
The boys grew up and my husband
recovered his health. That was the first
time I under stood my faith. Catechism
was what I had learned and lived by but I
discover ed the Serenity Pr ayer and realised
that all I could achieve was today, not
tomorrow or yesterday.
The oppor tunity to move into full-time
work came and while I liked the balance I
had, I valued the security of being able to
put money away for a r ainy day.
As an organiser travelling nor th to the
Queensland border, visiting schools and
colleges , it became apparent that students
were missing the oppor tunity to enrol in
hospitality courses . I wa s able to set up
a college for hospitality in Newcastle so
locals and country students didn't have
to tr avel to Sydney. That was a proud
achievement. Other s took the credit but
that's how I worked, the action per son
behind the scenes; I had more access to
politicians than anyone else.
I began studying law and industrial relations
at TAFE to improve my knowledge.
Around that time, Paul, my second son,
went missing and I failed the last subject
in my diploma; I just couldn't cope
Paul had been in a
minor car accident
and was treated for
concussions and a
After Bob and
I r eturned
from a holiday
youngest son, John,
told us Paul had been
acting str angely. We
could see something was
wrong and he wa s admitted
He was treated for depression. When he
was discharged, he visited his grandfather.
Before he left he kissed me and stroked
my cheek. I felt uneasy. It was the last time
I saw him.
Four months later, a schoolboy found his
body. I wrote to thank the boy; it was
impor tant he knew he'd been instrumental
in finding Paul.
The coroner's findings were 'cause
unknown' but medical evidence concluded
it could have been a brain haemor rhage.
My husband took it very hard. The
following Christmas , not long after visiting
Paul's grave, I buried Bob with Paul.
Before his death, Bob had booked a holiday
for us. My sons told me to get away; I'd
been through so much. So Tom and I did.
Tom, my pr esent husband, wa s Bob's first
cousin and they were like brother s. Tom
used to come away with us on family
holidays and the boys had grown up
Things developed from there and after
being seconded to Sydney and Melbourne,
Tom and I said, "Let's get married." It was
arr anged in a for tnight at the Novena
I was appointed Co -ordinator for setting
up industr y super annuation to be
implemented in award conditions . I worked
for the ACTU Chamber of Commerce
in addressing employer s and employees
about legislation and repor ting back to
gover nment, also completing a year's
study of Super annuation Management at
I r etired and took up golf, but was asked
to come out of retirement to co-ordinate
the restr ucture of the gover nment's
administration depar tment cleaning ser vice.
My hear t was in this because I knew what it
meant for women to be able to take school
holidays and be there for their children.
Looking back, there's so much I wonder
about. After I retired a second time, a
woman thanked me for listening to her.
"You were the only one who under stood."
That mattered to me.
I often think Our Lady and I walked
together in a lot of things ; Paul disappear ed
as Jesus did. She's someone I can talk to,
and I do.
See the Serenity Prayer on page 22.
ONE BY ONE
Yvonne Heydon snapped at the parish office,Waratah, where she works voluntarily.
OF A WOMAN
BY YVONNE HEYDON
Yvonne graduates on completion of her study
at Macquarie University.
all I could
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