Australian Biography

Flo Bjelke - Petersen - full interview transcript

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You've had what amounts to three careers: the wife of a farmer, and the wife of the premier, and a Senator, and you've done them all with rather notable success. Is there any particular skill or attitude that you bring to them that you think matters?

Well, I don't suppose knowingly I have, but I've certainly always tried to be pleasant to people. I've tried to be helpful to people, and I've put a hundred percent effort into what I've done and I believe that that is what is the most important ingredient in any part of life. I have gone to schools and I have spoken to school groups. I couldn't count the number of times I've been to schools to tell them, you know, to give them a little bit of advice, speak to them at school speech nights. And my advice to them always is, put a hundred percent effort into what you do. I suppose you could say I put a hundred percent effort into bringing up my family. I tried to enter into their school life with the same interest that I've taken in my political career or as my ... as part of Joh's life. I've always followed them with their school activities. I've gone to their sports. My eldest daughter was a great athlete and, you know, I used to love to go and watch her win her cup each year. And I'd go to school tuck shops. I'd take an interest in all those sorts of things. A hundred percent effort into helping your family to grow up and making sure that, you know, they had the same Christian ideals that Joh and I had too. Then you come to your political career: a hundred percent effort into putting a good effort into making sure that if I could help Joh wherever I could as the wife of the Member for Barambah. That was the first one that I worked hard at because I always adopted the attitude that he wasn't the Member for Barambah he couldn't be the Premier. And then the Premier's wife and I really put a big effort into that. And I think if you put a hundred percent effort into what you do ... In fact, I used to say to the children at the schools, 'Put a hundred percent effort into what you do and make yourselves indispensable. And if you go out in the work a day world and you make yourself indispensable ...' And even to young people who can't get jobs, 'If you can go, perhaps, and offer your services on a voluntary basis before you know where you are, you might find yourself in a job that you are paid for. And so make yourselves indispensable'. Then of course as a Senator, I tried to make sure that I put in a hundred percent effort into what I did and I'm very thankful that the people of Queensland seemed to think that I was doing that, because you don't get re-elected with a very high majority ... The only person who used to beat me at the Senate elections was the Labor Senator who was number one. And I guess that they had, you know, our vote had to get divided between the two Conservative parties and so you couldn't perhaps get quite as many as your Labor people could, who were on the top of their ticket. But I worked hard and I put a hundred percent effort into campaigning and into working for the people I represented, and I think that perhaps that might be the answer to what you asked ... the question that I was asked.

Do you think it is more important to win, or to be right?

Well, if you are in politics, you certainly want to win. That's the right ... That's the attitude that you take in but, I mean, you want to be right as well. You don't want to be wrong. You don't want to have wrong policies. You want to have the right policies and I think that might have been born out, actually, at the last Federal election when our coalition didn't have the right policies. Nobody wanted a GST. We lost the, you know, winnable election and that was very sad, but you see, we wanted to win but you can't win if you aren't right. And I mean, I think that they are both interwoven, like that. I think the people can see through things and if they think that you haven't got the right policies, they don't vote for you and that is a simple as all that.

Of all the professions or walks of life that you might go into as someone who believes in telling the truth, politics must be the hardest.

Well, most certainly if you listen to what goes on in the Senate and the House of Representatives. When you are there, having question time, you must think that that is right. I mean, there is no doubt about it, and I, you know, feel that there is often times when, you know, you certainly don't get a plain straight answer to the questions that you are asked ... that you ask. There's no doubt about that.

But there must have also been times, where someone like yourself who's nature is to tell the truth, have been confronted with questions and you've thought, How do I get out of this one without actually telling a fib.

Well, there you are. Joh always says, 'If you can't think of an answer, ask a question back', and I think I might have done that on one or two occasions. I can remember being asked a question on television once and I nearly had a heart attack. Mike Walsh said to me, 'Do you and Joh exchange secrets on the pillow?' And I thought, 'Oh, what sort of answer to I give to that?' So I turned around and I said to Mike, 'Why, is that what you do?' And of course that stonkered him for a little while. But, you know, I mean, it's not always easy and you just have to try and do the best you can with the brains that you've got.

You've also had another weapon in doing well in life, in that you seem to have always been game to try things, whether it was milking a cow, which you didn't want to do, or going to the Senate, that ... Do you think there is something in that, that you can hesitate and think I'm not really able to do this, but then you've always had a go.

Well, I think that this is as opportunities come up I think you want to grasp the opportunity if you can, whether I think milking a cow was a wonderful opportunity or not, I'm not too sure, but at least I found that I was able to do it and I applied myself. I must say that the cow we had at the time was a nice easy one to milk so I suppose that was all right. But when it came to the Senate, I was a little bit, you know, I wasn't sure whether a particularly wanted to be a politician in my own right because I had always thought that one politician in the family was enough. But because my family had all left home at that time, and this opportunity came up, I felt that I could help the National Party. I felt that I could help the people of Queensland, if I put the same effort into that as I had put into being the Premier's wife. And I'm very thankful to say that the support I received showed that people trusted me, they believed in me, because if you can, you know, get such a good strong support from the people of Queensland as I received, as the ... heading the National Party Senate ticket, I believe that was something that was very worthwhile and it proved that if you accept the challenge that's before you, if you put a hundred percent effort into it, then you can as I did in my case, succeed.

When you came up here with Joh to live, was there anything you had to learn apart from milking a cow, that was new to you?

Well, I suppose I ... I had to learn how to live in a country home, that I wasn't, sort of, used to that. I was used to, sort of, living in the city and I wasn't just too sure how I'd settle down to life in the country, to life in the country where I had a politician for a husband because I really, you know hadn't had too much association with politicians. My father had a funny statement. He used to say, 'All politicians were rogues but the Labor were worse than the others'. That was his attitude about it, and I thought, Oh, well, you know, I wondered how I'd manage, but I settled down all right and I mean after all, let's face it, about twelve months later, I had my first baby and when you've got your first child, you've got plenty to keep you occupied. And here I do want to pay a tribute to all wives and mothers, mothers in particular, who bring up their families, who stay at home and are willing to, in lots of cases, have a one income family so that they can stay at home and look after their children. I admire them tremendously. And it's not always easy and then again, there are the mums who go to work, who really don't want to go to work, but they go to work because they believe that they need a little bit of extra income to help keep the children, perhaps at school or, or something like that. And I think that they are playing a very important role. And of course, no family is complete without a father anyway. There are lots of single fam ... income families, lots of single, you know, families where there is only a mother or a father, and that requires a great big effort to insure that your children are trained properly in the right way. And of course, I say that one of the very most important things I feel in life is to try and give your children Christian upbringing. I'm very sad that there are lots of families these days who never worry about giving their children Christian faith. They don't seem to think that's necessary. A lot of children - the only religion that they get, the only knowledge of God and the wonderful world he's created, is probably in religious instruction for half an hour once a week, and praise be to all the people who are willing to go and do that within the school system. If, you know, your children were able to go to a church school you'd probably get a little bit more at a church school, but I think that it's sad that there are a lot of families who never worry. They don't even think of telling their children, you know, that there is a loving God and heavenly Father, who made the world. And I often wonder how people, who don't believe, wonder how the sea comes so far and no further, who made the sun and the mood and all the stars and all the creation. But I'm thankful that I know and that I have faith and I think that that is something that is really very important for young people - to be given the opportunity of knowing our heavenly Father and his love.

Joh's getting old now and it's been the Flo and Joh Show for forty years, what ... Can you imagine what life will be like when he's not here any more?

Yes, well he often says that to me himself. Because he doesn't fear dying. You know if you've got no faith, you know, no faith, you've got no hope. But if you know, k-n-o-w, if you know faith in God then you've got some hope, and he's got hope and we have the hope that we'll meet again one day beyond this life. That's the Christian's hope. And I believe that life is certainly not be easy but I say to him, 'Joh, you've got no guarantee that you'll go before me. We don't know. You travel in planes, you travel in buses, you travel in motor cars. Who knows?' But I mean, I still believe myself that it's perhaps easier for a wife, or for a woman, to be left, than for a man to be left behind and have the woman go first. But we have to accept that God's plan - he knows what's going to happen in the future, we don't. And if you've got Christian faith and hope you don't worry about what the future holds. That's all I can say to you about that.

You also believe that as a result of your Christian faith that there will be judgement after death. What do you feel when you think about that? Is there anything that you've ever done in your life that you feel at all ashamed about or worried about?

Well, nothing, nothing big that I think of, but look, we make mistakes and we go wrong in God's sight every day. And I think the main thing is that you know that you have a Saviour. You know that because Jesus died and accepted that load of wrongdoing that we have ... that we have a hope, that he has forgiven us our ... we've been forgiven because of the life that he gave for us. And I think that it's no good going through life worrying about the things that you've done when you know that Jesus has paid the sacrifice for you, and so, I mean, I look forward at the end of this life to a life beyond the grave, a life of reunion with those of my dear ones who have had faith and trust in their Lord and Saviour, when that time comes. And whether there is judgement, I mean, you know, if there is judgement, I rely completely on Jesus.

Looking back on this life, what's been the best part of it for you? And what's been the achievement that you feel proudest of?

Well, I think that the best part of my life, I suppose, has been my married life. I think that I've had a wonderfully blessed married life, although I had a very happy childhood, but if you ask me to pick it out, I think the blessing that God has given us in having four children and now twelve grandchildren ... I think that's been a wonderful time in my life and I suppose if you talk about my achievements, I suppose the fact that I achieved the opportunity of serving my Queensland, my state, in the Federal Parliament. I'd actually had so much to do with the State Parliament and I'd watched Joh going backwards and forwards to Canberra, and complaining bitterly about what Canberra did to the State Governments and all the rest of it. And then I found myself going as a Senator to Canberra. I really hadn't been down to the Federal Parliament, I think perhaps more than once before I actually went down there. I just, you know ... Joh always went down, but I never went down with ... I didn't go down with him. I might have gone to a National Party do, or something like that down there, but never really been involved in the Parliament. And there I was, going down in my own right as a Senator for the State of Queensland to represent Queensland in the Senate.

And you put that achievement above your achievements as Premier's wife.

Oh well, I think that I like to feel that I made a contribution and helped Joh while he was the Premier, but if you ask me of my own achievement in my own right, I suppose being a Senator and representing our state was probably the one that I believe was worthwhile. Twelve and a quarter years of serving our people of Queensland to the best of my ability. I think that I would say ... I would count that as quite an achievement that I was privileged to have, only because the people of Queensland supported me and the National Party through, I suppose, Joh and the Government, gave me that opportunity eventually.

Although your greatest achievement was as your period as a Senator, you in fact leave behind, probably the most lasting thing, will be your grandchildren and their children. Now, what kind of an Australia do you think that your grandchildren will be growing up in? And do you think that it is going to be a good place for them?

Well, I think that they could have problems in Australia. I ... I really honestly get very worried about how Australia is going. I think as a nation itself, you know, it's ... it's grown and developed and become quite a great nation as far as the ... what they do as a ... a sort of, it's land and it's ... it's prosperity is concerned, although it has had it's down periods, but I believe that the future will hold, provided our rural industries are able to cope with the stress and strain. But unfortunately, we have a Government in power who's continually taxing, and we are trying to pay more taxes to try to keep on going. We also I believe have problems as far as moral standards are concerned and those are the things probably that worry me more than anything as to what Australia's future is going to be like.

What aspects of the moral standards worry you most?

Well, I think the pornography that we see, that we hear about, that ... that, you know, is becoming the norm. I think the murders, the rape, the crime that we have in front of us and when we talked earlier about prostitution in Joh's time, we see how that seems to be growing and the homosexual type of living, that ... that no ... everybody seems to think, Well let's keep on going. And I look back actually, not so long ago I read in the first chapter of the Book of Romans in the Bible about what happened in Rome in that time that that Book of Romans was being written. The same type of things [are] happening and we all know how the Roman Empire disintegrated. Now it makes me very worried as to whether ... if we keep on going. Not only Australia perhaps, but indeed throughout the world ... what's going to happen if we keep on, you know, not having the same standards that we used to live by as I was growing up, and I think that these are some of the things that worry me very much indeed.

Why do you think God has let this happen?

Well, I think that perhaps in the end he might bring retribution on us. Who knows? I ... It's not for me to say, but I certainly believe that there's not, you know ... there is certainly ... I read just recently or I heard just recently that Australia is no more considered a Christian country. So that those are the sort of things that worry me for my children and my children ... not so much for my children, they've got their standards, they know. It would be my grandchildren, as they are growing up into a situation like we have in Australia at the present time.

Do you think they will grow up in a world ... in an Australia that is much more Asian, that has a lot more Asian people?

Well, it could be. It depends on what they do with the immigration policies. That's another thing. And another thing I do believe that with this Mabo that the Government has brought in, we have to be very careful that we aren't pitting black against white. We have never had that problem while we've been here, but there's much of Australia in the Northern Territory, that is already owned by the Aboriginal people, and now if they make claims on all sorts of land right throughout Australia, who knows what will happen in the future. We've seen some of the ... of the violence that has taken place even in Brisbane over latter months, and I think that these are some of the things that I see for the future. All I can do is to hope and pray that people will somehow or other come to a realisation that they need Christian moral standards in our society. And if I could be assured of that for the future, then I would believe that Australia would continue to grow and develop and be the wonderful country that I have known it through all my years.

If it must be Chri ... Must it be Christian moral standards because, for example, among many of our immigrants we have other religions? Do you feel that they also have a part to play?

Well, I think that probably Muslims have, you know, some of those ... have good moral standards. I think that they, you know ... they probably are perhaps more faithful to their religion than Christian people are. There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians, who don't do anything about it. And I mean, I ... I think that it's not for me to stand in judgement. I'm not the one. They believe in Allah. Of course, I believe that they don't think of Jesus as their Saviour, you see, and so that's the difference between them and us but we have to just ... I can't ... I can't ... If I was a ... If I had a crystal ball and could gaze into it I might be able to tell you what the future holds but as I say, I believe we have to be very careful that as ... as a nation, and as a world as a whole, we don't go like the Roman Empire.

Are you worried that your grandchildren will inherit a country in which the environment has been degraded and will have all the problems that are predicted, that are associated with poor management of the environment?

Well, that's what the future will tell us. I really can't, you know, look ... tell you that but I certainly think that people are now becoming more environmentally conscious. Around this area, all I know is that Joh who's been de ... you know, denounced by the environmental people is to my way of thinking, a real environmentalist himself. I often wonder whether those who talk so strongly about the environment have done as much as Joh has done by way of planting trees, having this lovely scrub here, feeding birds, feeding possums, looking after those sort of things, but nevertheless, I do believe that we've got to look after the environment. God gave us this world and it is up to us to do the best we can for it. And I would hope that as the future generations come along that they will realise that that is something that is very important indeed.

Queensland's a state that has been particularly blessed with a beautiful environment, do you get worried about the development, for example, in the Daintree and some of those other areas of Queensland, which are great tourist attractions but which may very easily be spoiled?

Yes, well, I think when it comes to the Great Barrier Reef and things like that, I think that they've got the Great Barrier Reef Authority now that looks after it, and I think people are gradually beginning to appreciate, you know, what the lovely areas are like. But you see now, we have the Bunya Mountains that's fairly close here. It's the most beautiful area up there. Well, some of it, of course, belongs to private people. They are talking about having it under the World Heritage Authority. I believe that the National Parks here of Queensland have done a tremendous job looking after those areas, and I think you've got to be careful that you don't take away from people their own rights and privileges that they have with freehold land, that they are able to live on it and do what they want to with it. But I think that people are gradually understanding, perhaps, a little bit more, although as I look back and I think about Joh in his dozing days out in the outback of the far south-west, if his dozers hadn't cleared off a lot of the Brigalow scrub, I wonder what people would be earning their living from now. See, they made it into beautiful areas of lovely grass that has been planted and it's beautiful. [OFF CAMERA VOICE]

When and where were you born?

Well, I was born in Brisbane in 1920 in New Farm. Our old family home is still there. It was there in the time of the 1893 floods so it's a really old Queenslander. And it was a lovely time as I grew up. I had a carefree childhood and we had trams. We used to get on the little matchbox trams in those early days. And we ... I can remember, of course, even travelling in a horse and sulky when I used to go out and visit an uncle that I had who had a farm out at the Gap, and I used to love travelling in a tram to go out to my granny's to have Sunday dinner after I'd been to Sunday school. And so these are some of the very early memories I have and mum and dad were very good. They used to take us for seaside holidays. I can recall going, in those very early days - there was no road connection to Redcliffe, and we used to have to go on the Cooper or the Doomba, which were the vessels that went from Brisbane across the bay to Redcliffe. And I must admit that as a little girl, I was very scared of the ... of the big whistle that used to go when it was announced that the boat was going or it was coming. And those were some happy memories. Dad used to take us off. We used to go down and stay for a couple of weeks at Redcliffe and dad would sort of come on the ... on the boat at the weekends and we'd have time at Redcliffe together. And then as we got a little bit older they took us down to Coolangatta and we had some very happy holidays down there as well. So I think if you can think back to all those lovely memories of the early days and some other ... One of my other memories is of birthday parties that mum used to organise for us, when we were little, and how she made her home-made ice cream. That's one of the memories that I have - in one of these containers where they put dried ice all around the outside, and the ... and made the ice cream in there and we had all these children come and we'd have our birthday parties. And I think, those are the lovely memories that you have of those very early days of life at New Farm. [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]

In all your life in politics, did you ever see anything happen in politics that you felt really, really pleased with, that you felt that this is really politics at it's best?

I'd say probably that when we were able to get rid of Mr. Whitlam's Government in power in Australia was probably one of the very best things that happened to Australia at that time. I think that was something that was well worthwhile, and Joh played a very important role as far as I was concerned, in insuring that, you know, Malcolm Fraser and his party got into power to turn Australia around at that particular time.

And what was the worst, the dirtiest thing that you ever saw done?

Well, I think when Joh got stabbed in the back is probably one of the worst things that I ever saw happen in politics. But I think one has to accept the fact that in politics, life isn't always meant to be easy, and that is exactly what happened in Joh's case. Because the thing that was worst about that was the fact that only twelve months earlier, we'd had the most amazing election result and was probably one of ... one of the best things that I remember as far as politics is concerned, that we had this wonderful victory, and then the darkest thing that he got stabbed in the back by his own party. He wasn't put out by the people of Queensland. He was put out by his own party. That to me was the darkest point, as far as I'm concerned, in the political life of Australia.

Have you felt disillusioned about politics ever since?

Well, I don't know that I could say that, because I stayed with politics after that from 1987 right through to 1993, and that was another six years you might say, just about. And I tried to perhaps put it behind me, and not be too bitter about it, because I don't think that being bitter about anything does anything for you personally, and I've always tried to say to Joh too, 'Don't be too bitter about it. Remember that we're told to forgive as often as we can', but ... And I think that now, after a period of quite a number of years from 1987, about seven years, I think that, you know, Joh's on to other things and he thinks, Well, that's the way it was meant to be and ... although he didn't really think that it was the correct way at the time. I'm sure in the long run, it will turn out to be for the best.

[end of interview]