I rise today to make a contribution, on the record, on the life of Joy Baluch AM, who lost her battle with breast cancer recently. Given her impact on the community of Port Augusta and the history of this state, five minutes does not do her justice.
I had the pleasure of knowing Joy personally. I came to know her when I was a much younger man involved in the retail trade. I got a phone call from Joy, out of the blue, asking me to help her with a gift she wanted to give a visiting dignitary. It is fair to say that I warmed to her immediately, but she left me in no doubt that I should make sure that the gift arrived on time and as it was supposed to.
I also really enjoyed the way she used to bait me every time I came into contact with her by referring to my beloved hometown of Whyalla as Port Augusta West. That went on for at least 30 years. The last time I had an official meeting with Joy was probably 18 months ago, and she said to me ‘How is the boy from Port Augusta West?’. She never missed an opportunity to have a bit of a friendly barb about the rivalry between Port Augusta and Whyalla, but I know that everyone in Whyalla really admired her and her passion for being a strong voice for the north of South Australia.
Joy first became involved in local politics in Port Augusta when she was elected to council in 1971, running on a platform of bettering health services in the town to assist her son, who was a chronic asthmatic. By her own admission she began by trying to please everyone, but quickly learnt that this is impossible in politics—as I am sure all of us in this chamber well know. She came to the conclusion that in order to get things done she had to ‘thump tables, get noticed and upset some people’, as she told Brad Crouch in a rare interview shortly before her death. Her new-found approach worked, and she was eventually elected mayor in 1980.
As mayor of Port Augusta Joy was a fierce advocate for her hometown, and developed a reputation for no nonsense and for saying the things that needed to be said. Joy was mayor for a total of 29 years over three terms between 1981 and her passing. Over her three decades in office she achieved many things but none more important than her campaign to stop alcohol fuelled violence and drinking related social issues in the town, an issue which has sadly befallen the state capital. She addressed this by instituting a ban on public drinking. This is directly related to her support for the cause of the local Aboriginal population whose continued social issues she blamed on the sit-down money culture created by the policies of the Whitlam and Dunstan Labor governments.
Her efforts to improve the town’s image did not just stop at locals, it also included changing the perceptions held by outsiders to Port Augusta. This continued right up until the day she died. Earlier this year she demanded prominent young actor Hugh Sheridan apologise for facetiously referring to the city as ‘Port A-gutta’ on prime time television. In recent years, through projects such as the development of the waterfront, she has guaranteed Port Augusta’s place as a mining and tourism hub.
Following her husband’s death 16 years ago of lung cancer, despite having never smoked, Joy championed the cause of solar power as she believed coal-fired power stations to be harmful to public health, showing she had not lost any of the passion for community health which saw her elected 25 years prior.
She was president of the Local Government Association between 2007 and 2009, having been on the LGA Executive for 15 years. During her four decades on council she has established many agencies such as Port Augusta women’s and children’s emergency shelter, the Child Care Centre, the homeless persons’ hostel, and the aged care hostel, and she was instrumental in the development of the Remote Isolated Children’s Exercise program.
All of her public service was in addition to her running the Pampas Hotel, which she did for 51 years. For her public contribution, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia and was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001. The impact Joy Baluch had on Port Augusta and the north of this state will be felt for a long time; that community has lost its matriarch. Fittingly, the famous bridge over Spencer Gulf in the heart of Port Augusta will be named in her honour, an enduring tribute to this stalwart of regional South Australia. I wish her family and friends my sincerest condolences and the people of Port Augusta. I reiterate what a great champion Joy Baluch was for the north of this state.