Off topic: Kate Ellis

Off Topic and on the record, we let Adelaide identities discuss whatever they want, as long as it’s not their day job. The Federal Minister for Employment Participation and Early Childhood and Childcare, Kate Ellis, talks about three inspirational women.

“Nanna Eva Ellis was in Broken Hill and had three kids before my father was born,” Ellis begins by discussing her grandmother.

“Her son dies and then she gets pregnant with my dad; then her husband dies before my dad was born. There’s Eva in the 40s in Broken Hill and a single mother with three kids and obviously grieving for a lost child and a lost husband at the time that she’s just given birth. She ended up moving down to Adelaide with my dad and with the family, but by the time I was born she was pretty scary, Eva. She was a tough woman. She taught me that you can actually be incredibly strong in incredibly hard circumstances and I think you learn those things from family members or often people that are quite close to you. She died when I would’ve been 10 or 11 but I would love nothing more than to be able to have an adult conversation with her, it would be pretty extraordinary.”

If Ellis’ grandmother taught her about strength it was her mother (Ros) who revealed the importance of happiness to the Labor politician.

“I grew up in a house where you see a couple that are entirely and completely in love and lots of people don’t get that,” Ellis explains about her parents. “They always rented because they’d rather spend the money on taking us on holidays or going out with their mates, and it showed me that there were different choices that you can make. Sometimes people think that we’re all on this track where you’ve got to get ahead and you’ve got to get to the next rung and they actually made some decisions where they said, ‘no, actually we’re going to be happy with our lot in life’. My father died when I was in high school, he had cancer and that was obviously traumatic for everyone but it was traumatic because all of a sudden this mother of mine – who had always been the person with the biggest smile on her face, she was without the person who was her soul mate and desperately in love – was then on her own and was obviously desperately unhappy but she kind of got over it. My mum is a really fun person and it’s a funny thing for a politician to say it’s important, but I actually think that ability to know how to be happy and how to have fun is really important and it’s about striking a balance.”

When Ellis travelled to India to volunteer for World Vision she met a woman she doesn’t know the name of but is still as inspiring as her family members.

“I wanted to get some perspective about life and go and see some other things, so I went and volunteered with World Vision in India, which is not a story I’ve ever really told before,” Ellis explains. “All of a sudden, I’m taking a break from being a federal minister and thrown into the slums of Delhi and on day one we go out to GB Road, Delhi, which is where all the brothels are. There were all of these women who had been trafficked from Burma, or in terrible circumstances. These were not high-class establishments.”

The prostitutes’ children were also in the brothels but an Indian woman in her late 60s or early 70s decided to do something to give the children a chance.

“She set up a school amongst all the brothels on this road and it was just her but she made a deal with all of the brothel owners, saying ‘it’s not really good for your business and it’s not really good for anyone to have kids running around. Let me take the kids between 9am and 4pm and I’ll bring them back to you at the end of the day.’ This was a woman who came from poverty herself, didn’t really have much but had just dedicated her life to setting up this school. I can’t get this woman’s face out of my head because she is a woman who had absolutely nothing, no assistance, no charities working with her, she just went out and did it and she did it just by building up relationships, taking the kids and teaching them. She was telling stories, through a translator, of kids that have now graduated from university or now have scholarships and are now off in the US and studying, extraordinary things. I don’t know what her name was or anything but I will never forget her face and I will never forget that lesson.”

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