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Dame Rachel Cleland

Dame Rachel Cleland (1906-2002) was a pillar of Western Australian conservative politics and was immersed in women's and community causes from birth. Her aunt was pioneer feminist and internationalist Bessie Richsbeith. Dame Rachel ended her life of political activity as it started; by being motivated to work to change decisions with which she did not agree.

In 1999, when Dame Rachel was in her nineties, the federal Coalition government was implementing the Regional Forest Agreements. Dame Rachel was highly and publicly critical of the decisions, which she believed would have a major and negative impact on old growth native forests.

"I've been involved in the Liberal Party since it began and it grieves me to think that my own party can do anything so stupid," she said in an interview on The 7.30 Report, ABC TV, 4/5/99.

Born in Perth in 1906, Dame Rachel trained as a kindergarten teacher, and went to Papua New Guinea in 1951 accompanying her husband, Sir Donald Cleland, who was the Administrator. They remained in PNG after his retirement and she only returned to Australia in 1978, some three years after his death.

She played an active role in the life of the community in PNG, including involvement in the Red Cross, Girl Guides, CWA and the YWCA. She was also very involved in the establishment of pre-schools in PNG during her time there.

Recognised for her community work in 1959 with the appointment as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), she was again recognised in 1966 as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). The PNG government also recognised her contribution in 1980, when she was made a Dame of the British Empire (DBE) for her volunteer work and her role in advancing women in PNG.

Dame Rachel died in Queensland in 2002, aged 96.

Sources: 7.30 Report, ABC TV, 4/5/99


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