Woman Crossley, Louise


Written by Judy Lambert (edited from blogs prepared by Jane Elix), Australian National University

Louise Crossley was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1942. As her father was in the colonial civil service, she was educated in Anglican boarding schools which she described as being very influential, encouraging their students to aspire to significant careers. Graduating from Cambridge University with a science degree in 1963, she had the sense of "the world being her oyster" (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/louise-crossley/). She married at 21 but neither she nor her husband Clive had a particular drive to have children. Instead they travelled, following Clive's academic career which eventually brought them to Australia where Louise eventually resumed her own studies, gaining her PhD in 1980 from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in the history and philosophy of science. During her study, she was tutoring and lecturing at UNSW and the University of Wollongong.

Louise first became involved in leadership at Wollongong University in the early 1970s, when she was one of a group of women lecturers who set up a Women's Studies course - which was the first interdisciplinary course of its kind. The women involved saw themselves as a pioneering academic group and Louise describes it as an empowering experience. In 1981 she became the project manager at the new Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. In this position Louise was the leader of the decision making process about the first exhibitions to go on show. Four years later she was approached to become the deputy Director of the Commission for the future but after a few s she came to question the usefulness of this work. Facing some difficulties in her private life she travelled for six months before moving to Tasmania to take up a position as the Director of a new International Antarctic Centre, a "genuine meaty leadership job" (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/louise-crossley/).

When this project was cancelled following a change of government, Louise lost her job, but soon after she responded to an advertisement for Station Leader in Mawson Station in Antarctica and in 1991 become the second woman in Australia to lead an Antarctic station. It was a challenge to build trust in herself as a woman leading a group of men in conditions where safety was absolutely critical. 'It wasn't a question of being a bloke, but it was a question of valuing people and demonstrating that you trust them. … You could build up a relationship where people could see that you valued them, and therefore they valued you. I've always argued that the form of leadership that you need in Antarctica is the sort of leadership that women tend to be quite good at. It's cooperative, collegial and it's not leadership by command. Somebody has to be the leader, somebody has to say what's going to happen but you have to be able to have people agree with you - not so much follow you - but just recognise that what you're saying needs to happen' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/louise-crossley/). On her return to Tasmania, she became the first convenor of the Tasmanian Greens and ran for office several times. Her new role, she argued, required a different kind of leadership. 'In Antarctica it's about maintaining agreement about things. In the Greens it's much more about taking a position and holding it against opposition. There was a lot of negotiation, and developing policy, philosophy and ideas, putting them forward, arguing for them - sometimes winning and sometimes not' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/louise-crossley/).

Although she continues to lead commercial tourist operations to Antarctica on a regular basis and is very involved in forest campaigning, Louise now shies away from leadership roles, leaving the field to younger women. However, she still enjoys 'working with other people to make things happen. Increasingly the concept of leadership of being out front and having everyone else follow is not the way it works. Usually 2 or 3 brains are better than one, and it's that kind of collaborative leadership that works best, and the sum becomes greater than the parts, and that's the excitement of it. You develop that way, and you learn. I really think leadership is about learning' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/louise-crossley/).

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