Woman Graham, Janne

Consumer Health Activist

Written by Kate Moore, Australian National University

Janne Graham was born in 1938 and grew up in Sydney. Sponsored by the New South Wales Child Welfare Department she undertook an Arts degree, and after working in Canberra for a while, moved to Perth where she became the first female parole officer in Western Australia (National Library of Australia (NLA) Oral history interview, http://nla.gov.au/nla.oh-vn1937162).

In 1974, after returning to Canberra and marrying, Janne became ill. The cause of her illness was not diagnosed until 1979. By this time her bones had softened, she was using a wheelchair and had been invalided out of her job. She was left with significant pain and disability. As she recovered following successful treatment in 1981, Janne's husband, Ron, became ill. He lived for another 10 years, but his condition deteriorated and he experienced significant side effects of treatment, and, at times inappropriate treatments.

Janne says that she experienced the health system at both at its best and its worst. While there was some good medical care, the lack of regard for her as a person and the pain she was suffering caused considerable distress. "It was as powerless as I had ever felt" she says (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/janne-graham/). The experience left Janne with a lot of anger - over her own distress, her changed appearance, and later, the way that Ron was treated. Looking back, Janne says that the anger gave her energy and a sense that changes could be made (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/janne-graham/). She used the energy to become active, firstly in the disability movement, and then the health consumer movement.

In 1989 she was elected as Chair of the Consumers' Health Forum, a relatively new organisation that represented the interests of people using the health care system. The organisation was meeting considerable resistance from the powerful vested interests that populate the health care landscape. Janne tackled the opposition from professional and industry groups head on - using the logic of the argument as her weapon. She formed alliances with other players who also wanted change. Under her leadership the organisation's reputation grew. Its influence on the policy agenda increased and it gradually earned some respect from professional and industry groups that had traditionally dominated policy discussions (Consumers Health Forum, 2010).

She identifies working alongside other people and learning from them as being an important factor in allowing her to step up to a leadership position. While she was initially focused on power, she came to see that power was only useful if it resulted in influence ('Getting Up and Running', 1999, p.11). She learned about team work and using the resources that other people had to make something work. One of the lessons she had to learn was dealing with internal differences and groupings. She emphasises the importance of keeping herself above such divisions and needing to trust to good process to sort things out and make good decisions. When she didn't do that, she says, things went wrong.

Janne emerged as a highly respected, articulate and effective representative of health consumers and today remains active and influential. In 1996 her leadership and advocacy was recognised when she was awarded an Order of Australia - an award which she found personally gratifying, but which she also sees 'as a real statement about the movement'. (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/janne-graham/)

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Janne D. Graham interviewed by Jennifer Gall in the Bringing Them Home Oral History Project, 1 June 2000, ORAL TRC 5000/124; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • 'Getting Up and Running: A Profile of Janne Graham AM', The Australian Health Consumer (AHC), vol. 3, Spring 1999, pp. 10-14. Details

Online Resources

See also

Digital Resources

Janne D. Graham interviewed by Jennifer Gall in the Bringing Them Home Oral History Project
1 June 2000
National Library of Australia
National Library of Australia Oral History Collection