Woman Bluett, Mary (1951 - )
- 12 March 1951
Paddington, New South Wales, Australia
- Teacher and Trade unionist
Written by Rosemary Francis, The University of Melbourne
Mary Bluett was born on 12 March 1951 in Paddington, New South Wales. She grew up in Upwey, Victoria, where her father established his medical practice. Her mother was a nurse and both parents were active community members. The eldest of 13 children, she assumed responsibility for her younger siblings, particularly after her father's death when she was 16 years of age.
Bluett was educated at Catholic schools, until her matriculation year, when she transferred to Upwey High School. She completed her tertiary education at the Melbourne School of Advanced Education where she qualified as a secondary teacher of biology, science and mathematics. She joined the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association (VSTA) as a student in 1973 and began her long career as a union leader in 1974 when she was elected president of the local branch of the VSTA at Camberwell High School, her first teaching appointment. She led the branch to take successful industrial action over teachers working conditions at the school.
In 1975 she was elected to the Central Committee of the VSTA and by 1982 she was vice-president, a full-time paid union position. In 1994 she became the first woman to be elected president of the VSTA, shortly before it merged with the Teachers Federation of Victoria to form the Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union (AEU) in 1995. By 1998 she was elected president of the Victorian branch and retained that position until her retirement at the end of 2012.
Bluett regarded her mother as a role model and her awareness of gender issues was reinforced after the death of her father when she witnessed the difficulties her mother encountered in securing employment. It was clear that the structure of the teaching profession privileged the masculine, despite the fact that more than 50 per cent of teachers were female. Bluett reached positions of leadership in the face of resistance from the male leadership of the VSTA in the period from 1975 to 1981. Nevertheless the establishment of the Open Sub-Committee on Women in the VSTA in 1974 provided a supportive forum for women to place on the union's agenda issues which affected female members. Bluett identified as a feminist and was instrumental in the VSTA's adoption of its affirmative action policy in 1984. In terms of leadership approaches she saw herself as part of a collaborative team and attributed the development of her strategic political skills to being the eldest child in a very large family. She led industrial agreement negotiations with successive state governments during her period as president
As a union leader Bluett understood that it was important to demonstrate her capacity to fulfil that role as well as be a parent. Her commitment to her career, meant that she was prepared to make the necessary adjustments in her family life to ensure she could perform that role, but was continually aware of the demands of the position and understood that not all women would want to make those adjustments.
National Library of Australia Oral History Collection
- Francis, Rosemary, 'In Pursuit of Union Leadership: Mary Bluett and Susan Hopgood and the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association, 1973-95', Labour History, vol. 104, May 2013, pp. 131-148. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5263/labourhistory.104.0131. Details
- Mary Bluett interviewed by Rosemary Francis in the Women and leadership in a century of Australian democracy oral history project
- 21 June 2011 - 30 June 2011
- National Library of Australia
- National Library of Australia Oral History Collection