Woman Crooks, Mary (1950 - )


Camperdown, Victoria, Australia

Written by Patricia Grimshaw, The University of Melbourne

Mary Crooks is an outstanding leader in the advocacy of women's rights, held in high regard for her commitment to public policy, feminism and social justice. Over several decades she has tirelessly championed the rights of women and girls in the quest for gender equality, and since 1996 has been the Executive Director of the Victorian Women's Trust.

Crooks was born in Camperdown, Victoria in 1950, daughter of Anne and Bob Crooks, and grew up in Heywood in southwestern Victoria. Her early education was in Portland, at the All Saints Primary School and then at the Loreto Convent. She proceeded to studies at the University of Melbourne in 1969 where she completed an Honours degree in Geography (with a major in History) and a Master of Arts.

Mary Crooks began her professional career as a tutor in the Economics Faculty at Melbourne University and then worked as a Senior Lecturer at Philip Institute of Technology. In the 1980s, she held significant positions with the Victorian Government, including the inaugural Chair of the Youth Policy Development Council; inaugural Chair of the Social Justice Consultative Council; panel member of the Brunswick-Richmond Powerline Review; panel member of the Independent Review of Victoria's State Finances; and advisor to the Coode Island Review. She designed a number of ground breaking public consultative processes at both national and state levels, in areas ranging from youth health, economic restructuring and job loss, to unemployment among older Australians, and lead exposure in the environment.

As the Executive Director of the Victorian Women's Trust, Mary directed The Purple Sage Project, a pioneering exercise in participatory democracy that engaged some 6000 women and men in community dialogue and action throughout Victoria in the late 1990s. She was also instrumental in bringing together the acclaimed exhibition and book Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives, celebrating Victorian women's contribution to society over the past century as part of the Centenary of Federation celebrations. She designed and directed the Watermark Australia project (launched in 2007) that highlighted women's great capacity for local level leadership and action on complex environmental issues.

In addition Crooks has overseen the development of the Trust's current anti-violence program, Be The Hero!, a programme for boys and young men to provide positive support in choosing lives without violence. Mary also co-wrote the Trust's research paper on the treatment of former women religious, The Paradox of Service and designed an Independent Advocacy Program that mediates between religious orders and former nuns. She researched and wrote A Gender Lens for Inclusive Philanthropy and commissioned Melbourne-based songwriter, Kavisha Mazzella, to compose an anthem for women, titled Love and Justice, first performed in Melbourne in November 2008 to acknowledge a centenary of suffrage in Victoria. Gifted then to women, it has since been adopted and performed in many places across Australia and around the world. From 2010 to 2012, Mary was responsible for overseeing the emergence of a new Women's Trust e-publication- Sheilas.org.au - which aims to inform, inspire and engage women and young women especially, by bold, thoughtful analyses of social and contemporary issues.

In 2012 Crooks authored 'A Switch in Time', a publication which aimed to restore respect in Australian politics. This new publication provides a critique of the 'tear-down' mentality directed towards the minority Gillard Government; the sexism and misogyny swirling around the Prime Minister and her Office; and the efforts of climate science deniers and oppositional forces to discredit climate science and the carbon price package. Committed to building a sustainable organisation, Mary has designed and implemented a capital campaign that aims to secure the Trust for the next generations of women and girls. She is also the legal founder of a new national organisation focused on reducing harm to women and girls: The Dugdale Trust for Women and Girls, named after pioneering female suffrage advocate and campaigner against violence, Henrietta Dugdale.

In 2000 Mary Crooks was the inaugural recipient of the Vida Goldstein Award and received the Centenary of Federation medal for her outstanding service to women. In 2012 she was appointed an Officer in the General Division of the Queen's Birthday Honours (AO) for her 'distinguished service to the community through contributions to public policy, particularly in the areas of social cohesion and water sustainability, and as an advocate for the advancement of women.'

Additional sources: Personal communication between Mary Crooks and Patricia Grimshaw.

Published Resources

Online Resources

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