Woman Brown, Margaret

Rural health activist

Written by Kate Moore, Australian National University

Margaret Brown was born and raised in Adelaide. After leaving St Peters Collegiate Girls School at 16 she worked in a bank until her marriage but now lives on a farm in rural South Australia, and is self-employed in farm properties management. When her second son was diagnosed with mild brain damage she experienced firsthand the difficulties of accessing medical services and began the process through which she has become a passionate advocate for improving the health of consumers in rural and remote Australia.

Margaret takes a broad view of health. From her initial membership of the Lameroo Hospital Ladies Auxiliary she went on to join the Hospital Board and in 1988 was asked to chair the Murray Mallee Health and Social Welfare Council. She was also involved with the National Women's Health Program, as a result of which she was invited to make the opening presentation at the first Rural Health Conference in Toowoomba (http://nrha.ruralhealth.org.au/conferences/docs/PAPERS/1_MARBRO.pdf). The national conferences became bi-annual events, and led to the formation of an organisation to represent rural consumers which in turn became one of the founding members of the National Rural Health Alliance, now a major force in advocating on health issues for rural and remote communities. As a respected and effective advocate Margaret now represents consumers on a range of Commonwealth and State government and professional bodies.

In her advocacy role Margaret stresses the need to research, to listen to others and not just rely on her own view. She reluctantly acknowledges that she is in a leadership role, and is, in a sense, bridging two worlds. However, she acknowledges the contribution of other women, particularly the strong women she has met from non-English speaking backgrounds, whose role in holding their communities together is essential. She stresses that while they appear to be just organising meetings and putting on morning teas - 'that is still leadership' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/margaret-brown/. She also admires the Indigenous women who have fought the system for years and empathises with their frustration at the slow pace of progress.

While advocating for better health services in rural and remote Australia, Margaret has stepped outside of the traditional role of rural women. This has not been easy, but her husband, Rod is very supportive. She also has a network of women friends who support and encourage her - and she, in return, provides friendship and support to others. Her advice to other women taking on a leadership role is to 'make sure that you have people around you. It's not easy. Very often in small towns you are the one who is game enough to do it and other people don't like it. So you have to find support people - and sometimes it just happens' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/margaret-brown/).

In 2006 Margaret was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for service to the community through advocacy roles representing the interests of health care consumers in rural and remote areas and for contributions to policy development.

Published Resources

Online Resources