These life stories may contain descriptions of childhood trauma and abuse, as well as images, voices and names of people now deceased. If you need help, you can find contact details for some relevant support services on our support page.

Australian activist and federal politician, Jann McFarlane (b. 1944), was in an orphanage as a child.

Jann was born in Sydney. Her father, a returned serviceman, left her mother alone with three children under the age of four at the end of World War II. Struggling with working shift work on low wages as a cook, she ended up putting the children into an orphanage. Jann explains:

The government of the day provided little in the way of income support, public housing or support services to my mother and us children—or for my father, who I understand would have benefited from counselling and support services…

It grieved her to put us in orphanages. It caused her great fear and stress when the orphanages would offer to foster or adopt us out, and she would take us out and try again to juggle a job, child care and low wages (Parliament of Australia).

Jann’s mother retrieved the children after she remarried in the early 1950s. The family moved to a rural area, and struggled with poverty, domestic violence, and alcoholism. 

Reflecting on her childhood, Jann continues:

These experiences politicised me. I knew that you could work hard but, if the system was against you, you did not succeed and become relaxed and comfortable. A lot of what determines whether you have a good life or a poverty stricken life is luck—luck of birth, of health, of disability, of geography, of systems in your society and of not having a major accident or trauma (Parliament of Australia).

Jann earned a Bachelor degree from Macquarie University. She was employed as a community worker for more than twenty-five years, including at the Welfare Rights and Advocacy Service.

McFarlane joined the Australian Labour Party (ALP) in 1978. As a member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby, she helped lobby governments for law reforms in industrial relations, child care, divorce, sex work, and domestic violence.

Jann McFarlane was elected to the Federal Parliament House of Representatives in 1998 as a member of the ALP. She represented the seat of Stirling in Western Australia until 2004. 


“Ms Jann McFarlane MP.” Parliament of Australia. 

McFarlane, Jann. “House of Representatives. Governor-General’s Speech. Address in Reply.” Parliament of Australia, Thursday 26 November 1998.;db=CHAMBER;id=chamber/hansardr/1998-11-26/0040;query=Id:%22chamber/hansardr/1998-11-26/0111%22  

McFarlane, Jann. “House of Representatives. Matters of Public Importance. Child Abuse.” Parliament of Australia, Tuesday 13 May 2003. 

Image available here.