With the start of the new year, we are excited to announce a new Sub-Fund, established by Sue Peterson and her late partner, Jan Webster.
Fittingly named the Jan Webster and Sue Peterson Sub-Fund, it will support a number of issues that have been close to Jan and Sue’s hearts: supporting women exiting prison; educational and leadership opportunities for Aboriginal women; and pathways for women out of homelessness.
Social justice was always a motivator for Jan and Sue throughout their long and loving relationship. Their shared experiences only made them more passionate about giving back and putting in the hard yards for equality.
They met back in 1988 when Jan was visiting a dear friend dying from AIDS, who was being looked after in hospital where Sue was nursing. “Jan would visit, and I saw her coming in all the time,” recalls Sue. “I called her into my office and asked if she was OK. She said that was when she fell in love with me. I didn’t notice anything. Then she left flowers on my doorstep following a visit to my home for coffee.”
Jan was the outspoken one whereas Sue was quiet, but both were feminists who embraced true equality.
“Jan was her own woman,” says Sue. If she heard someone make an unfounded comment, “She would have fifty-four questions and ask, ‘What evidence have you got?’ I would listen and Jan would ask me later did I think she was reasonable questioning the person? I would say, I probably wouldn’t challenge the person the way she had done. In that sense, we were opposites. But she respected me, and I respected her.”
Friends and colleagues readily attest to Jan’s rebel spirit and her tenacious support of people in need. Whether it was campaigning for social justice or nurturing a struggling colleague, Jan would always step up. The couple formed a united front and protested all the big issues in Melbourne: the Eastern Freeway, the closure of the Fitzroy pool, Alexander Parade tree lopping, the Yellow Ribbon campaign against the Grand Prix, better conditions for nurses and midwives. And of course, they both championed International Women’s Day and women’s rights.
Jan and Sue loved traveling. They sailed the WA coast from Broome to Mitchell Plateau, and toured the outback in the Northern Territory and Queensland. Sue took her most recent trip to Arnhem Land after Jan’s death. “We’ve done a lot of outback touring,” says Sue. “I went to Arnhem Land in August last year mainly because that was the next trip Jan and I were going to do. I feel that Aboriginal people were here first in Australia. The rest of us are all refugees, we’re all from another land.”
In her quiet way, Sue remains passionate about helping people who have been denied their equal rights. In her work as a community health and respiratory nurse, she saw firsthand the importance of showing empathy to people in crisis, realising that everyone has a backstory that underpins their current circumstances.
“Working in community health I’ve known a lot of marginalised people,” says Sue. “Some of them are dealing with dual diagnosis, mental health, homelessness and so on. I see them as equal, but they often feel that they’re inferior. People fear not being accepted and they already have a barrier up. They’ve probably been hurt so many times, so they fear rejection continually.”
Jan and Sue’s life experiences often reminded them to count their blessings and to give back to the community where they could. Sue explains, “we’ve always wanted to leave whatever we’ve got to marginalised women, and we feel our families are quite comfortable. We’d love to have millions and millions of dollars to change the world.”
Shortly after Jan’s death in 2018, Sue put in motion their wish to share their good fortune with others who deserve the chance to turn things around and called the Victorian Women’s Trust to find out how to set up a Sub-Fund of their own.
“Jan was always feminist. She was a member of the Victorian Women’s Trust for a substantial period of time,” says Sue. “Jan had heard Mary Crooks speak many times, and always spoke highly of her and the Trust’s work in supporting marginalised women.”
The Jan Webster and Sue Peterson Sub-Fund will respect both women’s wishes to create a legacy that will, as Sue notes, “touch many lives” with a special focus on women — neatly dovetailing with the aims of the Victorian Women’s Trust, an organisation Jan loved.
Photo: Sue Peterson (left) & Jan Webster (right)