The story behind Olive’s Corner
Olive Zakharov was born at home in Kew on 19 March 1929.
Olive was educated at Ruyton Girls’ School, the University of Melbourne, Melbourne Secondary College and R.M.I.T.
Olive worked at Watsonia High School from 1966 to 1969, and at Montmorency High School from 1969 to 1983 as teacher and school counsellor, and was active in the Teachers’ Union during that period.
Olive was, from a young age, an active participant in community and political issues which continued when she joined the ALP in the early sixties. She took on many roles within the ALP before gaining pre-selection for the Senate in 1982.
Olive was elected to the Senate on 5th March 1983 where she served for twelve years and one day.
In addition to her wide interests in the Senate, Olive Zakharov was an active and energetic local representative. With other residents, she resisted the compulsory acquisition of houses in Swallow Street for the proposed Sandridge City Development Corporation development. The words ‘Not for sale’ were painted on her roof. Even on the very morning of the day that she sustained the injuries that were to lead to her death, she lobbied the Acting Prime Minister Brian Howe about preserving the Mission to Seamen at the end of Swallow Street.
Here are just a few extracts from tributes paid to her in the House of Representatives the day after she died. They reflect on her values, the causes to which she was so deeply committed, and the way she went about her work. The tributes filled twenty pages of Hansard.
Mr Howe (Acting Prime Minister)
Olive was a noted participant and contributor to the peace movement, being a member of the Campaign for International Cooperation and Disarmament and of World Women Parliamentarians for Peace.
Committed trade unionist and feminist, she was involved in affirmative action development. Her earlier life and work experiences as a part time student and employee strengthened her understanding of the female’s role in society and also strengthened her commitment to social justice. A long standing crusader for women’s rights she was well known for her strong stand on domestic violence. The measure of her courage and personal strength was demonstrated when, in 1993, she spoke publicly about the mental and physical abuse she had suffered. She was prepared to do this because she thought it would make it in some way easier for other women to confront their own experiences of domestic violence – and seek support.
.. she was at the Mid Summa festival, a festival for gay and lesbian people. It is often forgotten that, when it was not such a popular cause to support those groups, Olive Zakharov, because she could not stand any kind of discrimination and because of her commitment to people, was one of the first people in this parliament to say there is no such thing as a second-rate Australian.
Her death I think diminishes all of us, but her life and her commitment to the Australian people strengthens all of us.
She touched, dealt with, and fought for issues that others would not touch, and in some cases, could not be bothered to touch.
She had a way of dealing with people who were suffering disadvantage or suffering injustice…. she could not bear to see people suffer disadvantage, to see people suffer injustice. That applied globally; it applied across the world in so many organisations she involved herself with and in the issues she took up – political, environmental, social and human rights.
Principally she was always putting to the fore the role and status of women. She did it globally, locally and individually. She was a person with incredible vigour . . .
I have a criterion of success in political life: if you can leave politics with your integrity undiminished you have in many ways been successful. For Olive Zakharov her already great integrity became deeper and deeper as time went on and as we got to know her better. What is more, she encouraged that deeper integrity in everyone around her.
Her commitment to social justice was not transient and had no element of opportunism about it. For Olive Zakharov issues of social justice were not soft issues or issues to be picked up and dropped depending on the political environment or for a photo opportunity. Her parliamentary record, and indeed her record before she entered parliament, show a consistent and unwavering commitment to the most disadvantaged in our communities.
She also travelled to a lonely military outpost on the Russia-China border … to witness the destruction of weaponry in that location … an issue which she was consistent about over her whole life time.