Pamela Denoon (1942-1988) was born Pamela Tod in Toowoomba and graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Queensland University. She worked as a biochemist in Cambridge,UK, where she met her husband Donald Denoon. From 1966 until 1972 she lived in Uganda, where she worked at Makerere University and where her three children were born.
In 1972 the Denoons moved to Port Moresby where Donald became professor of history and Pamela studied politics and sociology at the University of Papua New Guinea. Her experiences of racism in Makerere and Port Moresby fuelled her interest in these subjects. She graduated in 1977 with a BA Hons and worked in the Papua New Guinea Planning Office. She later took out an MA in Sociology from the London School of Economics, becoming well-read in feminist theory, in addition to her strong personal commitment to issues of social justice.
In 1981 the Denoons came to Canberra, where Pamela worked for the Abortion Counselling Service. In 1982 Pamela was appointed National Co-ordinator of the Women’s Electoral Lobby, a position she held until 1984. Her background and personal qualities ideally suited her to the work involved. She played a major role in co-ordinating the campaigns for the ratification of the UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) and for the passage of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act. She built up the WEL National Office, itself a sensitive task, and enabled it to handle the unprecedented number of requests from the new federal Labor government for submissions to inquiries and consultations.
Her tact and good humour and the enormous amount of work she put in behind the scenes were of crucial importance to coalition building within the women’s movement. She had the ability and patience to bring together often strong-minded women to work for a common goal, although this did take a toll on her. She gave unstintingly of herself, taking responsibility for the problems and never taking any of the limelight for the success.
She worked hard for the WEL team at the Economic Summit in 1983, and in putting together the coalition supporting the Sex Discrimination Act. After she left WEL she worked briefly for the Urban Research Unit at the ANU and then in the Office of Local Government. She continued to shoulder considerable responsibility for WEL, including lobbying for the Affirmative Action Act, helping prepare the National Women’s Tax Summit in 1985 and the National Agenda for Women Conference in 1986. Her work in the public service enabled her to promote equal opportunity in local government: for example, the funding of the Getting the Numbers study by Amanda Sinclair of which she was particularly proud.
Pamela was forced to retire from the public service by illness but her commitment to the women’s movement was undiminished by her hard struggle with leukaemia. One of her final preoccupations was the planning of a feminist foundation for which she left $50,000 in her will. She wanted to develop a foundation that would be controlled by feminists and which would promote the equality of women through providing independent research and policy work. This became theNational Foundation for Australian Women.
She also left $50,000 for a separate Pamela Denoon Trust, the interest of which was used for special projects. These included a donation to the Ryan/Conlan fund investigating the effects of enterprise bargaining on women and the provision of bursaries for young PNG women to finish their schooling.
Pamela died in 1988 at the age of 46, leaving behind many memories. A group of Pamela’s friends set up the Pamela Denoon Lecture Committee which holds the annual Pamela Denoon Lecture to mark International Women’s Day, and to commemorate Pamela’s life.