CHIEF Minister Katy Gallagher is one of Canberra’s most familiar faces, but who knows that:
• she’s mum to three children; Abby, 14, Charlie, 6, and Evie, 4?
• she’s not married, but is in a loving relationship with her partner?
• she was brought up with two younger brothers who were adopted?
• she shouts out “living the dream” when things get a bit too much?
But she’s also been to hell and back; losing her partner Brett Seaman, the father of her first child, in a cycling accident, and losing both her parents to cancer – her dad didn’t live long enough to see her become a member of the Legislative Assembly.
“CityNews” met Katy and her family at their inner-north home to get a rare insight behind our Chief Minister.
KATY Gallagher’s parents, Charlie and Betsy Gallagher, were immigrants from the UK. Charlie, a chronic asthmatic, was advised to move to a country with a warmer climate. He met Betsy on the ship to Australia.
Katy was born in Canberra within a year of their move in 1970. The Gallaghers settled in Waramanga; a home where her elder sister Claire still lives.
Katy says to cope with the isolation of a husband who worked long hours in the public service and raising young children in a foreign country, her mum threw herself into community work.
“Mum became Mrs Community Worker,” she says. “She ended up setting up all these community networks because she was so lonely and she found those early years here really, really hard.”
Within four years, there were four children in the Gallagher family, with the adoption of Richard, whose parental heritage is from PNG, and Matthew, who is of Asian descent.
“It was a really interesting childhood because we dealt with a lot of racism for poor Richard at school,” she says.
But she says it was a “good upbringing… we dealt with things other families wouldn’t”.
IN 1988, as an 18-year-old, Katy began working in after-school care and school holiday programs, initially for the extra money, but soon realised she actually really enjoyed it.
“I really liked looking after children with a disability,” she says. “I have my mother’s soft side. I went to look after the children that perhaps were sometimes harder to find staff to work with them and I genuinely liked working with them.”
While she worked, Katy attended ANU and studied a Bachelor of Arts, in politics and sociology.
“I didn’t have that sense of wanting to bust out and go to Wagga or Armadale, as some of my friends did,” she says.
“Maybe I liked the home comforts. My marks weren’t incredibly flash, I don’t think I could have gotten into law or anything like that but I think arts provided me with a safe option.”
She ended up doing a double major in politics, a move inspired by her dad, a member of the ALP.
“I had always enjoyed talking to dad about politics,” she says.
But at that stage getting into politics had no interest to her.
“I hadn’t joined the party, I didn’t get involved in student politics,” she says.
“In fact, I didn’t really understand it. There was nowhere that I really fitted. I wasn’t way left – and they were crazy – and I wasn’t right.”
The turning point
AFTER completing university, Katy began working in the community sector for an advocacy support group called People First. Part of the job was visiting people with intellectual disabilities, in their homes and workplaces, and representing their interests.
Katy says she was making headway with the group until her partner Brett Seaman was killed instantly by an 87-year-old woman who hit him at 110km/h while he was road cycling.
“I just couldn’t face that work anymore and I never went back,” she says.
“I was 27, I was pregnant, it was just a really bad time, it’s integral to the story because I never went back from the accident, I never went back to that job.”
It was the union where Brett had worked that took Katy in when she was at her lowest.
“They found me a job, sat me in front of a desk and pretty much demanded nothing from me other than being there and trying to keep me going along,” she says.
“I’ve been to the worst place, or one of the worst places, I don’t want to speak for everyone who has had a horrific thing happen to them because there have been many worse than mine.
“I’ve been to a pretty rough place and I have survived.
“I think that is where some of my colleagues in the Assembly probably underestimate me a little bit, that I am probably not as tough as I am, but I am actually really, bloody tough.
“It doesn’t mean I am not sensitive or I don’t get hurt, but you have to do something pretty serious to rattle me.”
Then there was five…
KATY was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 2001; she describes it “by accident”, after being nominated by the ALP and union movement as a female representative.
It was in the Assembly that she met her partner Dave Skinner, who works as manager of the Strategy and Parliamentary Education Office.
Both owning beagles, the pair first connected through a “play date”.
“The dogs brought us together,” she says. “At work it was just a ‘g’day’ in the corridors.”
But Katy describes their relationship as the “right person, right time”. And it wasn’t long until son Charlie came along and two years later, Evie.
“I was getting along, I was 36,” she says of her decision for a second child.
“There was no mucking-around time, we thought one would be good…then we got a surprise package.”
At home, like most mums, she cooks most of the meals.
“Meal time is like a cafe, handing out meals over a long period of time,” she says.
“By the time you get to your own meal, the dessert line has started up.”
What’s easier, being a mum or being Chief Minister?
“Chief Minister can be easier because I have a lot of help, even within my own office I get a lot of help. People respect the position,” she says.
“Whereas at home, I’m mum. All the other challenges other mums face, are the same for me.”
And when it all gets too much?
“A favourite line of mine is ‘living the dream’, I often shout it out when things are pretty much out of control,” she says.
“It’s hard, it’s really hard, I am not sure how long you can manage it at a frantic pace, but having said that, children grow up, children get easier, already my children are much easier than they were in 2008, when I was Deputy Chief Minister with similar responsibilities.
“It’s crazy and hectic but funny and full of love. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”