Love Boat actress Lauren Tewes in her Julie McCoy cruise director uniform celebrates her 60th birthday on the top deck of Sea Princess in Brisbane. She is pictured with Carnival Australia CEO Ann Sherry, who spent a
Love Boat actress Lauren Tewes in her Julie McCoy cruise director uniform celebrates her 60th birthday on the top deck of Sea Princess in Brisbane. She is pictured with Carnival Australia CEO Ann Sherry, who spent a "free” early childhood in Gympie. Rae Wilson

Powerful Australian CEO pays tribute to Gympie childhood

IT IS not hard to find plenty to boast about when it comes to the outstanding talent and achievements of Gympie people over the past 152 years.

Young Andrew Fisher.Attribution: State Library of Queensland
Young Andrew Fisher.

Andrew Fischer served three terms as Prime Minister, but a close second to him must be the current CEO of Carnival Cruise Line Australia and former head of the federal Office of the Status of Women, Ann Sherry.

Ms Sherry spent her formative years in Gympie and remembered those "free” years fondly during a University of New South Wales Business School address this week as part of its Meet the CEO program.

"Country towns are free to move around in,” she said of her early Gympie childhood.

"Everybody knows everybody... it's a fairly liberating environment, we used to ride our pony down the main street.”

The flip to that was that country towns could also be "pretty cloying”. Ms Sherry said that as soon as she did anything, someone would tell her parents, who owned and ran a pharmacy in Mary St, and they would know about it before she got home from school.

Ann Sherry
Ann Sherry addresses the UNSW Business School on Meet the CEO this week.

"I could climb a tree and ride a bike as well as any boy” and the gender split simply wasn't an issue.

"(Gympie) subsequently has become more famous for right wing politics and guns than for anything else,” she said with a smile.

Ms Sherry went on to school in Brisbane, where her parents' inner city pharmacy was destroyed in a catastrophic gas leak explosion, before studying radiography at university and experiencing a very defined delineation of the sexes in health, where all the doctors were men and all the women had the lower paid jobs.

When she was 16, her mother became the second person in Australia to be diagnosed with Ross River Virus, and spent two years completely paralysed by the disease in the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Her mother eventually defied the odds and learnt to walk again, but in the meantime Ann took over running the family, which she says she was a "natural” at, but her sisters say was tyrannical.

Ms Sherry married her husband Michael when she was 20 and gave birth to her son Nick when she was 21. Nick has Down Syndrome, and his birth and coming to terms with his disability in the first week of his life was key in the events that shaped the person she is today, she said.

She had firmly shut many people out of her life based on their response to Nick.

"I studied radiography because my mother wanted me to marry a doctor” but she did not stay for long in the "very neat split in gender layering” that was the health system.

She went back to university and then sat a "gender blind” test to get into the public service graduate program.

After working her way up to head of the Office of the Status of Women during the Paul Keating Prime Ministership 25 years ago, she said not much progress had been made towards equality since in Australia.

"It's been too slow,” she said. There had been some big jumps, particularly in universities, but not enough in other areas.

Ms Sherry went on to a long and successful career in banking, where she succeeded in bringing about paid maternity leave at Westpac, before taking on her role with Carnival in 2007.

What a boast to have such an extraordinary woman emerge from the Gympie region. Of course, Ms Sherry is not alone.

Just this week two outstanding Gympie cultural ambassadors gained significant recognition in their respective fields.

Karen Foxlee Author in GYmpie.
Karen Foxlee Troy Jegers

Author Karen Foxlee added the national Indie Book Awards Children's Book of the Year to her crowded trophy cabinet for Lenny's Book of Everything, and rising folk-country songwriter/ proud Gympie girl Emma Beau took out the country music gong at Tuesday night's Queensland Music Awards for Wild Heart.

Congratulations to them both.

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Fold-country songwriter Emma Beau