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The Moment – Gai Brodtmann

Ginger Gorman

Like most offices in the House on the Hill, this is large with plush carpet and white walls adorned with artwork from the Parliament House collection.

There’s plenty of places for guests to sit, including couches and a polished, round wooden table and chairs sitting in the centre of the room. This is where Gai Brodtmann, ALP Member for Canberra, and I eventually settle.

In her glamorous black and white dress and attractive carved earrings, Gai has a breezy elegance. Her hair is pulled is back in a style she jokingly refers to as “painted on.”

Despite appearances, Gai’s road here was rugged.

Hear about the moment that changed her life here, or keep reading for more.

“My father walked out on my mother, my sisters and me when I was 11 leaving us with $30 in the bank.

“It shaped my politics and had an enduring influence on my world view and values,” Gai says.

Before that pivotal moment back in mid-1970s, Gai’s family was like any other “classic sort of middle class family.”

“It was an idyllic childhood. We lived in a cul-de-sac and at the end of our street was a creek with horses and all this open space and…blackberry bushes and frogs and tadpoles.

“It was just fantastic. We were outside after school playing. It was safe. There were kids our own age on the street so we had a huge network of friends. It was a classic, suburban, middle class, comfortable, safe childhood,” Gai recalls.

Gai describes her mother as “a feminist” who kicked her father out of the family home in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne because he was being unfaithful.

Her mother, Gai explains, was concerned about the “role modeling that would be set” for her daughters. Consequently, she told husband her to leave.

“She was heartbroken because my father was the love of her life,” Gai says.

Life changed overnight. Gai’s stay-at-home mother was forced to get a part-time job. Money was tight.

Gai describes her mother skipping meals so she could feed her daughters and the family often went to eat at the houses of friends and family so they could get a square meal.

Looking back and recalling the hardship, Gai recollects that her youngest sister, Amy was born with three rows of teeth and it was a struggle for the family to pay for the dentistry she needed.

“She had to get all that third row taken out. It cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

“Mum couldn’t afford to put her under general [anesthetic], so the poor darling had to get these rows of teeth done in sessions on local [anesthetic].”

Gai’s mother somehow managed to strike a deal with the dental surgeon and paid the debt off over many years.

According to Gai, the struggle of those early years made the three sisters “very resilient and it also made us all very determined to go to university.”

Reflecting further on her Dad leaving the family home, Gai believes it undoubtedly shaped her worldview.

She’s all too aware of what it’s like to “get to the end of the week with nothing in the bank.”

“I’m still a very strong advocate for single mothers. It’s not just single mothers, it’s also single parents. It’s also people who are doing it tough. I’ve been there. My husband’s been there.”

Gai’s husband is well-known ABC political journalist Chris Uhlmann.

(And full disclosure here: I produced Chris when he presented a breakfast radio program on 666 ABC Canberra many years ago and have known both Gai and Chris for more than a decade.)

Gai describes her marriage to Chris as “the most important thing in my life.”

“My family is my husband and me. I hoped it would have included children but unfortunately, we couldn’t have them,” she says with typical frankness.

It’s not apparent today – or any other time I’ve been in her company, for that matter – but Gai loves “nothing more than dagging around home in my track suit pants, windcheater and Ugg boots.”

She’s got other passions too, including cooking, gardening, pilates, watching American Idol (she’s addicted) and writing thank you notes.

Gai openly declares she’s “big on manners” and “loyalty” and also claims to be “a vault with confidences.”

Oh yes. And then there’s that film.

“I love the Steve Martin film ‘The Jerk.’ I watch it every year and still laugh in the same places. Chris thinks it’s a condition,” Gai says with a laugh.

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Ginger Gorman

Ginger Gorman is a multi-award winning social justice journalist, based in Canberra. During her media career Ginger has worked for ABC Local Radio, ABC Emergency, Triple J, Radio Netherlands Worldwide and Fairfax Community Newspapers. Her freelance work has been published in print, online and on air via news.com.au, Radio National, The Guardian, The Age, Daily Life, Huffington Post, ABC’s The Drum and right here at HerCanberra. In 2006 Ginger was the first ABC employee to win the prestigious World Press Institute Fellowship, based in the United States. She has also been the recipient of the National Press Club of Australia Excellence in Health Journalism Award for Best Documentary or Documentary Series. Ginger is a cancer survivor and an ambassador for PANDSI, Canberra’s perinatal depression support service. Aside from her professional interests, she is a cook, textiles lover, keen traveller, a reader, writer, a wife and a mother of two small children. You can follow Ginger on Twitter @GingerGorman or find more of her stories at gingergorman.com More about the Author

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