A true pillar of the community

Anne Parton. (Ivan Kemp) 399451_01

Highton’s Anne Parton was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women last year for her community service and volunteer work. With nominations for 2024 inductees now open, Anne spoke to Matt Hewson about her life and what her induction to the Honour Roll meant to her.

Anne Parton, now 86, has spent decades of her life in the service of the communities she has lived in.

When asked about the source of the values – strength, compassion, leadership – that put her on the path of giving, she spoke immediately of her mother, Rosa Lilias (Bonnie) Donaldson.

“My mother was widowed with four children when I was only ten, and I was the oldest,” Anne said.

“And luckily we were able to stay in our own home and go to our schools, which were PLC (Presbyterian Ladies College) and Scotch College in Melbourne.

“We lived in Toorak. My father, you see, was the president of a big company, an English company in Victoria. So we were able to, luckily, and with family help, stay in the house, which was so wonderful, and to be able to go to school.

“But I really think that I owe my mother a lot because she was widowed and she just kept doing things. I felt it was amazing that she could keep us all together, and we kept going. She was such a lovely person…a lovely mum.”

As an eldest child and with her mother as a role model, Anne became a natural leader. When the Toorak First Company of Girl Guides, of which she was a member, lost its captain, 17-year-old Anne held the group together until another captain could be found months later.

After high school Anne nearly completed her training at pharmacy college – “I still had bloody chemistry to finish” – when the minister at her Presbyterian church mentioned he was taking on a “terrific young man” as his assistant.

“I said, oh yeah, have you? And of course, I married him,” Anne said.

Anne and the Reverend Ian Parton have been married 62 years as of February, and ever since, when not busy raising four children she has spent most of her time finding ways to help her community.

Anne and her family moved around the state as the Rev Parton took up parish positions at Toorak, Bairnsdale, Boronia, Glen Waverley and finally Geelong in 1987, where they have since lived.

She has served multiple terms as vice-president of the National Council of Women’s Victorian branch and president of the Geelong branch and worked in various roles (president, committee member, convener, coach) at sporting clubs such as Geelong Lawn Tennis and Boronia Netball Club.

She was president of the Geelong Ladies Reading Circle, which claims the title of the oldest book group in the world (“There is one group in France who might challenge us, but we’re certainly the oldest in Australia”).

Anne was also invited to join the Order of St John of Jerusalem and has since become the Hospitaller of the Geelong Commandery, responsible for the wellbeing of its members, and still serves on a number of committees.

One of Anne’s favourite organisations to have been a part of over the years was the Trading Partners shop, which operated in Geelong’s Centrepoint Arcade for through the 1980s, 90s and 2000s.

Trading Partners was a not-for-profit gift shop serving as a retail outlet for disadvantaged creators across the world.

“Mrs Jane Yule and I were the ones who got it going, because we were ministers’ wives who came from Melbourne to live here,” Anne recalled.

“And we had wonderful times. We sold so many wonderful crafts from overseas countries. People who’d made crafts in Peru, India, everywhere, we sourced them and brought their crafts here and then we gave them the money.

“We had to fold; it wasn’t because Geelong didn’t have people to keep it going, but the board (in Melbourne) was light on and couldn’t keep going.

“We had a big farewell down at Narana (Aboriginal Cultural Centre) to farewell the whole thing. And we asked all our people who’d given us the crafts, each group, if we had some money for you what would you do with it?

“Please tell us what you would like your money for. And all our money that we had went back to them; we closed the account and sent it all to the people who’d asked, which was fantastic.”

Anne said while she had always been a “church person” and was a minister’s wife, her service to community was not due to being “rampantly religious”, but rather because she just loved helping people.

“It just gives me satisfaction; I don’t think about it really, I just love being with people and if I can help them, that’s good,” she said.

“It’s really more about what I get from them. It enriches my life; my life is enriched by other people.”

Anne said it was a big surprise when she was notified last year she would be inducted to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.

She encouraged anyone who knew women of any age, experience or background who contributed significantly to their community to put them forward to be recognised as part of the Honour Roll program.

“I think it’s good to honour people who have done a lot for us,” she said.

“The surprise is wonderful. When you do things like this you don’t think about why you’re doing it, you just like doing it.

“If they’ve been doing a lovely lot of work, why not thank them by nominating them?”

Nominations for the Victorian Honour Roll of Women are open until May 5. Visit vic.gov.au/honour-roll-women to see the full criteria or make a nomination.