June 21st, 2023King’s Birthday honour for Anneke Deutsch
DAYLESFORD’S Anneke Deutsch has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to the community.
The 61-year-old, who identifies as a proud lesbian, said it was wonderful that her work had been recognised by the King’s Birthday award.
“I’m most proud that my service to older lesbians is being recognised with this mainstream honour. Social acceptance has changed so much over my lifetime. When I first started working in the early 1980s, I was closeted because coming out would have negatively affected my career. It’s easier now, but still there are other battles that we must fight as same-sex attracted, lesbian-identified women.”
Ms Deutsch’s professional career included working with Ballarat Health Services as a clinical leader and senior prosthetist, with LaTrobe University’s School of Human Biosciences as a sessional lecturer and with AusAID, Australian Business Volunteers and the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics as a prosthetist, tutor and co-ordinator. The last included establishing a prosthetic, orthotics and rehabilitation
service in Tarawa, Kiribati where they made the first leg prostheses for i-Kiribati people – teaching locals how to make artificial legs so that they could run their own rehabilitation centre.
And if that was not enough, Ms Deutsch also turned her hand to volunteering locally and with national and state organisations, much of her work aimed at improving the lives of lesbians, especially older women, around the country.
She was a founding member of Hepburn Wind, the first project of the Hepburn Renewable Energy Association and the first community-owned wind farm in Australia, later known as the Sustainable Hepburn Association or SHARE. One project was to organise the first of the bulk buy solar arrays including installing a free one for the Daylesford Community Child Care Centre.
Ms Deutsch was also a member of the Hepburn Health Service LGBTI Aged Care Advisory Committee and helped the health service achieve the Rainbow Tick Accreditation for its aged care services, a first in Australia.
From 2008, she has volunteered with the Matrix Guild of Victoria, a charity for older lesbians, taking on roles including Housing and Aged Care spokeswoman, secretary and president. Her work led to the creation of the first social housing specifically for older lesbians in Australia – establishing a partnership with the community housing provider, Women’s Property Initiatives.
Ms Deutsch is currently busy on her latest challenge, as the co-founder of Older Women In Cohousing or WINC. The not-for-profit group is creating a 32-home cohousing community in Castlemaine, based on sustainability, accessibility, architecture to enhance social interaction, inclusion for women with a range of
financial assets, a culturally safe place for older lesbians and the sharing of intellectual property to help others with co-housing communities.
Ms Deutsch, whose work this year was also recognised with her inclusion on the Heather Mutimer International Women’s Day Honour Roll for Hepburn Shire, said while same-sex relationships were now accepted it had not always been the case and many older lesbians had been through very difficult times.
“I have always been someone who volunteers, and started with sustainability
issues and Hepburn Wind, but then I realised I could use my personal experience
being a lesbian to help others. My own relationship is at about 35 years and while it
(same-sex relationships) is something now quite accepted, especially in a place like
Daylesford, that was not always the case.
“I was trying to organise a big lesbian festival in ’98 and it was hard to find a
venue that was happy to host us or was comfortable with us. And it wasn’t until 2008
that I could nominate my partner for my superannuation if anything happened to me.
“And in the 70s and 80s you couldn’t get a mortgage unless you had a guarantor
who was a man. That was alright if you had a brother or a father who had not disowned you, but a lot of lesbians were not in that situation – so you couldn’t house yourself.
“‘Queer’ was an insult and many old lesbians have not reclaimed that word,
myself included. My lesbian partner and I had friends who left straight marriages for
a woman partner and lost custody of their kids as a result. Their ex-husbands could
argue in court that their ex-wives were unsuitable custodial parents simply because
they were lesbian.
“I am 61 now and when I look back I realise how far we have come in many ways, but there is more to do.”
One of those is WINC, a project aimed at providing affordable housing for older
women, mostly lesbians. The group had hoped originally to buy land in Daylesford
but are now coming close to fruition on land bought in Castlemaine.
The 32 dwellings are almost full with about 80 per cent taken up by lesbians.
Older women who do not identify as lesbian are welcome to apply for the housing
which is partly social housing, partly fully paid and also for “middle women” who don’t have enough to buy a home but have too much to be eligible for social payments.
Ms Deutsch said the group was now looking at different means of offering shared
equity through either private investors or perhaps government investment.
“I think if it comes off it will be a great pilot for any women – older women, lesbians – who can’t buy a house. And we are at the planning permit stage, so nearly there.”
Words: Donna Kelly | Image: Dorothy McDonald