Obituary: Jane was a true inspiration

Jane Pethebridge

March 6, 1950 – June 17, 2014

ON June 17, 2014, Jane died suddenly as a result of a tragic accident. 

She is much missed by family, friends, colleagues and clients.

In many ways Jane was an unsung hero. Her dedication, love, integrity and respect were received in a very personal way by everyone she met.

Jane made people feel special. She found the best in everyone but could also name and talk about difficult things.

Jane had a healthy disrespect for hierarchy. She believed all people were people first but just had different roles in life. 

Nearly 500 people attended her funeral or the Memorial Celebration of her life. 

Jane was the second of four children to Bet and Kevin Pethebridge.  

She was born in Melbourne in 1950 and lived her early years in Croydon before moving to South Yarra. She did her schooling at Our Lady of Sion in Box Hill.  

At 17 Jane studied Mother Craft Nursing at St Joseph’s Broad Meadows. There her healthy disregard for hierarchy was heightened by what she witnessed in the treatment of unmarried mothers. 

At 19 Jane entered the Sisters of Mercy convent, where she stayed for about 12 months. During that time she did some work at Black Rock Children’s Home.

Following this, Jane undertook some private mother crafting. It was the contrast between what children from wealthier families were getting compared to those in home care that set Jane on her life mission of working for less privileged children.  

Jane went on to work for 10 years at Allambie, a State Reception Centre for children coming into protective care.  

Jane’s commonsense and respectful approach to the children and their families won her many friends.  In her more recent years in Child Protection in Bendigo it was not unusual for her to meet up with ex-Allambie kids who are now parents or grandparents of current clients.

They remembered her fondly.

When Jane left Allambie she had a small cleaning business. Jane was by then living at Somerville with Bev and Emma and Page. She had very fond memories of co-parenting the children for many years.

Jane and Bev moved to Bet Bet in the early 90s and Jane developed a strong group of local friends.  She began working at St Luke’s in Maryborough and then with children in St Luke’s care in Bendigo.

Early in 1995 Jane moved to Bendigo. Di and Jane became partners in 1996 and established a home in Eppalock and then Bendigo. 

After some years at St Luke’s, Jane moved to Child Protection, where she worked for 10 years before retiring 18 months ago. 

Jane was a mentor to many workers at Child Protection and other agencies. She fought fiercely for children’s rights and respect for families.

Her commonsense approach brought humility and clarity to what can be very complex systems.  

She encouraged colleagues to listen to clients’ stories before making judgements. At times she bent the bureaucratic rules and would be heard to say to her supervisor “You are not going to like this but I have done it anyway.”  

Her strong values of justice and respect were her guide. In 2012 Jane was nominated and short-listed for the prestigious Robin Clark Memorial Award.

Jane was the same person at work and in life. Many stories of her capacity to acknowledge and name people’s strengths were shared at the memorial service.

So too were some very funny stories where Jane called people to account for inappropriate behaviour. On one such occasion she stopped a school bus on a country road in order to explain to some passengers how dangerous their distracting behaviour was to other motorists. 

As a young person, Jane was an active member of the YCW in South Yarra. She played sport and was always an avid supporter of Hawthorn Football Club.

Whenever they were playing she sat on the edge of her seat yelling a mixture of abuse and advice. In recent years Jane took a keen interest in the Bendigo United Cricket Club. 

Jane loved camping and the outdoors and at every chance was outside. She and Di explored many parts of Australia in their camper trailer and small caravan. They travelled overseas.

Friends were important to Jane and friendships spanned many years. She loved her family and was always keen to know how everyone was.

Her loyalty, respect and openness were endearing features. Strangers were people she just hadn’t met yet. Once met, they became friends. 

Jane faced her MS diagnosis and ongoing preventative treatment with resilience and courage, and similarly her stroke. Those things were a “damn nuisance” but did not define her life. Jane was full of fun.

Jane leaves behind her partner Di O’Neil, her mother Bet, sisters Susan and Catherine and brother Stephen and their families.

She also leaves Page, Rachel, Alison, Danny and their children. 

 Over recent years Jane shared an incredible amount of love and joy with her Bendigo grandchildren Morgan and Oliver. She loved her Cairns grandsons Ashton and Jesse. 

Jane leaves us with hope for the future.

If we can all be even half as strong and socially just as Jane, this world will be a better place.  


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