Joan Rochester was born in Ballarat, Victoria. Following school she worked as a professional artist. She joined the Australian Labor Party in 1967. She became involved with the Save Our Sons Movement, opposed to conscription for the Vietnam War, and in 1971 was imprisoned for anti-conscription activities. She was imprisoned with four others from the 'Save our Sons' organisation. In 1973 she was the founding chairman of the Committee for the Abolition of Political Police.