Marie Coleman

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Marie Yvonne Coleman (née Burns), AO PSM, (born 1933) is an Australian feminist, social activist, public servant and journalist. She was the first woman to head an Australian national statutory authority. She spent over 60 years campaigning against the gender pay gap and other social injustices.[1]

Early life[edit]

Coleman, an only child, was born in Dubbo to Kathleen (née Nunan), a shop assistant at Western Stores[2]. Her father, Alexander Burns, worked for the NSW Railways. The family moved frequently throughout her childhood requiring her to change schools many times as her father was looking for advancements in his career. She first attended the pre-primary school at Hunter Valley, continued to NSW Government Education Department's Black Friars Correspondence School, then Dubbo Primary School, Orange Primary School, Orange High School, and finished at Lithgow High School[2]. Coleman attended the University of Sydney in 1950, studying economics and politics for an Arts degree, then completed a diploma in social studies. She was editor of the student newspaper, Honi Soit, and was only the second woman to hold that title. She was talented in the classroom and on the field, playing Inter-Varsity cricket, as well as international debating[2] and being a member of the University's Student Representative Council.[3]


She was appointed and held the position of chair of the National Social Welfare Commission by the Whitlam Government in 1972-1975 – the first woman in Australia to head a national statutory authority.[4][5]

In 1976, she was selected as the Director of the Office of Childcare, and during this time, the Australian Commonwealth began supporting Aborginal Child supports creating before and after school daycare, and a program for female refugees[2].

In 1989 Coleman was a founding member of the National Foundation for Australian Women and an active participant in the Australian Women's Archives Project.[5]

Following her retirement from the Australian Public Service in 1995, Coleman became a columnist with the Canberra Times until 2003.One of her earliest jobs had been as reporter for the social pages of the Daily Telegraph in Sydney.[3] 2012 worked for the "Australian Women's Archives Project and for the Social Policy Committee of the National Council for Australian Women."

Awards and recognition[edit]


In 1956 Coleman married James Harry Coleman, of Melbourne, Victoria. They had three daughters, Carolyn Margaret Coleman, Susan Dinah Coleman, and Elizabeth Burns Coleman. [11]


  1. ^ "Honours for Marie Coleman". Economic S4W. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d "Coleman, Marie Yvonne, (AO, PSM) (1933-) - People and organisations". Trove. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Coleman, Marie Yvonne (1933- )". The Australian Women's Register. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  4. ^ "National Social Welfare Commission (1972-1975)". The Australian Women's Register. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Our Champions - Marie Coleman AO PSM". National Foundation of Women. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  6. ^ "COLEMAN, Marie Yvonne". Australian Honours Research Facility - Dept of Prime Minister & Cabinet. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  7. ^ "COLEMAN, Marie Yvonne". Australian Honours Search Facility - Dept of Prime Minister & Cabinet. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  8. ^ "Victorian Honour Roll of Women 2017 - pdf" (PDF). Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  9. ^ "ACT Senior Australian of the Year 2011". Australian of the Year Awards. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  10. ^ "COLEMAN, Marie Yvonne". Australian Honours Search Facility - Dept of Prime Minister & Cabinet. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  11. ^ Melbourne, National Foundation for Australian Women and The University of. "Coleman, Marie Yvonne - Woman - The Australian Women's Register". Retrieved 29 October 2019.