Betty Hounslow - Vale

Vale Betty Hounslow 

It is with great sadness that SEARCH reports the death of Betty Hounslow. Betty was a committed activist whose work for rights and social justice took almost too many forms to count, a wise counsellor, and a great comrade and friend. 

Our deepest condolences go to her partner, Kate Harrison, and her sisters, Mary and Margaret Hounslow, together with her many, many friends, comrades and colleagues whose lives she always touched so deeply. Betty died on 27 July from an underlying health condition that suddenly became more serious. Her life will be celebrated at a memorial gathering at Glebe Town Hall at 1pm on Wednesday 9th August.

Betty was a firm socialist, but of the most open, questioning and non-dogmatic kind. She was a socialist feminist and a member of the Socialist Lesbians, later Socialist Lesbians and Male Homosexuals. She was briefly a supporter of the Trotskyist Communist League, then joined the CPA from the 1980s until it was wound up in 1991. Betty was an original member of the Marrickville Branch of the CPA and along with Joyce Stevens, Margo Moore and others, engaged and furthered socialist feminism activism within and outside the party. Betty then joined the New Left Party and since then has been a member of the SEARCH Foundation.

Betty played a huge role in the struggle for LBGTQI rights. She was a 78er and helped organise the 1981 Mardi Gras Parade. She was an inaugural Management Committee member of First Mardi Gras Inc. and a member of the Mardi Gras 78ers Committee. Betty assisted in the development of the AIDS Council of NSW between 1985-1990. In 1983 Betty was the founder of the Gay and Lesbian Immigration Task Force. She was officially canonised by Mother Inferior of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, as Saint Betty Therese of the Holy Face (of Jesus), for her work on gay and lesbian immigration. Betty was also a member of the Gay Liberation Quire.

In the early 70s Betty was for a short time a Sister of Mercy in Queensland. Afterwards, she became involved in community activism, such as the Queensland anti-freeway protests in 1974. But it was in her fight for rights of all kinds that she made her deepest mark. Betty’s fight for rights and justice was very broad, covering anti-racism, women’s refuges, Indigenous rights, asylum seekers’ rights, international human rights and the rights and needs of low-income people.

In 1977 she gained the first funding to meet the childcare needs of women in refuges through Marrickville Women’s Refuge. She was involved with the Marrickville Legal Centre and worked at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. In the early 1990s she worked for the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia on human rights issues. In the 2000s Betty served as the Deputy CEO of the Fred Hollows Foundation.

From 1994 – 2001 Betty was the Executive Director of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), for much of that time facing the challenge of the new Howard Government.

In paying tribute to Betty this week, current ACOSS Director, Cassandra Goldie, described her as “the mighty social advocate Betty Hounslow … A canny strategist and a great tactician - she combined these with genuine humility and disarming humour to forge great gains on almost every issue she worked on”. “… as Executive Director of ACOSS, she campaigned forcefully improving the lives of people on low incomes. ACOSS’ contribution to the national debate on taxation reform helped to achieve the exclusion of food from the GST, as well as improved compensation for low-income people and a reduced GST burden on charitable organisations.”

Betty was awarded the Justice Medal in 2003 for outstanding achievement in improving access to justice in NSW, including recognition of her success in lobbying for changes to legislation regarding gay and lesbian immigration, and in 2013 she was made a Member of the Order of Australia for ‘significant service to the community through organisations promoting social justice, Indigenous health and human rights’. 

Betty shared her knowledge, skills and commitment across so many organisations. She was Chair of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia (RDVA) for a period, Vice President of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), she was a member of the board of the Asylum Seekers Centre for over a decade and Chair from 2018-2021, a board member of Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA since 2018, as their expert appointee, advising on development, and a member of the Mardi Gras 78ers Committee.

That leadership and service will be deeply missed and will not be forgotten. Betty was an outstanding person with a brilliant mind who saw to the heart of issues and could bring people together to work for social justice.

Vale Betty. 

- Jacquie Widin and Adam Farrar


The memorial ceremony for Betty Hounslow will commence at 1:30pm but people will be able to join us on live-stream from 1:15pm.

Topic: Memorial Service for Betty Hounslow

Time: Aug 9, 2023 01:15 PM Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney

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Meeting ID: 897 0490 3313


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