Honouring Margaret Jones: 1927-2019

It is with an extremely heavy heart that we share some devastating news. Margaret Jones, one of Redfern Legal Centre’s longest-serving volunteers, has passed away, aged 91. Margaret died peacefully in her sleep on Saturday 2 February 2019.

Margaret Jones (right) was a passionate advocate for the union movement and women's rights.

Margaret Jones was an extraordinary woman who always marched to the beat of her own drum. She devoted her life to social change politics, advocating for a broad range of issues including women’s liberation, the union movement and LGBT rights.

As was typical for many Irish working-class families of her time, Margaret was removed from school at the age of 14 and sent out into the workforce to support her family. Without any formal training, she cut her teeth as a ‘Girl Friday’ in law offices during the 1940s and went on to maintain a long and successful career as a managing clerk at various Sydney law firms.

She first joined RLC in 1977 as a volunteer office manager for our evening advice service, while working by day as a legal clerk at a Redfern law firm. She went on to volunteer at other organisations including Welfare Rights Centre.

An ardent feminist and self-described lesbian separatist, Margaret came out as a lesbian in the 1950s – an extremely brave move for a woman of her time. She was a founding member of CAMP Inc, the first gay and lesbian rights organisation in Australia, and attended the first Mardi Gras protest of 1978.

Margaret was passionate about advancing the rights of women and championing the achievements of women in public life. She was instrumental in putting many women forward for Australia Day Honours, including Mary Waterford, Trish Doyle MP, Roxanne McMurray, and former RLC CEO, Helen Campbell AOM.

Margaret was also the biggest contributor of nominations to the Ernie Awards for Sexist Behaviour and is responsible for the most wins in the award’s history, earning her the title of “Queen of the Ernies”.

Margaret Jones (centre)  at the 2018 Ernie Awards. 

Retiring at age 60, Margaret showed no signs of slowing down. She immediately took up an arts degree at Macquarie University where she specialised in women’s studies, studying alongside political luminaries including Sally McManus, Tanya Plibersek, MP and Trish Doyle MP.

In 2006 she returned to RLC, where she spent the last 12 years deftly handling client intake on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, as well as being a mainstay of our drop-in JP service.

Margaret gained many accolades for her volunteer work. In 2011, she received the Senior Highly Commended Volunteer of the Year Award, presented to her at Parliament House by the Hon Victor Dominello MP, Minister for Volunteering, as well as the MP's Volunteer of the Year Award, presented by the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP.

“… what really stands out about Margaret is not so much her considerable wisdom as her boundless compassion for those who are in difficult circumstances. Her staunch defence of people who are impoverished, marginalised and alienated; her comprehensive understanding of human rights in a very practical context; and her willingness to befriend the most difficult of customers has been for many staff and volunteers at Redfern Legal Centre a real eye-opener!” –  Helen Campbell AOM.

L-R: Helen Campbell AOM, Hilary Chesworth (RLC Administrator), Margaret Jones, and the Hon Tanya Plibersek, MP.

In 2012, film producers Rose Tracey and Spencer Austad made a documentary about Margaret’s life, Seeing Margaret Jones. The film highlighted Margaret’s many achievements, speaking to friends and colleagues including Tanya Plibersek MP, Sally McManus, Dr Mary Spongberg, Dr Meredith Burgmann, Helen Campbell AOM and Trish Doyle.

In 2018 during National Volunteer Week, Margaret was awarded the Counterpoint Founders’ Choice Award in recognition of her tireless volunteering work and her years of dedicated service to the community.

RLC staff and volunteers alike depended on Margaret’s many talents, including her razor-sharp proof-reading abilities (“has Margaret checked this yet?”), her flamboyant, no-nonsense manner, and her immense knowledge of Australia’s legal and political landscape.

Margaret was a uniquely passionate and principled woman and the example she set remains an inspiration. She will be deeply missed by all of us. What an amazing legacy her life leaves. 

Margaret Jones received the Counterpoint Founders' Choice Award during National Volunteering Week, May 2018.

Watch the documentary Seeing Margaret Jones below: