Mary Crooks - Changemaker

Mary Crooks AO is a feminist advocate and changemaker who exemplifies what some might call ‘old school’ feminism. She is a champion of grassroots democracy and collective power building. As Executive director of the Victorian Women’s Trust since 1996, Mary is perhaps best described as the founding mother of the ‘Kitchen Table Conversations’, a model of community-based collaboration and solution shaping that she developed two decades ago. Hugely successful, the model has been used broadly across community and government projects, and most recently to build powerful, well informed support bases for independent political candidates. In 1998 she developed the Purple Sage Project, a huge exercise in participatory democracy that involved over 6000 citizens.

A collective purist at heart, Mary is a listener and a connector. Her early career as an economist and sharp thinker saw her catapulted to the pointy end of policy-making in her home state of Victoria, where she worked as an advisor and speech writer to the legendary Labor Premier John Cain. 

One of those indefatigable women changemakers who never runs out of puff, Mary has devoted her life to improving the lives and rights of women. A legend in feminist circles, Mary is also no slouch when it comes to standing up to the ‘the man’, or the woman for that matter! She has famously pushed back against public criticism and those moments of ‘white-hot anger’. 

This conversation with Mary is the third in our Changemaker series, in which we highlight the extraordinary efforts of audacious and gutsy Australian women. As guest curator of a new exhibition, ‘Australian Women Changemakers’, which opened at the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD) in June 2022, BroadTalk host Virginia Haussegger has spent hundreds of hours pouring over feminist activism and advocacy, chasing that holy grail of insight about ‘what makes a changemaker?’. In the series we explore the courage, motivations and importantly the cost of being a changemaker.

BroadTalk is produced by Martyn Pearce for BroadTalk Media.

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