Former Victorian police commissioner Christine Nixon reflects on the tragic Bourke Street attack, six months on.
Former Victorian police commissioner Christine Nixon reflects on the tragic Bourke Street attack, six months on. Aaron Francis

Trailblazer Christine Nixon with much more to do

CHRISTINE Nixon is a woman of conviction who has stood in the line of fire in so many ways.

She's an outstanding changemaker and leader with a deep sense of community who at age 66 is facing her own and her family's realities of ageing.

Ms Nixon was the first woman in Australia to be appointed a police commissioner, taking on the role in Victoria in 2001 and holding it for eight years.

She climbed up through the ranks, never wavering from her belief that her gender was irrelevant in relation to her ability to be a leader... but the appointment still came as a surprise.

"I was shocked,” she said, having previously applied unsuccessfully for both the South Australia and the NSW police commissioner jobs.

"I figured I had a lot knowledge and skills, experience and exposure. My father was the one who encouraged me to think about Victoria.

"I never thought a NSW police officer would get to be the police commissioner in Victoria.

"It was very public, very high profile; it was a tricky job.”

And the support of her father wasn't always there. When she decided to enter the NSW police force aged 19, it was against his will.

"In those days there were very few opportunities,” she said, with the job choices for women mainly secretarial, nursing or teaching.

"University was out of the question for many reasons,” she said. "I wasn't really taken by the options and my father was a police officer. And I was tall enough, just.”

She had to wait several months before she was accepted in October 1972. In those days the NSW police had a quota of only 130 women.

There were many highs and a few low points in her outstanding career.

"Few women are in high-profile roles, so you are very likely to attract a lot of attention and a lot of heat,” Ms Nixon said. "Until we get to a point where a woman in a senior position is not anything unusual, and I think we are a long way from there, then you know you are going to get criticised. Part of it is knowing it's going to happen. Sometimes you have stuffed it up and sometimes you are just being blamed.”

Working Monday to Friday has finally stopped for Ms Nixon after 38 years on the police force and 15 months working as Chair of the Victorian Bushfire Reconciliation and Recovery Authority. But that doesn't mean she has stopped working per se.

She took her own advice of thinking about what was going to happen next before she made the decision to leave the force.

"I decided I wanted to be involved in some not-for-profit organisations and I thought I would sit on some boards, perhaps for companies,” Ms Nixon said. "I also decided that I knew a lot about women's leadership, and I wanted to encourage women to think about taking up management and leadership positions.”

Most recently, she completed the role of Chair of the national organisation Good Shepherd Microfinance, which she started in 2012.

The sisters of Good Shepherd of Australia and New Zealand wanted a much greater focus on their no-interest loans, and they asked Ms Nixon to set up the organisation and chair the board.

"I told them I didn't know a lot about microfinance, but I did know lots about people who are poor and need support and shouldn't be exploited,” she said, with the organisation now providing about 30,000 loans a year.

"The loans are available to anyone across Australia who are pensioners,” she said proudly.

Ms Nixon's current roles are chair of Monash College in Melbourne and a councillor and deputy chancellor at Monash University. She also leads conversations on women's leadership as a result the Women Leading book she co-wrote with Professor Amanda Sinclair and presents to conferences and events on organisational change.

She has about 18 months to go on current commitments and then will turn her focus back to advocating for reducing violence against women.

"While I was in the police, I spent a lot of time working with community organisations about family violence,” she said. "I am also a patron of Family Violence Centre and I am on the university advisory group.”

Ms Nixon's life is anything but ordinary, yet the way she has coped with the stresses of life in the past and present is not dissimilar to many of us.

In Sydney, her ageing father of 92 is steadfastly still living at home since losing his wife to dementia three years ago. Ms Nixon's brother lives nearby, and she talks to her father daily and visits often.

"You have to do some thinking about the future but certainly I know a vast amount of people finish up dying in their own homes, not in a nursing home,” she said.

Her life at home in a country town outside of Melbourne is happily filled with mosaics, painting and drawing.

The backyard has two sheds: one for her creative work and another for her husband John Becquet's work on technology interests.

"What has driven us where we are now is a need for a community around us,” she said.

It's giving her the chance to become reconnected to people, something she really values.

Ms Nixon recognises we are all living in a state of flux but that doesn't mean that people like herself can't still effect positive change.

She has chosen not to go down the politics pathway, but instead use her leadership skills and community awareness to help create positive change elsewhere during what she calls the next phase of her life.

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