Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jean Dorothy Sinclair (1940–1991)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published:

Jean Dorothy Noelle Sinclair (1940-1991), political staff worker, was born on 11 May 1940 at Coulsdon, Surrey, England, third of five children of Alec Morgan Parker, actuary, and his wife Caroline Noelle, née Perkins. When she was six she migrated to Melbourne with her family; they settled at Brighton. Jean was educated (1946-56) at Merton Hall (Melbourne Church of England Girls’ Grammar School), where she studied British history, social studies, English, and biology. In her final year she was appointed a councillor (prefect). Matriculating at the age of sixteen, she proceeded to the University of Melbourne (BCom, 1960). After working for an investment consultant, James Cowan, she toured Europe and the Soviet Union. Returning to Melbourne, she took a post with McKinsey & Co., international management consultants, as a researcher working with (Sir) Roderick Carnegie. Her work included stints in the company’s office in New York. On 4 March 1968 at John Knox Presbyterian Church, Gardenvale, she married William Angus Sinclair, who had been her economic history lecturer. They spent a sabbatical year overseas in 1970.

In 1973 Sinclair responded to a small advertisement in the Age and was appointed personal assistant to the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Robert J. (Bob) Hawke. Although she claimed to know nothing about unionism, she rapidly reduced the chaotic office of the ACTU to order. Six weeks after she began, Hawke’s appointment to the presidency of the Australian Labor Party increased the volume of work. She joined the ALP while working at the ACTU. Small with elfin features and a warm smile, Sinclair ruled the office pleasantly but firmly, determining who had access to Hawke, driving him to appointments, travelling with him, and handling with calm efficiency his public and personal affairs, while maintaining a professional distance between them.

When, in 1980, Hawke was elected to the House of Representatives for the seat of Wills, Sinclair became his senior political staffer. In 1973 Angus Sinclair had been appointed professor of economic history at Flinders University, Adelaide. He returned to Melbourne as dean of the faculty of economics and politics at Monash University in 1983, just as Hawke’s accession to the leadership of the Opposition and subsequent election as prime minister ensured that Canberra would be the centre of Jean’s activities. Both committed to their work, the Sinclairs shared weekends in their terraced house in East Melbourne or in Adelaide or Canberra. Although Jean enjoyed opera and reading, her weekend leisure was frequently interrupted by phone calls.

Sinclair was Hawke’s senior adviser for eighteen years, a loyal friend, confidante, and defender. Graham Freudenberg described her as ‘Hawke’s right arm’ (Ramsey 1991, 25). Remaining factionally unaligned, she was perceptive and honest in her judgements and Hawke valued her as a sounding board. Although she did not seek to influence policy decisions, her opinion was often sought. In Canberra as in Melbourne, she was admired and respected for her quiet strength, her common sense, her warmth, and her wry humour. Freudenberg, who shared an office with her on Hawke’s staff, saw her as ‘a river of calm’ (Hawley 1988, 18). Her working relationship with Hawke ended only when she died of cancer on 9 September 1991 at East Melbourne. After a funeral at St Peter’s Anglican Church, Eastern Hill, Melbourne, she was buried in Flinders cemetery, Victoria. Her husband survived her. To her sorrow, they had no children.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • D’Alpuget, Blanche. Robert J. Hawke: A Biography. Melbourne: Schwartz/Lansdowne Press, 1982
  • D’Alpuget, Blanche. Hawke: The Prime Minister. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2010
  • Gordon, Michael. ‘Passing of the PM’s Right-Hand Woman.’ Age (Melbourne), 15 September 1991, 7
  • Hawley, Janet. ‘The Other Woman in Bob Hawke’s Life.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 24 December 1988, Good Weekend 16-25
  • Ramsey, Alan. ‘Jean Sinclair: Hawke Loses His Right Hand.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 14 September 1991, 25
  • Sinclair, Angus. Personal communication
  • Wyndham, Susan. ‘Jean Sinclair, the Quiet Grammar School-Educated Woman in Bob Hawke’s Office.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 31 July 1982, 30.

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Sinclair, Jean Dorothy (1940–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2014, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Parker, Jean Dorothy

11 May, 1940
Coulsdon, Surrey, England


9 September, 1991 (aged 51)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (uterine)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Political Activism