OAM for Mullumbimby campaigner
FAYE DRUETT spent much of her young life in hospital, cut off from her parents and, because of regulations in the 1950s, seeing her two sisters only rarely.
Although she could walk a short distance, the damage wrought by the rheumatoid arthritis she contracted at the age of 15 months meant she couldn’t climb stairs.
As a consequence, she had to attend what in those days was called a ‘special’ school.
“But I didn’t see what was all that special about it,” the 60-year-old Mullumbimby resident said.
“In fact the term had a negative connotation.
“I decided as a teenager to never again be so segregated from the mainstream.”
As a result, Ms Druett became a force to be reckoned with, lobbying to improve life for people with disabilities.
Her work is recognised today with the award of an Order of Australia Medal. She is the Northern Rivers’ only recipient this year.
Ms Druett’s CV reveals a range of advocacy and activism at the highest levels, a tireless campaign against discrimination wherever it exists.
While she admits to feeling honoured to having received the gong ‘for executive and advocacy roles in organisations’, her proudest moments relate to what she has achieved for individuals.
One example is taking the NSW Government to court to force it to allow a 10-year-old disabled boy to live with his parents.
And as a member of the Guardianship Tribunal, she engineered the movement of a woman with an intellectual disability from a care facility into a community group home.
“Now she is starting to learn to make her own breakfast,” Ms Druett said – an ‘amazing achievement’ for someone who has spent all her life in an institution.
Ms Druett moved to Mullumbimby from Sydney 12 years ago, attracted by the accepting community, and the fact the town was flat.
Plus, she had had enough of working 14-hour days.
Now aged 60 and dependent on visits from her home carer, Ms Druett said she has less energy than before. But her passion for equity shows few signs of flagging, and she still works two days a week.
“I don’t like discrimination on any level, and although there have been some changes, there is still a long way to go to improve things.”
People with disabilities are now able to attend mainstream schools and more of them are getting university qualifications, she said.
“But for people with an intellectual disability life’s still pretty tough. There are too many of them in prison, for example,” she said.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”