Union stalwart Susan Hopgood has left an indelible mark on the shape of public education in this country and abroad.
It’s impossible to underestimate the enormous impact that Susan Hopgood has had on education in this country since she first became a mathematics teacher at Preston East High School in 1974. That was the start of an illustrious journey that would lead to her playing a significant role in shaping Australia’s union movement, becoming the first woman ever elected as federal secretary of the AEU in 2006.
Susan has had a remarkable career chock full of incredible accomplishments, including becoming vice president of the ACTU, and president of Education International (EI). An indomitable force for good in the fight for robust public education in this country, there would be few who have worked in the sector and not come across her wise counsel.
Branch secretary Erin Aulich says Susan has been an important mentor for many women in the union movement, herself included. “Susan’s ability to think big-picture and also be across the smallest detail, as well as her natural empathy and strong relationships, make her unique,” Erin says.
Susan was born in the town of Cohuna in northern Victoria, not far from the NSW border. One of seven children, she was not the only one destined to take on a leadership role within the AEU. Her sister, Meredith Peace, followed in her footsteps, becoming the Victorian branch president. Community values were instilled in the sisters early, their parents raising them as strong women, with a commitment to social justice and the importance of education.
Never losing sight of her mother’s lessons, Susan has been a staunch champion for gender equality all her working life.
Susan moved to the bright lights of Melbourne to study a Bachelor of Arts followed by a Diploma of Education at Monash University, becoming heavily involved in the passionate student politics of the day. She was particularly active in campus-led pushbacks against the oppressive system of apartheid, and also as a pacifist against conscription.
Joining the then Victorian Secondary Teachers Association (VSTA) in her first year at Preston East High School, Susan moved over to Koonung High School in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs five years later, where she became a branch representative. During her time at the VSTA, Susan flourished under the mentorship of Mary Bluett, who actively encouraged her to stand for election to the branch council.
Elected to the VSTA Council in 1984, Susan was duly appointed Women’s Officer and tasked with overseeing the implementation of the union’s affirmative action policy. She was a committed member of the women-led caucus, the Open Sub-Committee on Women.
Her dedication to the union saw Susan elected general secretary of the VSTA in 1985, a role she held until the union’s amalgamation with the Teachers Federation of Victoria a decade later, which ultimately led to the formation of the Victorian branch of the AEU.
At this point, Susan stepped into the Women’s Officer role at a federal level, and one year later she was elected deputy federal secretary of the AEU. In this role, she was introduced to the union’s work with overseas equivalents. It was part of the job she remained enthusiastically committed to through her role as president of EI, the global federation of education unions representing 32.5 million educators across 171 countries.
Never losing sight of her mother’s lessons, Susan has been a staunch champion for gender equality all her working life. Recently, she wrote passionately about the ways in which climate change disproportionately impacts on women and girls in a column marking International Women’s Day for EI.
She may be retiring from the federal AEU, but her dedication to the cause will continue in her role as EI President.
We want to acknowledge and to thank Susan for all she has done for public education, gender equality, social justice and the union movement in Australia.