Our National Patron Dr John Tierney is one of a large contingent of NSW polio campaigners heading to Canberra on Wednesday 31 October 2012. As well as updating Polio Australia’s four Parliamentary Patrons about the late effects of polio, how they affect him, and what services he and his fellow polio survivors need, John will also be presenting  Polio Australia’s Petition  to these Federal Parliamentarians.

John contracted polio at birth when a careless doctor, who had previously attended a polio case, came to Cooma Hospital to deliver John in the summer of 1946, ten years before the polio vaccine. Sixty-five years later John retired in 2011, after six years as a Partner at Government Relations Australia Advisory and is now semi-retired, working as Special Counsel at 1st State Government and Corporate Relations. John has also undertaken pro bono government relations advisory work for Polio Australia, Polio NSW, Lifeline Australia, and the Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented.

Previously John gave 14 years of distinguished service to the Australian Parliament, where he served as Senator for NSW. In the parliament, as a polio survivor, he took a passionate interest in the area of disability. John was a special parliamentary adviser to the Minister for Community Services on disability matters. Prior to entering Parliament, John was a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Newcastle until 1991.

John has been married to Pam for 44 years. She was formerly the CEO of Lifeline Newcastle/Hunter and currently is an advocate for the homeless with the St Vincent de Paul Society. Pam and John live in Maitland in the Hunter Valley and have 6 children and 6 grandchildren — so far.

In the 2012 Australia Day Awards Dr Tierney was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM): “For service to the Parliament of Australia, to education, and to the community”.

The photos below were taken in Eden (far south coast of NSW) where John’s father Jim was the Principal of Eden Central School on Twofold Bay. The first photo was taken when John was 3 or 4 years old (circa 1949) on a warship that was visiting Twofold Bay and shows him without a calliper on his left leg. The second photo was taken about 2 years later on the Eden golf course where he was caddying for his father and shows John with a below-knee calliper on his left leg

What is a memorable childhood experience?

I was born into a family of athletes and in 1951, at the local school sports carnival, I lined up for the five-year-old, one hundred yards dash, with an iron caliper on my left leg. More then fifty years later, when I was retiring from the Senate, a parent who witnessed that event wrote to me, recalling the finish of that race: “John, you came a very poor last, but you were first in the hearts of all those who watched the race”.

How have the late effects of polio impacted on you?

I realized from the age of five that an athletic career was not for me and I turned to the world of ideas, with a strong determination to succeed academically. I overshot the mark somewhat, receiving three university degrees including a PhD in 1983. I have also had three careers: as an academic, a Senator, and a business partner, making me a classic polio overachiever. This also applied to family life where having six children turns out to be three times the national average.

Up to the age of 48, I thought that I had put polio behind me, but since that time (18 years), the relentless march of the late effects of polio (LEOP) means that each year I can do a bit less then previously. For many years now, I have been doing hydrotherapy every second day (walking my grand dog Leopold around the lagoon on the other days) and undertaking osteopathy every second week. I am convinced that these activities have slowed the rate of deterioration of my LEOP condition. If you can, you just have to keep moving.

Why are you going to Canberra?

For several years now as a pro bono government relations consultant to Polio Australia, I have been taking a delegation to Canberra to lobby for special funding for the half a million Australians who are experiencing LEOP. We have made a lot of progress in making the government and the parliament aware of our condition, but we still haven’t received any dedicated funding. With that polio survivor steely determination, I will continue lobbying until we do!

Which Members of Parliament are you meeting with?

The Hon Catherine King MP
Parliamentary Patron of Polio Australia
Member for Ballarat, Victoria
Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Transport; Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing
Party: Australian Labor Party
Chamber: House of Representatives

Ms Jill Hall MP
Parliamentary Patron of Polio Australia
Member for Shortland, NSW
Government Whip
Party: Australian Labor Party
Chamber: House of Representatives

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Parliamentary Patron of Polio Australia
Member for Flinders, Victoria
Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage
Party: Liberal Party of Australia
Chamber: House of Representatives

Mr Mark Coulton MP
Parliamentary Patron of Polio Australia
Member for Parkes, New South Wales
The Nationals Chief Whip
Party: The Nationals
Chamber: House of Representatives

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