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Media + Events

Farewell Anne Phelan OAM

09/12/2019

Vale Annie Phelan, the highly awarded actor and passionate activist for social justice (1948 – 2019).

Annie became our Patron in 2000, marking a key era for Positive Women Victoria (PWV). With our CEO at the time, Stephanie Moore, PWV was committed to using our faces and voices to educate the community, and to fight the stigma and discrimination, especially faced by women living with HIV.

Annie worked closely with Stephanie; bringing creative, artistic networks which lifted our visibility and work to new heights. For example, playwright Graham Pitts crafted the stories of our HIV positive members into monologues performed at World AIDS Day events, culminating in the play “All in the Family”, which was listed for VCE Theatre Studies in 2006.

Annie’s performance of Sandy Porter’s story at a regional Pacific Country Women’s conference, helped link PWV with the Country Women’s Association.

Graham was also a co-creator behind the stunning photographic exhibition “A Body of Knowledge”— a 2007 community arts project that focused on empowering members and raising wider awareness about all women living with HIV.

Annie personally knew our members, such as Sandy, Susan, Heather, Deanna, and especially the late great Sonja Ristov. She was the warm, funny, compassionate, straight-talking earth mother that she often portrayed in her iconic character roles.

We were all overjoyed when she was reunited with her daughter, Sandra, who Annie had relinquished after a teenage pregnancy. This brought much happiness and peace in the last years of Annie’s life.

Annie died aged 71 after her health declined. She had planned her memorial service, aptly titled “We’ve Lost that Loving Phelan”. It was a celebration with songs, stories and many loving memories.

She left the stage for the last time, her coffin draped with a Collingwood scarf. Annie will remain much loved, and never to be forgotten.

Written by Suzanne Lau Gooey — a former PWV Board member serving for nine years between 2000 and 2013, as Chair 2001-2002 and Vice Chair 2003-2004. She retired as a health professional in 2012 and works in the disability sector.

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On Monday 18 November, Melbourne gave a grand farewell to the wonderful actress, Annie Phelan.

Annie was the Patron of Positive Women Victoria (PWV) for the past 20 years. I met her in 2000 — via Sonja Ristov, the second Chair of PWV — and immediately fell in love with this feisty woman who swore like a trooper, had an acute sense of social justice, and took shit from nobody. She cared about everybody and didn’t give a damn what people thought about her. A few years ago, she found the daughter she had relinquished decades previously, and she was overcome with joy.

Annie was nearly four years older than me, but there were many intersections. We came from working-class families. We had both marched in the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations 50 years ago and I had worked in theatre for many years. I spent many times at her old home, a little wooden church in Romsey, drinking Jameson whiskey and cursing world affairs. I am just one of the scores of people who loved Annie and held her dear.

She was a warm, noble, embracing, woman and I cannot imagine that we may ever have a Patron as wonderful as the gorgeous Annie Phelan, Top Dog.

Written by Dr Susan Paxton — a PWV member, has lived with HIV for over 30 years. She is a strong advocate for the sexual and reproductive rights of all women living with HIV.