Today’s birthday: Many Happy Returns to Dr Kerryn Phelps

dr phelps Jackie Stricker-Phelps
2001 Archibald Prize winning painting. 'Jackie and Kerryn' by Jenny Sages.

Many happy returns today to Dr Kerryn Phelps AM, born December 14, 1957. And wishing a wonderful day also to her wife Jackie Stricker-Phelps in consideration of a relationship and marriage which has proved an enduring partnership in every sense of the phrase.

Dr Kerryn Phelps became a popular media personality in the eighties. Through television, radio and print media, she advocated for Australians to make healthier choices in their lives, in a way audiences found relatable. In 1999, Dr Phelps was elected president of the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association and the following year, president of the national organisation.

What next, a lesbian?

At the time, crusty old conservatives still struggled to come to terms with Brendon Nelson’s tenure earlier in the decade. The man wore an earring for goodness sake.  And now a woman! What next, a lesbian?

Well actually yes, and by now, that was no secret. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph outed Kerryn Phelps and Jackie Stricker-Phelps a couple of years before.

“We had planned to tell our story,” said Jackie Stricker-Phelps, “but they got in first. We hadn’t had time to tell people, particularly at work.”

Jackie worked at the time as a teacher at a girls’ school. After the Telegraph outed the couple, newspaper columnist Bettina Arndt (yes, her again) quoted an anonymous parent quoting her also anonymous daughter.

“She’d adored this teacher. They all respected her and thought she was so cool. But they seemed shocked that she would go public on something like this. Many of the girls thought it was ‘tacky’.”

Arndt went on to complain, “There remain real questions about the damage to the education process of inappropriate public proselytising and media revelations of intimate private lives.”

Jackie Stricker-Phelps replied a couple of days later.

“What is so hard about telling a child there is diversity in the world?”

The AMA thought it was fine

Six-foot Japanese wrestler

Dr Rosanna Capolingua, later an AMA president herself, told the SMH that Kerryn’s election was ‘marvellous’.

“It wasn’t that we wanted to elect a woman. It wouldn’t have mattered if she’d been a six-foot Japanese wrestler. We wanted someone that understood the issues and she does.”

During her time at the AMA, Dr Phelps increased public awareness of First Nations health issues, introduced the discussion of the effects of climate change on public health into the public arena and raised concerns about medical workforce shortages, still a critical issue all these years later.


Elected to the Sydney City Council in 2016, Dr Phelps currently serves as an independent on the council. Kerryn Phelps also took a prominent role in the 2017 debate on same-sex marriage, appearing in an ad for the Yes campaign. She and Jackie Stricker married in a religious ceremony in New York in 1998, and then entered into a legal marriage in the same place in 2011.

In 2018, Dr Kerryn Phelps won the Sydney seat of Wentworth as an independent, achieving a swing of almost 20% against the Liberals. Her amendments to government legislation allowed doctors more say in the medical evacuations of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island to Australia. Consequently, after years of political and media demonisation of refugees and asylum seekers, Australians began to insist on a more humane approach.

Happy Birthday Dr Kerryn Phelps, and best wishes to both you and Jackie Stricker-Phelps.

ALSO: Kerryn Phelps On How She Became An ‘Accidental’ LGBTIQ Activist.

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