As same sex couples around Australia begin to realise their dream of saying ‘I do’, a woman who was instrumental in making it happen is now out of a job and couldn’t be happier.
Elaine Czulkowski always had a desire to succeed in life she just didn’t know in what field it would be. Her passion for tipping the scales of inequality period is spurred on by a belief that if you do good things, good things will happen. And she has more to do before fulfilling her own dream of retiring in Spain.
Marriage equality is now a reality. Did the Yes Vote unfold like you expected?
For ten years we talked about what it was going to be like? Where we would be? What we never imagined was that realisation of this dream would be in a park surrounded by thousands of people waiting for a vote result. We thought it would just be done through Parliament. We hoped that a few people would turn up for the result announcement but literally thousands turned up. Standing on stage was horrible because it does cross your mind that we might just lose. We were holding each other’s hands. It was both one of the best moments of my life and a relief.
The vote means the majority of Australians have validated who the LGBTI community are but it’s actually just another step in LGBTI rights. There is still a lot of work to do with the transsexual community, safe schools and youth programs.
Was your passion for the campaign in part motivated by your own sexuality?
My sexuality hasn’t really been an issue in my life, which is a bit weird and it’s not why I campaign. It was only very recently in an article for the New York Times that I publicly stated for the first time that I am bisexual.
I learnt about inequality early on from growing up in a rough area in North East England. I quickly realised if you didn’t have the right accent or go to the right school it was hard. I had a polish name and it cut me off straight away from certain aspirations. I left school at 16 because we didn’t have the money to go to university but I have had a lucky life, a good life, made good connections. Not everyone is that lucky.
You’re now out of a job?
Yes (laughs). There are mixed feelings. It was strange and a bit of an anti-climax when the campaign team were taking down the posters. We’ve been together for an intense and emotional 18 months. This was not a political campaign it was about people’s lives. I say to people we probably don’t realise what we have done. It was a unique experience and one that I will treasure. I’ve decided I really want to stay in philanthropy fundraising.
Is this the life you imagined?
No not at all. I always knew I wanted to succeed but just didn’t know at what. At 57 I feel like I have had three lives. The young English single woman travelling to Europe life, the period I was married to a man, then the crazy 15 years of being part of the LGBTI community, working in charities and not for profits and corporate. I came out to marry an Australian guy and I was only planning to stay for two years that was 28 years ago.
Which women have had the greatest influence on you?
My mum and sister are my role models; they always worked hard and believed that if you are a good person doing good things, good things will happen to you. Mum worked as a cleaner, she ensured we had clean clothes and were well fed. We didn’t have holidays or treats but she was always doing her best for us. Mum made sure we did our homework, read to us, fed the kids in the neighbourhood and taught them how to bake and knit. She was remarkable and my best friend.
My sister Margaret is seven years older than me. I followed her out to Australia and then she moved back to England seven years ago. She is a ‘doer’ and goes around the town teaching kids to grow potatoes. She’s always been there for me.
The women I have worked with in the in the corporate world have also been a great inspiration. They managed the work life balance and were big drivers in the marriage equality campaign.
When has life given you lemons and how did you deal with it?
I’ve been quite lucky. I’m resilient and tough so I often deal with things on my own but the absolute toughest was when my mum died unexpectedly 12 years ago. It’s still hard to talk about now I thought she would live to a ripe old age.
I miss her fun. She would have been on a Mardi Gras float, she would have loved it. What I miss most are our Sunday night chats. I go to the pub to fill that void but I still cook my roast lamb every Sunday lunch with Yorkshire pudding, just like she used to do. We’d have a few gin and tonics and watch East Enders.
When my sister returned to the UK I wondered why I was still in Sydney and thought maybe I should go back. But there was still a lot to do for the Marriage Equality campaign and I knew I’d never be able to move until we got Marriage Equality, so maybe next year who knows. I speak a lot to my sister and two friends back home. Most of the time all you need is someone willing to listen. Having someone who is a good listener really makes a difference; sometimes there isn’t anything anyone can say.
What mark would you like to leave?
Given that I don’t have children I used to think once I go people will say ‘who was that girl again?’ Having been part of Marriage Equality for so long I would like to think that someone would remember me.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I love formula one and I enjoy rowing, I learnt to row three years ago. I’d like to eventually live in Spain in a town outside of Barcelona. I still cook a roast for myself, sometimes friends come around but I’ll also happily cook just for me. And I make my gravy from scratch; my mother would turn in her grave if I used Gravox.