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Mel Justice Memorial Speech

26 May 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak about the passing of a respected community leader: Mel Justice, the Principal of Aldinga Beach Primary. Mel passed away suddenly on the morning of 14 April this year and her passing has been felt greatly by the Aldinga Beach community and of course by her friends and family. I want to in particular acknowledge the presence of her partner, Charlie, her sister, Kylie, and her good friend Brett, who are here in the gallery today.

Mel was born in Holbrook, the eldest daughter of Iris Nobbs and Phillip Justice. She went to the local primary school and later Billabong High, both public schools. Mel was a strong believer in public education. She later left Holbrook and went to study teaching at university. Family was very important to Mel. She helped care for both her father and her mother during ill health and was a loving and supportive sister to Kylie. She also had a big network and family of friends.

Mel had a deep respect for Indigenous culture. This comes from her family background. Her late mother, Iris, was born on Norfolk Island. As an educator, Mel was able to encourage this respect for First Nations people among her students. Following her death, many in the Aldinga Beach school community have recognised the significant contribution that Mel made in this regard, ensuring that Aboriginal culture was genuinely embraced and accepted within her school.

Mel had a rich and diverse professional life. In 2001, she took a break from teaching and completed a Diploma in Natural Resource Management. She worked briefly as a kitchen hand in a nursing home with her sister, Kylie, and she later moved to the South-East with her then partner Annmarie and secured a role as a biodiversity officer.

Mel later returned to Adelaide and went back to teaching, initially as a relief teacher at Christie Downs Primary School. For almost 15 years, Mel worked across various schools. She gained a reputation as an educator who worked with students who experienced social disadvantage. She took on a literacy role at Aldinga Beach Primary School and later went on to become the deputy and then the school's principal. She was the principal of Aldinga Beach Primary School for the last four years, a role that I know she really loved.

Following Mel's passing, Anne Millard, the Executive Director of Partnerships, Schools and Preschools, wrote an article for department educators, and stated:

…for many that knew Mel she was justice by name, justice by nature. Social justice and equity were at the core of everything Mel did and stood for.

Knowing Mel, I can certainly confirm that that was true. The qualities that made Mel a wonderful teacher—her genuine care and interest in people, her amazing capacity to listen and her innate wisdom—also made her a great friend and I will certainly miss our many conversations about love, life and politics over the years, and of course her wonderful sense of humour and infectious laugh.

It is testament to the big impact that Mel had on her community that there has been such a strong reaction to her death from teachers, parents and children at the school. At a recent service celebrating Mel's life, students spoke passionately about the positive impact she had on them. Flowers, candles and cards were also laid out at the school oval in memorial to Mel's life. As is often said, a good teacher is like a candle: it consumes itself to light the way for others, and this was certainly true of Mel. She was a teacher who was committed to changing lives and to helping young people reach their full potential.

In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to reflect on my friendship with Mel. We met through our mutual friend, Brett Bartel, about 15 years ago and we had many good times over the years. I always appreciated her sympathetic ear and wise advice. I recall a discussion after the 2016 federal election when I had lost my Senate seat. At that time, I was contemplating giving up on electoral politics and I remember that Mel discouraged me from this. I am certainly thankful to her for saying the right thing at the right time and I know she would have been excited to see me here in the parliament giving things another go.

Mel was a proud member of the LGBTI community in our state. She was a regular attendee at Picnic in the Park. She resisted many efforts to join the Feast board. She was also a big lover of the WOMADelaide festival and really looked forward to that event. It would be remiss to talk about Mel's life without mentioning her love of dogs. Her first dog, Pablo, was a loyal companion for 12 years. She later had Gypsy and more recently Jackson and they were a big part of her family.

When someone dies suddenly and at such a young age—Mel was only 54—it is natural for those who are left behind to question why. They say that a life that touches others goes on forever. Mel's time with us was too short, but she made a big impact and it is only appropriate that her impactful life is recorded in the Hansard of our parliament.