Ita Buttrose, Australia Day & Shanghai {all in the same room, at the same time} – Plus Ate Six

When this month’s Australian Shanghai Association’s newsletter announced that Ita Buttrose would be the guest speaker at a special AusCham Australia Day Women in Leadership lunch it took me all of two seconds to RSVP.

I don’t know about you, but it’s not every day I get to have lunch with not only an Australian icon, but a true trailblazer for Australian women.  And on Australia Day too no less. It’s been pretty grim around these parts lately pollution-wise and every one seems to be suffering from one lurgy or another, so it’s fair to say that this event brought a much needed ray of Aussie sunshine into Shanghai yesterday.

The event was held at the Andaz in Xintiandi and the ticket stated the event ran from 1130am to 2pm. I hate being late for anything so I was shocked when I arrived at 1130am to see around thirty people already mingling outside the ballroom sipping on champagne {or water}. There was definitely a sense of anticipation and excitement as we waited outside the ballroom ahead of lunch with much talk of the now infamous Cleo centrefolds and how shocking {and educational!} they had been for many of the audience at the time.

The doors opened promptly at noon and what a lovely surprise it was to see an Australian themed lunch although if I’d put any thought into it, it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all…..

You know my love for all things licorice so the soup caught my eye straight away. Alas, this cold I’ve been fighting off for a week got the better of my tastebuds and I didn’t get any sense of licorice at all. The soup was piping hot though and super smooth and went down a treat.

The main course of Australian lamb was just beautifully cooked and served medium rare – just as it should be. The Australia Day lamb advert was shown just before lunch – the first time I’d seen it so it was funny to see Ita featuring in it. She commented that no one back home would believe she had watched the advert in Shanghai on Australia Day and then sat down and ate lamb too – it was a bit surreal to be honest.

Towards the end of the main course, Ita took to the stage and began her speech.

What can I say? She is exactly as you’d imagine her to be – gracious, amusing, forthright and passionate about Alzheimers, dementia and the elderly – the causes she championed when she was 2013 Australian of the Year.

She reminded us that it’s easy to forget in the midst of bad news about industry back home and jobs going overseas, that there are Australian innovations in health and technology to be proud of – the cochlear implant, the cervical cancer vaccine and the pioneering of Wifi to name a few.

For any non-Australians reading, in 1972 Ita was the founding editor of Cleo {the Australian equivalent of Cosmo at the time} which not only featured nude male centrefolds but published very frank sexual articles for the time too. She was only 32 years old at the time.

In 1975 she was appointed editor of the Australian Women’s Weekly – the largest selling magazine per capita in the world at the time. She worked with and for the giants of the newspaper world – Sir Frank Packer and Rupert Murdoch. All this and she was a working mother of two.

Asked how she managed to rise above the glass ceiling she said ‘I just did. Remember you’re entitled to be there and never be daunted by an obstacle – just find a way around it and move on.’ She also reminded us that good times always follow bad times – no matter how bad it gets, it always gets better. Words of wisdom I wish I’d heard when I was twenty-something year old broker in the City and the recipient of the sort of sexual harassment that would make your eyes water and toes curl!

I was shocked to hear her tell us that companies in Australia are just not interested in hiring anyone over fifty. Isn’t sixty supposed to be the new forty? I’d like to think I’ve got a few years left in me when we get back to Australia!

The dessert of sticky date pudding with caramel sauce was the only disappointment of the day – maybe the Q&A’s went on for too long, but the pudding was luke warm and the sauce was cold. To be honest it didn’t really matter by then – it was all about Ita Buttrose not the food!

The lunch was over way too quickly. Ita herself is over seventy and looks amazing for it {I hope that’s not a terribly ageist thing to say}. Her energy, formidable spirit and passion for people and life are obvious – what an inspiration and a breathe of fresh air.

Talking of which – I think she must have magical powers because the skies have cleared today.

How did you spend the long weekend? Have you ever met an Aussie icon? What question would you have asked Ita?

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