Lifestyle

It's not easy being Ipswich's first lady

MRS MAYOR: Janet Pisasale relaxes at home.
MRS MAYOR: Janet Pisasale relaxes at home. Claudia Baxter

THE first notion Janet Pisasale got that being married to a man in public life was going to be difficult was even before he was elected.

Which phrase best describes Paul Pisasale? Click here to vote in our poll

Paul had been our doorknocking as part of his campaign and if no one was home he would leave his card so they could call him later.

This time, the caller was a fed-up Vietnam vet who'd had enough on being robbed by youngsters on his way home from the pub.

"I'm home with the children, Paul is at a function and a drunk calls: 'Where's Paul Pisasale? I have to speak to him. It's a matter of life and death'," Janet recalls.

"I said I couldn't contact Paul because mobile phones weren't what they are now, but I asked if I could help.

"He said: 'I've just been rolled in the park. They get us every time when we're walking back home.'

"He said: 'I'm going to blow them away. I've been to Vietnam. I've got a gun under my bed. This is the last time. I've had enough.'

"I was trying to talk him out of it and thinking: I'm not meant to do this.

"With that, he hung up so I rang the police and it took me five minutes to try and explain the situation and by the time they got a car out there they had all gone home.

"So my introduction to him being a councillor was even before he was a councillor."

With that as an introduction to being the wife of a public figure, she admits she thought twice about it. It wouldn't be the last time.

Curiously, the idea of interviewing Janet came from Paul, who says he now knows the toll his public life had on his family's private life.

He also says he wants people to know the community work Janet has undertaken on top of raising the family virtually on her own.

"My family has suffered a lot and I didn't realise I'd hurt them so much," he says.

"It's only now they are older that my kids are telling me how much they were hurt.

"No one's ever done a story on the mayoress and the work she does behind the scenes. She goes to as many meetings as I do, but she's a quiet achiever.

"She knows what it's like being married to a bloke who's out there all the time, coming home late every night or coming home every second or third night; what it was like to raise the family and not have me around.

"I don't appreciate her enough.

"I don't think people appreciate the money she's raised and the people she's helped."

When the QT spoke to Janet Pisasale at home, she had just returned from a few days shopping with her daughter Lisa in Hong Kong.

She's dressed to handle the heat of a home that's been locked up and is waiting to pick up their dog Sam from the boarding kennel.

She concedes she's managed to avoid talking publicly about her life with Paul, but she sounds happy enough to chat about it now.

There's no bitterness in her voice as she describes the effect Paul's demanding public life has had on his wife and children.

"Paul didn't realise the impact he had on the family because, well, you know, Paul goes 90 miles an hour so he doesn't realise things until later," Mrs Pisasale said.

"Oh, it's had a big impact on the family. He has been to more sports games and watched every other child in Ipswich than he has to see his own children play sport.

"I think once he took James to cross-country for St Edmund's. My job was 24 hours a day for Paul to be a politician.

"We had three children so I did the sports, the education, the bringing up of the children, the things like that.

"All of our children have played sport and Lisa did speech and drama; they all did their own individual activities.

"They're all very private; James is 31, Lisa's 29, and David's just turned 25 and they have all got their original friends from school. Plus a few others, but they've got them because they're real friends.

"I think people don't realise if you're in the political eye you have to have somebody behind you, to have a family that helps you through it.

"Not only that, the thing people forget is now you have people to fold letters and stuff envelopes but when my children were little they were sitting around the lounge room floor folding pamphlets and stuffing envelopes then we would walk the streets; I'd have one on one side and one on the other - David was too little - and we delivered thousands and thousands of letters."

The toughest time for the Pisasale family in Paul's political career was during the Net Bet scandal.

Another was during Utegate, when the mayor was embroiled in a scandal arising from Ipswich car dealer John Grant donating a white utility to Kevin Rudd during his 2007 election campaign.

The Net Bet scandal erupted in 1999 after it was revealed Treasurer and Member for Ipswich David Hamill had granted the state's first internet global gaming licence to a company with links to three Labor Party figures.

Backbencher Bill D'Arcy, former Ipswich West MP Don Livingstone and Paul Pisasale had all owned a stake in the internet gaming company, Gocorp.

"I didn't know how I was involved and then I was cleared but all of a sudden I was on the front page of the paper and it was all political," Mayor Pisasale says now. "Myself and my family were subjected to that.

"I've been through all that and I've seen what it did to my family. I've been through Net Bet, Utegate, all that. The thing is they accuse you on the front page and clear you on page 26."

Mention of that time elicits a wry smile from Janet Pisasale.

"Net Bet, yeah," she says.

"Our children had to go out the back way and get collected by a neighbour to be taken to school because we had the TV people out the front and wouldn't let us out the driveway."

It was particularly hard because the kids were going through a difficult time at school and classmates made cruel comments based on what their parents said.

"People think they can say anything about someone because they're a politician," Janet observes.

Does she think the price she and her children have had to pay has been worth it?

"Sometimes," she says thoughtfully.

"What do you put a price on? I'm probably from the old school; you do it, you get along with it; that's your job; you make the most of it, you know. It just happens.

"So you probably find everybody's life is the same; you get just that little role and I ended up doing all that and Paul did all the working with the community and things like that.

"You could go: 'Not another function' or you go to the function and catch up with people you haven't seen for ages and enjoy it.

"You've got your downside, but you've got a lot of positive sides like meeting people you would never meet otherwise and doing things you would never have thought of doing.

"That's partly Paul being in politics and partly with him being in things like Queensland Events Corporation. You meet a lot of people and you meet people from all walks of life and I like that.

"I like natural people. There are a lot of interesting people out there who are just everyday people."

When they met, Paul was an industrial chemist working for the State Government, but soon he had high-profile Ipswich business ventures such as owning the Cecil Hotel and Colliers Restaurant and starting up YUPI (Young Unemployed People of Ipswich), so he was always working and volunteering in the community.

That's why Janet says it's a moot point when she's asked if she's ever wished Paul were not in public life. "To be honest, with Paul, would it matter if it was public life or work or anything?" she says.

"Paul just gets so involved in everything. He's gung-ho. With work it would have been the same; maybe not as much, because the public life has taken over and people expect to see him.

"We have been out and people don't understand when we say, 'This is the first time we've had dinner together for a month.' They still want to talk with us.

"Because he's larger than life they all think they own a bit of him. He's accessible which has made him larger than life."

There's a downside to that too, she says, because some people seem to think they can say anything about someone because they're a politician.

Nevertheless, she has faith in what her husband and the other councillors are doing and is happy with her role now.

"I believe in Ipswich; I believe in what we're doing for Ipswich," she said. "When Paul went in, I believed I should do the things I'm doing, going to luncheons and things like that. These people have made Ipswich what it is so they deserve that respect.

"You don't have to do it but you have a responsibility to do it.

"But I have the right to pick and choose if I can't make them all.

"The community works hard to make Ipswich what it is so they deserve respect; to go to their dinners and things out of respect for what they do."

Asked how she describes her relationship with Paul, she repeats the question, says slowly, "Oh, I don't know" before a five-second pause.

"It's a good relationship. I just think we know: that's my life, that's his life," using hand gestures that suggest the tracks of their life are about 45 degrees apart.

"I keep the family running, he keeps the city running. And I keep him connected with the family.

"That's just how it is; it's the same as any sort of marriage, it's just more - stretched."

When she's asked what she thinks Paul will do after he quits politics, Janet answers "he will never quit" before the end of the question.

"He might stop being a politician, but Paul will always be doing something," she said.

"I have no idea what he'll do next. I bet if you asked Paul he'd have no idea. Probably a bit more golf and some work on the side; he'll never retire.

"Paul is the one who has to know when to walk away because he's the one dealing with the public, the critics, everybody, the staff.

"I would like to see him start to say, 'Right, I've got Ipswich to this stage, there must be people who can start stepping in' so he can step back and have a bit more time.'

"Cities don't stop, but I'd like a bit more time."

Which phrase best describes Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale:

This poll ended on 13 December 2012.

A publicity hog? - 11%

Too cosy with developers? - 7%

The best-known mayor in Australia? - 6%

Queensland's most popular politician? - 1%

Or the best thing to happen to Ipswich? - 72%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Topics:  janet pisasale, paul pisasale


Local Real Estate

finda logo
Featured Real Estate
OWNER WANTS IT... $229,000
House 3 1 2
UNDER CONTRACT WITHIN... UNDER...
House 4 2 2
SPLASH ALL DAY! $318,000
House 3 2 2
UNDER CONTRACT IN LESS... $499,000 Neg
House 5 2 3

Join the Community.

Get your local news, your way.

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.


Marketplace

Sponsored Offers

Compare & Save