Our President and National Patron Dr John Tierney OAM is leading the large contingent of polio campaigners heading to Canberra on Wednesday 29th October 2014.

John contracted polio at birth when a careless doctor, who had previously attended a polio case, came to Cooma Hospital to deliver John in the summer of 1946, ten years before the polio vaccine. Sixty-five years later John retired in 2011, after six years as a Partner at Government Relations Australia Advisory and is now semi-retired, working as Special Counsel at 1st State Government and Corporate Relations. John has also undertaken pro bono government relations advisory work for Polio Australia, Polio NSW, Lifeline Australia, and the Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented.

Previously John gave 14 years of distinguished service to the Australian Parliament, where he served as Senator for NSW. In the parliament, as a polio survivor, he took a passionate interest in the area of disability. John was a special parliamentary adviser to the Minister for Community Services on disability matters. Prior to entering Parliament, John was a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Newcastle until 1991.

John has been married to Pam for 44 years. She was formerly the CEO of Lifeline Newcastle/Hunter and currently is an advocate for the homeless with the St Vincent de Paul Society. Pam and John live in Maitland in the Hunter Valley and have 6 children and 6 grandchildren — so far.

In the 2012 Australia Day Awards Dr Tierney was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM): “For service to the Parliament of Australia, to education, and to the community”.

The photos below were taken in Eden (far south coast of NSW) where John’s father Jim was the Principal of Eden Central School on Twofold Bay. The first photo was taken when John was 3 or 4 years old (circa 1949) on a warship that was visiting Twofold Bay and shows him without a calliper on his left leg. The second photo was taken about 2 years later on the Eden golf course where he was caddying for his father and shows John with a below-knee calliper on his left leg


What is a memorable childhood experience?

I was born into a family of athletes and in 1951, at the local school sports carnival, I lined up for the five-year-old, one hundred yards dash, with an iron caliper on my left leg. More then fifty years later, when I was retiring from the Senate, a parent who witnessed that event wrote to me, recalling the finish of that race: “John, you came a very poor last, but you were first in the hearts of all those who watched the race”.

How have the late effects of polio impacted on you?

I realized from the age of five that an athletic career was not for me and I turned to the world of ideas, with a strong determination to succeed academically. I overshot the mark somewhat, receiving three university degrees including a PhD in 1983. I have also had three careers: as an academic, a Senator, and a business partner, making me a classic polio overachiever. This also applied to family life where having six children turns out to be three times the national average.

Up to the age of 48, I thought that I had put polio behind me, but since that time (18 years), the relentless march of the late effects of polio (LEOP) means that each year I can do a bit less then previously. For many years now, I have been doing hydrotherapy every second day (walking my grand dog Leopold around the lagoon on the other days) and undertaking osteopathy every second week. I am convinced that these activities have slowed the rate of deterioration of my LEOP condition. If you can, you just have to keep moving.

Why are you going to Canberra?

For several years now as a pro bono government relations consultant to Polio Australia, I have been taking a delegation to Canberra to lobby for special funding for the half a million Australians who are experiencing LEOP. We have made a lot of progress in making the government and the parliament aware of our condition, but we still haven’t received any dedicated funding. With that polio survivor steely determination, I will continue lobbying until we do!

In recent years the Federal government has been telling Polio Australia that they will not provide us with funding because when the NDIS is rolled out, polio survivors will be looked after. But when the NDIS legislation went through Parliament it excluded all Australians over the age of 65. The NDIS is scheduled to start in 2018, on the eve of the 65th anniversary of the Salk Vaccine – so all polio survivors will be excluded.

The aged care HACC scheme might be available, but this is a pale imitation of the NDIS with less funding, more people applying, and a more restricted range of services. I am going to Canberra again to lobby because in such a wealthy country, people with a disability who are over the age of 65 should not be treated as second-class citizens – this is age discrimination. We not only need to be included in the NDIS, we also need specific health funding for the needs of polio survivors, so that we can better self-manage our chronic LEOP condition, and get appropriate treatment when self-management isn’t the answer. There has also been no progress by the government towards implementing the three recommendations of the House of Representatives Health & Ageing Committee Report into the needs of polio survivors which was released almost one year ago.

Watch John’s recent comments about polio, its late effects, and why health and disability services are required

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Dr John Tierney OAM, President and National Patron, Polio Australia   (2:46)

Please send John a message of support for his Canberra campaign by making a comment below.


Dr John Tierney OAM ~ Polio 1946 ~ Canberra Campaign Hero — 2 Comments

  1. Dear John, you have my full support in your endeavors! As a philosophical libertarian, with a healthy mistrust of government, I am saddened that, yet again, public monies are not reaching those who most need them. I found this website while trying to track you down to seek your advice in the area of education for gifted children – in light of your previous work in this area – and now wish you all the best in this most worthwhile cause for polio survivors.

  2. My name is Susan and I caught polio in 19 48 as I’m 66 years old and have the late affects of polio I am unable to get any funding for new calipers, it is very very hard when you are on a disability pension and trying to find enough money for help as a polio survivor. I listened to what you had to say and it made me cry to hear that the government will not help us in any way….