GILLING, Bridget Sabina (1922-2009)

Bridget Gilling
Bridget Gilling
courtesy Gilling family
Bridget Gilling was a lifelong activist and fighter for social justice, particularly the campaign for abortion law reform. To her abortion was quintessentially a class issue; the rich, she argued, could always access safe abortions no matter what the law said. She was a founding member in 1974 of the council of Preterm, the first accredited pregnancy termination facility in NSW.1

Bridget was raised in the stockbroker belt of Sussex, in a family with strong Fabian, Humanist and Quaker influences. Her mother, Cicely Corbett Fisher, and her aunt, Margery Corbett Ashby, were prominent suffragists and campaigners for labour reform. Margery (later Dame Margery) was Britain’s delegate to the 1932 Geneva Disarmament Conference and one-time chairman of the British Liberal Party. Her Irish father, Chalmers (Pat) Fisher, was a Quaker who became a journalist, then a reluctant businessman. Influenced by aunt Margery, Bridget spent a year living in Geneva in the late 1930s and she requested the writer to check out Place de la Taconnerie, a delightful little street next to St Pierre Cathedral in the Old Town in 2001 to “see it if is alive and well”. We were able to report that the street and building where she stayed were indeed still there and little changed, so we patronised the little cafe she so fondly recalled and brought her back photographs of the precinct.

During World War II Bridget served as a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment where she met and married an Australian serviceman, Douglas Gilling, later a prominent architect. They returned to Australia after the war, and settled in Castlecrag, where they lived for the next 56 years.

After having four children under five years, Bridget completed an Arts/Social Work degree at the University of Sydney in 1971. This led to a range of appointments, including to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, Mental Health Review Tribunal and in an ombudsman’s role as a NSW prisons official visitor, a position born out of the 1978 Nagle royal commission report into prisons. She chaired the Australian Consumers Association board and worked with the Prison Reform Council, the Australian Council of Social Service, Women’s Electoral Lobby, Council for Civil Liberties, Zero Population Growth and as president of the Humanist Society and the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

Bridget’s campaigns for with birth control and abortion law reform led her to stand as an Independent in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for Bligh in 1971, and then as the Australia Party candidate for election into the House of Representatives for Warringah (1972) and for the New South Wales Senate in 1974. Her campaign literature was critical of all major parties and their failure to present policies on these subjects, whereas her beliefs and promises on them were spelled out in detail.2 Bridget left the Australia Party to join the ALP in 1975, and remained an active member of the local branch until her death.

Bridget was a regular contributor to Castlecrag community events and participated in a range of forums and discussion groups where her humanity and reasoned argument served as a guide and mentor to many others. She was close to her family and provided them with dedicated support in times of need.3 Her daughter Rebecca, was a leading actor who became project manager for Planet Ark.

–Bob McKillop

1Tony Stephens, ‘Bridget Gilling’ obituary, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 2009.

2The Australian Women’s Register,

3 ‘Bridget Gilling’ obituary, The Crag, No. 172, August 209, p 10.