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Julia Gillard: 'Ten Pound Pom' to Australia's first woman PM

Julia Gillard went from "Ten Pound Pom" to Australia's first woman prime minister but the Welsh-born former lawyer may prove a two-month wonder, with a hung parliament putting her power on the line.

world Updated: Aug 22, 2010 09:35 IST

Julia Gillard went from "Ten Pound Pom" to Australia's first woman prime minister but the Welsh-born former lawyer may prove a two-month wonder, with a hung parliament putting her power on the line.

The sharp-witted Gillard was just a small child when she sailed into Australia, clutching a toy koala, in 1966, after her parents uprooted from Wales hoping warmer air would cure her chronic lung problems.

Forty-four years later and Gillard, her auburn hair dyed a deep red, was Australia's first female, atheist and unmarried prime minister after a party coup which stunned the nation and left ex-leader Kevin Rudd in tears.

But an angry voter backlash at the polls left Gillard clinging to office, with a mass swing against the ruling Labor party -- most acute in Rudd's home state of Queensland -- bringing the conservatives within a whisker of power.

The Liberal/National coalition picked up a swag of seats but neither side won an outright majority, leaving the balance of power with a handful of independent politicians in a deadlock not seen in Australia for 70 years.

"The people have spoken, but it's going to take a little while to determine exactly what they have said," Gillard told supporters late Saturday, as the prospect of a hung parliament appeared almost certain.

"Obviously these elections are too close to call."

Julia Eileen Gillard was born on September 29, 1961 in Barry, a port town central to Welsh coal-mining, and has an elder sister named Alison.

Her parents, John and Moira, took advantage of Australia's 10 pound (16 US dollar) migration offer, aimed at boosting its workforce, on medical advice.

"(The doctor said Julia) will not be able to grow up in the very cold weather," Moira Gillard said in 2006.

"He said, 'Take her to a warmer climate.' So we came to Australia."

Gillard was a bright student who read arts and law in Adelaide, where her family had settled, and became the president of the Australian Union of Students in 1983.

She then forged a career in industrial relations law, becoming a partner with Slater and Gordon in 1990, before entering politics as chief of staff to then Victoria state opposition leader John Brumby.

After initially being rejected by the Labor Party for a parliamentary seat, Gillard won her way to the capital in 1998, winning the safe seat of Lalor in Melbourne.

Gillard, from the party's left, became known for her pragmatism and sharp tongue, memorably calling the opposition's Tony Abbott a "snivelling grub" and his Liberal Party colleague Christopher Pyne a "mincing poodle".

She also polished her public image after subduing the harsh "Footscray Fishwife" intonations, a thick Australian accent with nasal tones, which marked her early career.

Handed the employment and education portfolios after Rudd's 2007 landslide election, she oversaw a generous spending programme for schools and the winding back of the previous government's loathed labour laws.

As Rudd's deputy, Gillard spent weeks deflecting talk of an ouster, but the backing of Labor's powerful factional chiefs prompted a dramatic change of heart in June.

However, the ghost of Rudd and legacy of his brutal axing has overshadowed Gillard's two months in office, casting doubt over her bid for a popular mandate to rule the country.

Gillard has no children, leading to comments from a conservative opponent in 2007 that she had remained "deliberately barren" for the sake of her political career.

"I don't regret not having children because, you know, you make each choice along the way in life and they add up to big choices in the end," she told Women's Weekly last month.

"It's the sliding doors thing. You don't know what the other life not lived could have been if you had made a different set of choices. But I'm comfortable with the choices I have made."

Gillard divides her time between Canberra and the modest Melbourne home she shares with her partner, former hairdresser Tim Mathieson, which may explain her frequent change of hairstyle and shade.

First Published: Aug 22, 2010 09:33 IST