Vale Jenny Kelsall
It is with great sadness that we hear of the passing of Jenny Kelsall. The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) acknowledges and celebrates the immense contribution that she made to harm reduction and drug law reform throughout her life.
Jenny Kelsall was one of the earliest – and one of the longest serving – drug user activists in Australia. Her impact on individual peers and the movement as a whole is impossible to articulate. From her early days at Fairfield Hospital with Michael Kerger and Nick Crofts, she epitomised a working life many within the movement wanted to emulate – to be working in a mainstream organisation and not hiding her drug use.
Jenny eventually left the rarefied world of Fairfield and began work at VIVAIDS and Turning Point as the first peer worker employed to assist users to access HCV treatments. It was a very successful program and is still used as an example today to support the idea of peer advocates in mainstream organisations. This quote from one of the clients about Jenny gives an insight into her impact on the people she worked with:
“I think it’s about who she is as a person, a lot of it, it’s not just that she has been through things.”
There was an aspect to Jenny that made everyone feel nurtured. She didn’t judge, she didn’t gossip and she rarely made unkind comments.
Jenny was soon catapulted into the position of Executive Officer at Harm Reduction Victoria – a role she fulfilled with the same quiet dignity and determination that she gave to all her roles. Jenny also held volunteer positions within AIVL, as a board member and representing AIVL on other boards and committees.
Jenny was a much loved and highly regarded community member, she gave quiet hope to people who were unsure what a life time of using would produce. Jenny’s gentle, thoughtful manner – combined with her intelligent acute observations – modelled a life of eclectic interests full of love and inclusion. For people who felt a life without using drugs was unachievable this was a very powerful and affirming statement.
For drug using mothers she was a beacon of light, showing that women could use drugs and bring up children who were not taken into care. She affirmed that mothers who used drugs could love and nurture just as other mothers did. There were very few women around who could provide this positive role modelling to young mothers at that time.
To have had Jenny as part of our community and movement over the past three decades has been nothing but a positive and joyful experience. Wherever Jenny went, she made people smile and want to give their best. She modelled life as a drug user as one of positive interactions, of being part of and giving to the community as a whole – of not being sidelined and forgotten.
Jenny’s legacy is a powerful one and today we acknowledge her passing. Our thoughts are with Jenny’s family and all the Harm Reduction Victoria staff during this time.