Gillian Thomas

I contracted polio in 1950 as a baby. This resulted in both legs and one arm being paralysed – nevertheless, I learnt to walk with the aid of callipers and had a mainstream education. With the onset of the late effects of polio some 30 years ago, my “good” right arm has become increasingly weak while my mobility has also considerably decreased. I now use a wheelchair – but I am enabled by it, not confined by it!

For over 30 years I have worked for Polio NSW [previously known as Post-Polio Network (NSW)] on a voluntary basis. I was a member of the original Working Party set up in 1988 to establish the Network, was subsequently elected as Secretary, and in 1997 became the Network’s President – a position I retain today. From 1989 to 2012, I was also the Editor of the Network’s highly regarded quarterly newsletter Network News.

I passionately believe in the need for a national voice for polio survivors and my efforts culminated in the highly successful meeting of all Australian State Polio Networks in May 2007 and the unanimous agreement to form Polio Australia. In 2008 I was honoured to be elected its inaugural President, and returned to that position in 2017. With predominantly ageing volunteer polio survivors running the State Networks, it is inevitable that Polio Australia’s role in support of this nation’s polio community and the health professionals who care for us will inevitably grow in scope and importance. The Board is working towards building a sustainable organisation capable of managing these challenges.

I have been honoured to receive a number of awards in recognition of my work for polio survivors, including:
2002: an inaugural recipient of David Bodian Memorial Award from the International Post-Polio Task Force as a Polio Survivors’ “Unsung Hero” in recognition of my many years’ work for polio survivors.
2009: Australia Day Community Service Award from Randwick Council For outstanding service to the community of the City of Randwick.
2020: Order of Australia Medal awarded For service to community health, particularly to people with polio.

In 2000 I was thrilled to be selected as a community carrier of the Olympic Torch.