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Obituary: Helen Rousseau, 1936-2008

Ken McGregor

Rousseau Helen Helen Rousseau was a linguist and a luncher: the first Australian woman to be awarded a Japanese government scholarship to study in Japan after World War II and the manager of what is perhaps Sydney's longest-running luncheon club.

Rousseau, who has died at 72 after fighting breast cancer for five years, was born in Waverley. She topped the NSW Leaving Certificate in Latin and French and went on to graduate from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts.

After winning her Japanese government scholarship, she studied at Tokyo and Kyoto universities. On her return to Australia, she became public relations officer for the Japanese consulate in Sydney and began teaching Japanese, an occupation she was to later reignite. She co-wrote a book on the geography of Japan.

On a holiday to New Caledonia, she met Gerald Rousseau, a building contractor, accountant and member of the local parliamentary assembly.. They married in Sydney in 1965, before going to live in the French colony. From Noumea, Helen became a lively print media correspondent for The Australian Financial Review, The Bulletin and Pacific Islands Monthly.

Returning to Australia, Helen taught Japanese; promoted the Sydney Opera House, heritage houses and the wine industry; and with Gerald, managed the PIM Lunch. Begun in 1965 by Stuart Inder, then editor of PIM - and today still an occasional patron - this lunch has used a dozen city venues. Most recently the club has met in a separate room adjacent to one of Sydney's restaurant ‘secrets’, the Law Society's hideaway eatery in Phillip Street.

Rousseau nurtured a wide range of luncheon followers, from island traders and plantation eccentrics to bureaucrats and other government officials, politicians, media, and food and wine buffs.

Source: ‘Supporter of networks and Japanese culture - Helen Rousseau … lady who lunched by Ken McGregor, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 July 2008


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