Only two
prime ministerial wives have refused to live in Canberra’s prime
minister’s Lodge: Ben Chifley’s wife Lizzie and John Howard’s Janette.
Mrs Chifley, according to the former prime minister’s biographer David
Day, stayed in Bathurst to “look after her ailing mother.” Chifley
stayed at the Hotel Kurrajong where he was closer to his secretary,

Janette Howard has notched up another record – along
with Mrs Chifley, she seems to play almost no part in public life. The
only time she’s seen is when she’s walking up the steps on the prime
ministerial jet on one of the Man of Steel’s numerous overseas jaunts.
When they arrive at their destination she is very obvious. Pictures of
the couple in foreign parts appear in the media, which reminds people
that she actually exists.

Every other political first lady has
played a public role along side her husband. Pattie Menzies and Zara
Holt were extremely active, as were Bettina Gorton, Sonia McMahon,
Margaret Whitlam, Tammie Fraser, Hazel Hawke and Annita Keating. Each
woman had public interests and favourite charities. They were seen at
major cultural events; they were all over the place. Mungo McCallum
claims that the only time Howard went to the theatre was when he had
his appendix removed; perhaps he and Janette are happy with each other
and don’t need outside distractions. It’s said she has a more than
passing role in formulating government policy, but since she and Howard
married in 1971 she has stayed at home looking after their three
children – and supervising Kirribilli House while The Lodge, fully
maintained, remains for the most part empty.

Before she walked up the aisle to cement this political union in 1971, Who’s Who
says she was a history and English secondary school teacher – and a
junior soccer team coach. Much of her background seems to shine through
in the government’s social policy affecting the disadvantaged members
of the community. In fact, it has the fingerprints of someone with
Janette’s secluded background all over it.