Australia's most prominent political women have thanked a widowed mother of five for paving the way for their success.

Joan Child was farewelled at a state funeral in Melbourne on Tuesday by those who knew her as a mother and a friend, and those who served alongside her in federal parliament.

She was described as a pioneer who "seamlessly blended toughness and kindness", a devoted parent and a tireless worker.

She was honoured by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Governor-General Quentin Bryce as someone who opened the door for women.

"Women like Joan didn't have a guide book," Ms Gillard said.

"Instead, they wrote it."

She was gutsy, Ms Bryce said.

"Her star shines brightly."

Mrs Child was first elected to the House of Representatives for the Melbourne seat of Henty in 1974.

She was the first female Labor member of the house.

But by that time she had already lived a full life.

Widowed at the age of 42, she raised five sons single-handedly, supplementing her pension by cleaning houses and working in factories.

Her eldest son Peter spoke of how she would find time to cook and clean for the sons living at home after travelling to and from Canberra.

Mr Child remembered his mother for her "gargantuan" meals and the lessons she imparted while sharing a passion for Test cricket.

She told her sons, "If you always play a straight bat you'll never get caught out."

After she was re-elected in 1980, photographers came to the Child house to capture the moment.

Ms Gillard said Mrs Child had refused to pose with a cake or a vacuum cleaner, as previous female MPs had done.

"Joan saw the danger and put it astutely to one side," Ms Gillard said.

Instead, she posed with a glass of champagne.

It was bold, defiant and just a little bit cheeky, Ms Gillard said.

"This was a woman determined to be judged on her character, not on her gender."

In 1984 she became the deputy Speaker of the house before being elevated to the role of Speaker - another first for a woman.

"Joan gave us her example, the example of a smart, confident woman succeeding in the public sphere," Ms Gillard said.

"Not only succeeding against the odds but resetting those odds for those who came in her footsteps."

Ms Child died on February 23, aged 91.

 

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