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10 August 2022

Yesterday was a sad day for us all, hearing of the passing of Olivia Newton-John.

Australia's golden girl, and a crusader for cancer research.

The Brit-turned-Aussie may have moved around a bit and lived in America for a solid part of her life but Olivia will always be one of us. The whole world, but especially Australia, is mourning the loss of another icon. Her old school, University High, is down the road from where I live.

Olivia is remarkable in her own right, but I have always found her lineage just as interesting. Olivia's father was an M15 agent who arrested Nazi leader Rudolph Hess during World War II and her mum, Irene Newton-John, was a Jewish war refugee. Her grandfather Max Born, was a German physicist awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1954.

But Olivia paved the way to her own stardom herself, following her passion for acting and music. She is someone many of us have grown up with, and I can only speak for myself but on hearing of her passing, I felt the loss of someone who seemed immortal.

Immortal through her voice, her acting, her music and contribution to entertainment.

Her dulcet tones skyrocketed her to fame when she graced our screens alongside John Travolta in Grease.

There's no doubt in my mind Grease and Xanadu will be re-watched by many over the next few days to relive the nostalgia but to also see our Olivia playing the characters we know and love.

I am lucky to have met Olivia a few times and what always struck me about her was how down-to-earth she was. Her kindness radiated, and I think that's part of why we all love her.

Sometimes fame can change people but to me Olivia's popularity and her status as a national treasure coupled with who she was, made us like her even more.

Cancer has touched so many lives and Olivia's work in cancer research and her building the Olivia Newton John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre attached to the Austin Hospital will be a lasting legacy for decades and decades to come. Olivia's multiple battles with cancer didn't falter her steps towards doing what she could to save lives and give hope and inspiration to others battling cancer.

I remember in 2017 attending a fun run to raise money for Olivia's wellness centre during my time as opposition leader. It was earlier that year she broke the news to the world her cancer returned. I wasn't sure what to expect when I saw Olivia, given the number of times she had to battle cancer.

I rocked up with my youngest daughter and there was a sea of white and lime green in front of us. Volunteers, supporters, Olivia's friends, family and the local community all showing up in solidarity for the fight against cancer.

I was walking through, saying hello when I spotted Olivia's smile across the way.

Along with her cancer advocacy work, Olivia's smile and positivity will also be something we all remember forever.

I also think her optimism struck a chord with us. I remember reading an interview Olivia did following the announcement of her third battle with cancer, and her singing and music was a way she could heal in hard times.

She would sing over and over, "I'm healthy, I'm strong" to keep a positive message engrained while going through her darkest days.

Her darkest days include having to learn how to walk again, after the cancer spread resulting in her fracturing the base of her spine. Throughout her cancer battles, Olivia underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. All of which are exhausting on the human body but she always tried to smile and make those around her smile too.

Even for people who didn't know her personally, you know that just is such an Olivia way of looking at the unfair cards life can deal sometimes.

Since her passing, tributes for Olivia have been overflowing. From her fans across the globe to John Travolta and to Dionne Warwick who said: "Another angelic voice has been added to the heavenly choir." My deepest condolences to Olivia's husband John, her daughter Chloe, her extended family, her friends, to all who loved her fiercely and to those fighting breast cancer, inspired by ONJ.

To Olivia, we will miss you.

Bill Shorten is the Minister for the NDIS, Minister for Government Services and Federal Member for Maribyrnong.

This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday 10 August 2022.