Many are mourning the death of Sandra Pankhurst, after she passed away last week, in her late 60’s, following a long battle with a pulmonary condition. Those that have spoken with Star Observer in recent days, remember Pankhurst as a fun, caring, generous and funny person that would do anything for anybody.

Across her life, Pankhurst is remembered for always discussing with a candid openness about her many careers – as a drag queen, sex worker, funeral director and of her transition in the 1980s.

Matisse Mitelman, a lawyer acting on behalf of the family confirmed her death last Thursday, saying via a statement that Pankhurst “passed away after an extraordinary life with her family around her and her dog Moet.”

Mitelman added that “The relationship started as a lawyer and client, but it developed into a much broader and more diffuse friendship. She’s a spectacular and incredibly empathetic person.”

‘Only way to clean a bathroom is in your knickers’

Pankhurst described herself as a transgender woman “adopted into an abusive family, forced to live a malnourished life in a backyard shed [who] worked in brothels across Australia.”

Michelle Stanley worked for Sandra when she started AB FAB, when it was just the two of them “cleaning for the rich folks of Brighton”.  At the time Sandra and her husband owned the hardware shop on Bay St in Brighton. It was after the hardware store went bust that she started the cleaning business.

“She was wonderful, big and loud and believed the only way to clean a bathroom was in your knickers. She was a tough boss but would back her staff to the death ” Stanley told Star Observer.

“Eventually life happened, and we both went our separate ways and lost touch, but I will always remember Sandra as being kind and caring, a tough task master but someone who had your back.

“I don’t think she was showed a lot of kindness back in the day. Being us was hard 25-26 years ago. She once told me she would write a book and boy some closets were going to rattle. I was grateful to Sandra, she gave me a job when I needed one (I was losing my hearing from car accident and couldn’t stay at the record store). I hope she is now at peace and giving them hell wherever she is.”

The Trauma Cleaner

And while Pankhurst may have never written the book herself, in 2018, she found notoriety when Sarah Krasnostein’s award-winning biography The Trauma Cleaner, was released to critical acclaim, winning multiple awards including the Douglas Stewart prize in the NSW Premier’s Literary awards for non-fiction and the Victorian prize for literature.

The book detailed the work of Pankhurst, and her company ‘The Trauma Cleaners’, which saw Pankhurst clean up premises following suicides and homicides and while also decontaminating particularly squalid premises such as those used by hoarders and meth cooks. Pankhurst began the business in the early 90’s, more recently she became a motivational speaker.

Krasnostein’s’ book also revealed Pankhurst traumatic childhood, in which she was adopted through the Catholic church to a family in West Footscray, Melbourne. The father was an extremely violent alcoholic and both parents were physically and emotionally abusive. Pankhurst it is said, was forced to live in a bungalow that her father built, and that she was excluded from the family home, often denied food and access to the bathroom.

An Incredible Life

On Thursday last week, Krasnostein paid tribute to Pankhurst saying she was “utterly unique”.

“I’ll be forever grateful that she allowed me to tell the story of her incredible life and for everything she taught me along the way.”

Community Organisation, WomenConnect Frankston also shared similar sentiments, posting to social media “It is with great sadness, we received word of the loss of our beloved Sandra Pankhurst. Sandra was an incredibly open, forthright & generous lady with a huge heart. She graced our stage & bared her story, in all its glory, not once, but twice!We wish her family, friends & co-workers our deepest & most sincere condolences.”

A memorial service is being planned for later this week in Melbourne.

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