Australia's first female prime minister Julia Gillard urged the next generation of leaders to "be authentic" in a spell-binding presentation at the Newcastle Exhibition and Convention Centre.
With the city's lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes and Member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon among a crowd of 600 people, a "more comfortable and open" Ms Gillard spoke about her book Women and Leadership, co-written with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, before taking questions from the audience, which included a healthy percentage of men.
Saturday night's Newcastle Writers Festivalevent was part of the city's New Annual program and sold out in two days.
Newcastle Writers Festival director Rosemarie Milsom said Ms Gillard had been the "perfect guest for our first live audience in a year".
"It was a bit nerve-wracking, because of COVID and everything else, we wanted to make sure it was really safe and we were able to do that," Ms Milsom said.
"Julia was just wonderful.
"Now that she's left politics there's a real openness in the way she speaks and it seems she's more comfortable being herself. The event was meant to go for an hour and it ended up being 90 minutes."
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Ms Milsom said while Ms Gillard's book was published last year, with other events being held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was keen to wait until the former prime minister could attend a live presentation in Newcastle.
Ms Gillard's book features interviews with world leaders like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, both who have been praised for their leadership in the pandemic.
Ms Gillard said that equality in leadership means that traits like empathy or strength won't be considered the domain of one gender or another.
"True equality will be when men and women of merit, who may well have very different leadership styles but not leadership styles correlated with gender, get to come through in equal numbers," she said.
"Amongst the leaders that come through in that gender-equal world there might be a tough, strong, brook-no-opposition female leader and there might be an empathetic caring nurturing male leader.
"Because gender equality will mean that we're no longer stereotyping certain characteristics as belonging to people of a particular gender."