Australian PM Gillard a tough survivor still unloved at home

Julia Gillard is a tough-talking survivor who won global acclaim for a fiery denunciation of misogyny, but voters have yet to fully embrace the trailblazing feminist, Australia's first woman prime minister.

Gillard fought off the latest challenge to her leadership on Thursday in the uncompromising fashion that characterised her rise to power.

After weeks of mounting speculation that she was finished, she stood up in parliament and told the baying opposition to take their best shot before facing down an internal Labor Party revolt.

"This prime minister is a tough leader," Treasurer Wayne Swan said as Gillard fought for her political life. "She's as tough as they come."

That hard exterior was famously on show in a speech in October 2012, when she ripped into conservative Opposition leader Tony Abbott in an extraordinary outburst watched by millions on YouTube.

"I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, I will not," stormed the 51-year-old who had scaled the male-dominated ranks of the Australian Labor Party.

"And the government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever."

The speech was an overnight sensation, with the UK's Spectator magazine noting there was "much to admire" in Gillard's tirade and US feminist blog Jezebel hailing the prime minister as "badass".

The episode briefly boosted her in the polls. But the former industrial relations lawyer has struggled to win over public opinion, and according to Nielsen polling has never been in a winning position since the last election in August 2010.

Everything from her Australian drawl to her penchant for white jackets has been criticised. She was once called "deliberately barren" for her childlessness.

When she reversed an election pledge on a carbon tax, Gillard was subject to a furious backlash and dubbed 'Ju-liar', while rallies were held in which protesters held placards reading "Ditch the Witch".

But the Welsh-born immigrant says her formidable inner strength and calm are among her chief attributes.

"I have always had a very strong sense of myself and not had that easily pushed and pulled by the views of others," Gillard said in December.

But her rapid rise to power, by removing then-boss Kevin Rudd in a shock backroom coup, has always overshadowed her time in office and she has never enjoyed his celebrity status.

Suddenly Australia had a female, atheist, unmarried, childless -- and unelected -- prime minister.

Gillard called polls but only narrowly averted disaster, losing Labor's majority and only just clinging to power with the support of a group of rural independents and a Greens MP.

Considered a brilliant negotiator, she battled to guide a carbon pollution tax and a controversial tax on mining profits through parliament.

Julia Eileen Gillard was born on September 29, 1961 in Barry, a port town central to Welsh coal-mining.

She was just four when she sailed to Australia clutching a toy koala in 1966 when her parents took up a 10-pound migration scheme hoping a warmer climate would cure her chronic lung problems.

A bright student, she went on to read arts and law in Adelaide where her family had settled. She became president of the Australian Union of Students in 1983.

She forged a career in industrial relations law before delving into politics as chief of staff to then-Victoria state opposition leader John Brumby.

After initially being rejected by the Labor Party for a parliamentary seat, Gillard entered the House of Representatives in 1998, winning the safe seat of Lalor.

Gillard, from the party's left, became known for her pragmatism and savage wit, memorably calling the opposition's Tony Abbott a "snivelling grub" and his Liberal Party colleague Christopher Pyne a "mincing poodle".

She lives with her partner, former hairdresser Tim Mathieson.

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