Joan Salam was born during the Depression years. She went to Worree State School in Cairns, Far North Queensland. She recalls trenches being dug in the school grounds and that the whole school had to practice a drill in case Cairns was bombed by the Japanese during the Second World War. Salam left school in grade 8, found work as a trainee dressmaker and soon became an excellent seamstress. In 1957 she opened her first dressmaking establishment.