Richmond Borough Councillor 1977-1983
I find it an interesting challenge to remember my time in the early 1980s as a Borough Councillor and later a member of the Area Health Board. My son Tom was still a Playcentre boy and his older brother Alex was at Richmond Primary School. I worked part-time nursing in the Intensive Care Unit at Nelson Hospital. Latterly I lectured full-time at the Nelson Polytechnic. Looking back, I don't know how I managed. My women friends were an enormous support helping with child care for meetings held at very family unfriendly hours. Thank goodness for my husband John's unfailing support for all my endeavours.
Initially I was treated with suspicion at Council meetings as it was perceived I was a political plant because of my association with the Labour Party. I was the youngest member of an all-male council. The impetus for my standing came when I attended a meeting of the Council seeking funding for the fencing of a Playcentre building under construction in Waverley Street (yet another of my activities) and was told "in my day women stayed home with their children on the knee" as our request was refused.
My broad community involvement was a great asset. Residents came to me with a variety of problems from town planning to dog nuisances. I loved being able to help and find out how the system worked.
I was given very soft portfolios despite being one of the highest polling councillors. I chaired a committee embracing the library, dog by-laws and health inspections among other odds and ends. I really loved town planning. Richmond was growing rapidly and it was important we had all the amenities for the families moving to the borough.
On one occasion I was nominated to attend the Local Government Conference in the Bay of Islands which included funding for my husband to attend. The mayor, deputy mayor and town clerk's wives were attending. John attend? It was the height of impossibility as I needed him for child care. So, I suggested it would be better value for another councillor to attend in his place. I was out-voted. The conference gave me the opportunity to meet with other women in local government many of whom I am still in contact with.
I think I was paid a pittance in meeting attendance compared to the salary-like figures of today. It really was voluntary work.
Being a councillor made me an easy target of public criticism and open to abuse at times. I struggled to get around the supermarket quickly without being delayed discussing issues.
Would I do it again? I sure would. More than ever we need strong and equitable local government.
This was published in: Women Decision-Makers Nelson and Tasman 1944 -2018, p. 14. Compiled by Dr Shelley Richardson, Elaine Henry, Gail Collingwood, Hilary Mitchell.
Sources used in this story
- Image: Teenah Handiside 20 July 1983. Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson Mail Collection: 4428.
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Further sources - Teenah Handiside
- Anderson, G. (2004). Richmond’s town halls and the beginnings and end of the Richmond Borough Council. Richmond, New Zealand: Tasman District Council. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/156711851