Mathilde (Tillie) Charlton ONZM


Golden Bay County Councillor 


Tillie Charlton

Tillie Charlton, 1977. Nelson Provincial Museum, Geoffrey C Wood Collection: GCW3 3910_fr12

German-born Mathilde (Tillie) Charlton spent much of her life in service to Takaka, and the Golden Bay district. Part of that community work involved a six-year tenure on the Golden Bay County Council, from 1974 to 1980, as its sole woman and highest polling councillor in the 1977 elections. A trained industrial chemist and nurse, Charlton had arrived in Golden Bay in 1953, aged 31, and raised a family of three. While on the council she continued to work as a doctor's receptionist in Takaka. Although she was interested in all aspects of council work, she preferred those that focused on people. She served on a range of council committees, including finance, library, pensioner flats, and health and welfare. Her daughter Connie Charlton later remarked: 'She wasn't your regular older 1970s woman making tea for the male councillors! It was a difficult job being a foreign woman in an all-male domain.' 1  A strong-minded woman of firmly-held ideas and opinions, Mathilde Charlton stood her ground in ways that won respect. She was motivated by a strong sense of social justice and concern for marginalised and vulnerable groups, particularly the young, the elderly and the poor. Her determination is aptly captured in a declaration attributed to her in an obituary: 'If I could help a poor devil I would do that - before I danced around the fatted calf.' 2

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Much of her community involvement embraced the education of the young. She was heavily involved in the management of local schools as Takaka District High School was transformed in the early 1970s into two separate schools. Golden Bay High School and Takaka Primary School. She became chair of the management committee of the new High School and later, in 1981, chair of its first Board of Governors. Throughout this time she was active as a leader of the Takaka Brownies.

An important feature of Mathilde's practical hands-on engagement in her community was a concern for the aged. She was instrumental in the creation of Golden Bay's National Superannuitants' Association (now Grey Power) in 1990. She also served on the first committee and later became president of Abbeyfield Golden Bay, a non-profit organisation set up in 1984 to provide affordable accommodation for single people over 65. She supported efforts to balance the interests of environmental groups and local tourism concerns. Asa member of the Abel Tasman National Park Board between 1978 and 1982, she played a part in the transfer of Te Waikoropupū Springs from private ownership to the Board. From 1982-1997 she volunteered at the Golden Bay Information Centre, where her fluency in German and French proved particularly useful. She was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in 1999 for services to local body and community affairs. A year later, on her death bed, she was made a life member of the New Zealand Labour Party, an honour fittingly bestowed by West Coast-Tasman MP, Damien O'Connor.

(1922 - 2000)

This was published in: Women Decision-Makers Nelson and Tasman 1944 -2018, p. 12. Compiled by Dr Shelley Richardson, Elaine Henry, Gail Collingwood, Hilary Mitchell.

Sources used in this story

  1. Active worker in community dies. (2000, June 2). Nelson Mail, p. 12.
  2. Ibid.

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Further sources - Mathilde (Tillie) Charlton ONZM



  • Honoured for service. (1999, June 7). Nelson Mail. p.3.
  • Active worker in community dies. (2000, June 2).  Nelson Mail. p.12.