Ethene Gibbs


Motueka Borough Councillor 1977-1986

The daughter of Riwaka tobacco farmers, Ethene Gibbs (nee Dalley-Smith) was born in Motueka and raised in the Riwaka district. She attended Riwaka Primary School and Motueka High School, leaving at 15 years of age to work in the local retail sector. She later married and took time out of the paid workforce to raise three children, but eventually returned to retail work. Hardworking with an independent spirit, Ethene had a great love for Motueka and wished to see more women included in the decisions that affected the township.

Ethene Gibbs

Ethene Gibbs. Nelson Provincial Museum, Geoffrey C. Wood Collection: GCW 3709_fr18

Ethene Gibbs was forty years old when she began her nine-year tenure on the Motueka Borough Council in 1977. Together with Kate Light she ended a thirty-year period of male domination on the council. The only woman to precede them was Laura Ingram, who had been elected in 1944 for one term. Ethene believed that women brought a different perspective to local government, encouraged other women to stand for the Motueka Borough Council and welcomed the day when there would be an equal number of men and women on all local authorities. While she 'personally had no problems' with her fellow male councillors, she told the Nelson Evening Mail in 1986 that there were authorities 'where men made things difficult for their first women members.1

In what were economically-troubled times for small-town communities, Ethene was an active and involved councillor. She chaired the town planning committee (1983-1986), and headed the influential financial committee. She was especially concerned with the economic development of Motueka and the need to create new sources of employment as the local tobacco industry began to wind down. She saw tourism as a potential area of growth. The provision of affordable housing for the elderly was also a concern for Ethene, as was the welfare of the community's young people. A founding member of the Motueka YMCA in the early 1980s, she was also a council representative on its management committee and that of the Motueka Childcare Association and the Motueka Scout Group. She played an instrumental role in the planning and building of the Motueka Recreation Centre, a multi-purpose sports and recreational facility which was officially opened in 1987, and regarded it as essential for the town's wellbeing.2

Ethene Gibbs died in Motueka in 2006, aged 69. (1937-2006).

This was published in: Women Decision-Makers Nelson and Tasman 1944 -2018, p. 13. Compiled by Dr Shelley Richardson, Elaine Henry, Gail Collingwood, Hilary Mitchell.

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Sources used in this story

  1. Few women councillors to attend seminar. Nelson Evening Mail, 10/1 /86.
  2. Ethene Gibbs. 'Women Councillors:Nelson City Council and Tasman District Council', (1993) Nelson Provincial Museum Archives: qMS WOM NPM995.82.3.

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