Celebrating women in Woollahra on International Women's Day

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Rosemary Foot, Member for Vaucluse, addresses Woollahra residents concerning proposed council amalgamations, Wintergarden Theatre, 1983.

Rosemary Foot, Member for Vaucluse, addresses Woollahra residents concerning proposed council amalgamations, Wintergarden Theatre, 1983.

Published 1 March 2021

Friday 8 March is International Women’s Day.

Our local area has been shaped by many remarkable women through their contributions to government, community organisations and professional and business life.

Mayor of Woollahra Susan Wynne said she was honoured to be one of a growing number of women to lead Woollahra Council.

“We are proud to have 60% female representation on Council, with nine out of 15 Woollahra councillors being women, which ranks us as one of the best councils in NSW for female representation,” the Mayor said.

“I feel really privileged to have this role and I hope I can inspire other women to pursue a career in government.”

Here are the stories of four inspirational women who’ve played an integral role in making our local area what it is today, recorded as part of our Women in Woollahra local history project in 2007.

Belle Miller, BEM (1903 – 1988)

Belle Miller awarded MBE
Belle Miller was awarded the Order of the British Empire - Member (BEM) on 14 June 1975 for her service to the community (Lois Downing).

Belle Miller was the first female alderman of Woollahra Council, elected in 1959 to represent the Vaucluse Ward.

Belle was a passionate advocate for the disadvantaged in our community – both in her role on Council, but also through her involvement with many local committees and associations. Her broad contribution was recognised by the award of an MBE for community service in 1975.

Belle Miller had a keen interest in many local issues with her chief contribution to the municipality being the foundation of the Woollahra Voluntary Community Services (WVCS) in 1961. This service coordinated a network of local volunteers to help the aged or needy within the Woollahra area and eventually took on the role of service provider for Meals on Wheels.

Read more about Belle Miller.

Pat Thompson (1912 – 1987)

Pat speaking at a rally on Oxford St
Pat Thompson speaking at the rally to save Juniper Hall, 1984
Paddington Society Archives

Pat Thompson moved to Paddington with her husband John in 1951 when the suburb was run-down. Together they recognised the potential of the area and the need for preservation and formed the Paddington Society with like-minded residents in 1964.

During her 10 year membership, Pat used her organisational skills to coordinate campaigns against zoning and development proposals that threatened the area. Notably the Society generated enough concern to prompt a public inquiry into the government plans to extend arterial roads through the suburb.

Pat’s lifelong efforts to recognise the heritage significance of the local area were rewarded with an urban conservation classification for Paddington from the National Trust of Australia in 1974.

Read more about Pat Thompson.

Alice Doyle, AM (1911 – 2004)

Alice Doyle pictured at Watsons Bay
Alice Doyle at the unveiling of the memorial to fishermen of Watsons Bay, 1991. (Woollahra History and Heritage Society)

Alice Doyle was a restauranteur and businesswoman and her family had a long association with Watsons Bay.

The family’s first tea rooms at Watsons Bay, the ‘Ozone Café’, was built by her grandparents on the site of ‘Doyles on the Beach’. After the closure of the ‘Ozone Café’ during the Depression, Alice and her husband Jack worked hard to pioneer the acceptance of outdoor eating. They organised local events for charity and disadvantaged families. Alice was awarded an AM in 1987.

The Doyles restaurants continued to expand and became a household name, a long family legacy continued by her sons.

Read more about Alice Doyle.

Rosemary Foot, AO (1936 -

Rosemary speaking at a community meeting behind a lectern that says 'Mergers make no sense for Woollahra!
Rosemary Foot, the Member for Vaucluse addresses Woollahra residents concerning proposed council amalgamations, Wintergarden Theatre, 1983.

Rosemary Foot, a resident of Bellevue Hill, became the first female to hold the state seat of Vaucluse (1978-1986). She campaigned energetically on a range of local issues and was a strong advocate for women’s rights.

In 1983 Rosemary became the first female to be elected as the Deputy Leader of the NSW Opposition. She was the first woman in Australia to be elected to a leadership position by a major political party at either State or Federal Level.

As a parliamentary performer, Rosemary was not intimidated by her male opponents – on either side of the house. In a backhanded tribute to her performance on the floor of the Parliamentary Chamber, Premier Neville Wran declared she could “eat the other Liberal members for breakfast – without salt.”

In 1999 she received an Order of Australia in recognition of her contribution to the community.

Read more about Rosemary Foot.

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