A few people mentioned Felicity as someone they’d like featured on Humans of Hampton so we sat down over a cuppa and bikkies and I learned how Felicity came to serve on the Bayside Council (being a councillor is not for the faint-hearted!), become Mayor and her plans for the future. Read on…
I grew up in Beaumaris as one of four kids. I have a twin sister, Fiona, who lives in Sydney, a brother, Jeremy and a younger sister, Kirsty. It was an amazing place to grow up because no-one goes through it, it’s a destination as there’s no transport so you’re fairly self-sufficient in Beaumaris. I went to Beaumaris North Primary School. You knew everyone and you just rode your bikes everywhere because your mum didn’t drive you anywhere, they just didn’t have time. There was a whole culture centred around tennis and The Concourse for our parents, and the primary schools. It was a really engaged community to grow up in.
From school I went and did Travel and Tourism at William Angliss but decided there’s no way I could do this as a career, it just was not me at all so I transferred over to Accounting and then decided I really wanted to get into marketing, so I ended up doing a Bachelor of Business majoring in Marketing at what was then called Chisholm which is now Monash.
My first job out of uni was, believe it or not, down in Hampton Street at APT. I soon discovered it wasn’t for me, stayed six months or so and then went to Myer at the time of the merger of Myer and Grace Bros. At that stage Myer had a marketing department of 100 people. I think they’ve got three, four or maybe five now but we had 100. I stayed there quite a few years and moved around various departments. I worked in strategic planning for a while which was good fun, market research and the buying department and decided I really wanted to get some really hard core marketing discipline so then moved over to Twinings as the brand manager there, which was then part of the Pacific Dunlop Food Group. I then went to Heinz Baby Food as category manager, when the Twinings agency was sold. They were the days where we had something like 96% market share and there were no generic brands for baby food. From there I went to Clarke Shoes as category manager and that was a massive learning curve. At that stage in my life I had not done a lot of travel. This was an opportunity to travel the world and learn a new industry. I worked in both men’s and then kids’ shoes. This was around the mid to late 90s.
From there I went back to APT and that was a really interesting experience because I went back in as General Manager of Sales and Marketing. I had to earn credibility and respect from within the industry and at the same time earn credibility and respect of people twice my age, male and reporting to me. I left within 12 months and went to Berri Fruit Juice.
Freddie was at uni at the same time as I. We were both involved with the Marketing Students Society. So we knew each other but never went out and then reconnected at a friend’s party quite a few years later. We went out for about seven years before we married.
Freddie was transferred to Sydney with work so we moved up to Sydney in 2000 when I was five months pregnant. At this stage we were living in Elwood and I was convinced that babies were not going to change my life. I soon discovered that new mothers crave adult company. Perhaps Bondi despite its beautiful beaches and scenery was not the most family orientated place to live!
…and in the back of my mind I was thinking “shit, I’ve got to get this room organised”. I think that was probably stressing me out more than anything else.
I had my twin sister but she was over the bridge and she had a two and four year old so her hands were pretty full. At 8 months, and only just recovered from a broken foot, I had really bad pre-eclampsia and they wanted to induce me early. They put me into hospital on the Friday and I was beside myself because I was so not ready. Because I was in complete denial, everything was in boxes, nothing had been unpacked. The obstetrician came and saw me on the Saturday morning at about 7am in the morning, I was perched on the end of my bed fully clothed, dressed, showered, packed and had been for an hour’s walk that morning. And he said to me “what are you doing?” I said “I’m here to bring my blood pressure down but I’m sorry it’s not working for me. I can’t sleep at night here, I think I’d be much better off at home where I can just take it easy” and in the back of my mind I was thinking “shit, I’ve got to get this room organised”. I think that was probably stressing me out more than anything else.
He said “come back on Monday and we’ll induce you” and I said “yep that’s fine, what if I come back after dinner on Monday night”. He just looked at me and said “okay on condition you see your doctor every day”. So I had to go back and see the doctor which was fine. My blood pressure didn’t go down and my doctor was absolutely freaking out.
When Emmie was born, I was freelancing and I had to go over to New Zealand when Emmie was six weeks old but Emmie was the perfect baby. Slept through at 6 weeks. I used to express and she was one of those four hourly routine babies, unbelievable, she was a textbook baby. And of course I accredited it all to myself, to my exceptional parental skills. I thought, this is so easy, I’ll do exactly the same for Dom. Well, Dom was just a nightmare. I tried everything I did on Emmie and nothing worked. Dom didn’t sleep through until twelve months, he was just a shit of a kid. He had chronic eczema and it took me a while to work out it was the foods that he was eating or that I was eating initially, which was causing his eczema. So I found someone in Bondi Junction and he put Dom on this really strict diet for six months and his whole demeanour changed. Before that he was a really unhappy baby and I would only count the first ten times I’d get up each time during the night.
We went up to Queensland on a family holiday with two of my best girlfriends and I was so excited; 12 months of having this miserable existence with getting up ten plus times a night minimum and on the first night we went out I obviously completely overindulged with alcohol and excitement and promptly fell down the stairs at the restaurant. I hung onto the railing as I was falling down the stairs and completely dislocated my shoulder, tumbled down and fortunately it popped back in but as it popped back in it cracked the bone. So there I was with a 12 month old; couldn’t even undo a jar of vegemite so I had to employ a nanny for a thousand dollars a week from 7am to 7pm for months until I could actually use my arm.
So that was a really bad time, I remember it was a particularly black time. I was an absolute wreck and in hindsight I look back and I’m sure I had postnatal depression because I was so sleep deprived with no support at all.
Mum died in 1997, she was only 59. She died of lymphoma and she’d had that for quite a number of years but she was still incredibly active. She was a gun tennis player and talented ceramist. My dad had been very involved in building the adventure playground at Beaumaris North Primary and it had only been up for about a week or two weeks and I was the first person to break my arm on it. All I can remember mum saying was – and mum never swore “hell Felicity, it’s my tennis day”. Freddie’s mother died of breast cancer when he was 14. So when we came to name Emmie, we called her Emmie Robin. Emmie is after Freddie’s mother’s middle name and Robin after my mum’s name. So we didn’t have any mothers around when Emmie was born but I’ve got some amazing aunts who really pitched in.
We were in Sydney for four years. We still had the house in Elwood and I said to Freddie “I’m not moving back to Elwood, I’m going to the most family oriented suburb that I can find”. I wanted to be within walking distance of schools, transport and shops. We bought in Hampton because you could buy for under a million dollars, that was a key thing for us and it had all the amenities we needed. My sister was here and my dad had moved here, and we wanted to stay within the Bayside area. I think we were lucky to buy into Hampton when we did ten or so years ago.
In 2007 Haileybury reopened their gate at the end of our street so we changed overnight from this beautiful tranquil dead end street into this parking lot, it was a bit of a nightmare and for 12 months the Ward Councillor at the time was too busy to come and visit us about the issue. I thought “you know what, I think I can do a better job than you”. So I ran for Council. It was funny, he rang me when I nominated to stand and said “you know if I’d known who you were I would have come down and visited you” and I said “that is the whole point, I’m a member of the community, we all should have the same priority”.
I’d done my due diligence and had decided that I needed to position myself as a strong point of differentiation and to me that was community connectedness and families with dependent children – and female. At the time they were going from nine councillors to seven and there were two female councillors.
My first term on Council was quite challenging on many fronts.
I’ve done two terms on council now and we’ve got Council elections coming up in October. I want to continue working and serving in the community and I see State politics as the next natural progression. I want to put my hand up for Brighton. As a perceived safe seat, it will attract a “Melbourne Cup field” of candidates and I suspect it’s going to be a brutal pre-selection battle. We need representation that both reflects and understands our community, and that has a genuine interest our health and wellbeing. I also think it’s really important that we try and increase female representation at all levels of government. At the moment within the Liberal Party of the State Government there’s only 27 percent females and that is not reflective of the general community. Now I’ve got to try and convince the Liberal Party the merits of pre-selecting someone that is connected within the community as opposed to pre-selecting someone that’s connected within the Liberal Party but not connected within the community.
My first term on Council was quite challenging on many fronts. For me that had never attended a council meeting, it was an incredibly steep learning curve. I was really keen to fast track the process, so I could contribute in a meaningful way. This meant taking a copy of the Local Government Act and the Local Laws over to Bali on a family holiday to summarise. Those first 4 years on council were challenging. There was an unsupportive group of councillors who vetoed everything I did. The only thing that kept me going was the support of my family, friends and the community. In 2012 when I was re-elected back onto council, I was the only returning councillor that had never been Mayor so I thought surely it’s my turn. It was not to be! That’s a whole other story. It took 6 years to finally convince my fellow councillors that I could remove my training wheels and become Mayor. With hindsight, although it was frustrating it was great having that amount of time to prepare, as I knew how council operated and I had a really good understanding of the fabric in our community. This is important if you want to be an effective mayor. You need to understand who you are representing and why. I was able to hit the ground running. Advocacy and engagement were big priorities for me. I met with more Ministers than any other mayor in the history of Bayside. I attended 490 functions that year, and made a huge effort trying to connect with every community group. I even sent over 600 personal Christmas letters to every council volunteer. It’s a great honour to advocate and represent the community at all levels.
I’ve been involved in lots of community groups over the years, a ridiculous amount and still am. And it’s just speaking to people and identifying and managing your stakeholders. For example, there’s a lot going down at the moment about the netball courts in Thomas Street. Sometimes you think you’ve covered it off but you haven’t quite. The example there is when I was Mayor last year I had a meeting with some of the executive of Sandringham Aths and they suggested moving in order for the netball courts to expand and I said “fantastic idea” and they said “why don’t we move to Dendy Park” and I said “brilliant”. Because it’s silly having three substandard facilities where you’ve got netball and two aths clubs so Sandringham Aths thought that was a fantastic idea but didn’t engage with Little Aths, they’re now on board but the membership’s not on board.
You’ve got to be pretty resilient. If you’re willing to accept compliments you’ve got to be willing to accept criticism and there are so many people out there at the moment thinking that I’m driving the whole netball expansion for my own personal gain because my daughter plays netball. That’s despite the fact that she’s 16 and won’t be playing netball when these courts are expanded so there’ll be no personal benefit whatsoever.
The whole thing when you are on Council, you have to look at the needs and the wants of so many of the stakeholders and try and understand where they’re coming from and you have to weigh their interests and needs up with others, it’s a balancing act. And you have to try and identify who all those stakeholders are and my mistake with the whole netball/athletics was assuming speaking to the committee members was sufficient. Emotion drives a lot of things and emotion you can put down to fear and hope and at the moment there’s a lot of fear and somehow we’ve got to transition that to hope and do it in such a way that we don’t pit athletics against netball and somehow have it as a win/win situation so there’s net benefits for all user groups. The idea is to move the track and pavilion and whole facility to Dendy Park and build a new purpose built facility with a synthetic track.
There are 2,300 registered netballers and we’ve got 7 netball courts and 44 ovals. 96% of pavilions at our footy ovals do not have adequate female change facilities so that’s something that I’ve been pushing whilst I’ve been on Council, the campaign really came to fruition when I was Mayor with the Grass Ceiling Campaign. I was lucky in that the Fiona Sexton (Leader Group Editor) was just as passionate as I was about levelling the playing field for girls.
Council has provided me with a terrific basis. I’m a big believer in doing something then moving on and letting someone else have a go and I just think we’ve got too many councillors that have been there for too long. You need stability but you also need new voices at the table for four years. It’s hard to get the right people I think, the people that we want to be representing ourselves. And who have an agenda that’s just not a personal agenda. It’s such a massive time commitment and it’s difficult finding someone willing to put that time commitment in. You get an allowance but it’s not much, it’s just over $20,000 a year. You still have to work part time or full time, but as a mother you couldn’t work full time, be on council and still run a household. At the same time, I look back and I think I’ve been incredibly privileged to have been in that situation and it’s been an incredible learning curve for me and our community has got such an amazing rich fabric that you don’t really fully appreciate until you’ve been in a position like that, where you can actually see what makes the community tick. I’ve met all sorts of people, some respect you, some don’t and you’ve just got to be toughed skinned.
I just want a level playing field. I was at a council meeting in 2010 and I was trying to labour the point that we needed a female sporting group representative on a particular committee and the comment was made “oh but female sport’s just tokenism anyway”. We had a 12 year old come to the Council one night with a petition because he wanted a basketball ring in his local playground. And it was like “yeah, fantastic idea” and I put my hand up and said “why are we just putting a basketball ring here, why don’t we put a netball ring in as well” and everyone just looked at me to say “why haven’t we done that before?” But it’s just asking the question every time we do anything “is it a level playing field?”
But I am actively encouraging people to run for Council of all political persuasions. It doesn’t matter what political persuasion you are because Bayside is more about issue rather than party based.
I attend most of the events I get invitations for. Last year was a particularly busy year for me; I was the President of the Association of Bayside Municipalities, I was Director of South Metro Junior Football League, I was a trust member of the Southern Metropolitan Cemetery Trust, Vice President of Firbank Senior Parents Association and an executive member of the Australian Local Government Women’s Association. This year I thought “I’ve just got to get some clear space” so apart from all my Council committees I’m still Vice President of Firbank Senior Parents Association, the Sandringham Hospital Major Appeal Fundraising Committee, Vice President of the Australian Local Government Women’s Association and executive member of the Association of Bayside Municipalities. And beside all that I currently work as a partner in a consultancy, NEM. There‘s 45 partners; I’m the only female and I specialise in developing marketing plans.
I’ve been privileged to serve the community for the past 8 years but I’ve only been able to due to the support of Freddie, Emmie and Dom. I have been able to teach Emmie and Dom through my many trials and tribulations that failure is as important as success. Life is not always about winning, it’s about doing and having a go.
Felicity is MC for the Oaks Day Lunch at Sandringham Yacht Club raising money for Sandringham Hospital to build a dedicated day procedure centre. Click here for further information.
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