Making history

SHE may have smashed Warrnambool’s municipal glass ceiling a generation ago but Toni McCormack says her time as mayor was not about symbolism.

The former teacher has received an Order of Australia Medal for not only her local government work but service on transport, education and community groups over four decades.

Mrs McCormack is best remembered for making history as Warrnambool’s first female leader.

The Standard hailed her victory in August 1987 as “Mum’s the new Mayor” and Mrs McCormack said it took a while for some to adjust to the concept. “Warrnambool people weren’t too fussed by and large, they accepted you on merit which is the way it should be,” she said. 

“There were only a few exceptions that some people wouldn’t entertain the idea of a female mayor and it wasn’t just men.” 

Mrs McCormack served at a tumultuous time economically for Warrnambool with the gradual demise of the Fletcher Jones factory and the city’s woollen mill already in motion. However, the city also celebrated success in 1988, winning the much-coveted Premier Town title while the Warrnambool Institute of Advanced Education (WIAE) became Deakin University a few years later. “You could say it was a challenging time but we had a fantastic council,” Mrs McCormack said.

“People like John Lindsay — who was fantastic at managing meetings — Ron Anderson, Ken Parker, Ron Patterson, Frank McCarthy, Jim Leahy. We had some strong debates, we made our positions clear but once council meetings were over we got along very well.”

Mrs McCormack grew up in Sydney and moved to the south-west in the 1970s, working as a teacher in Camperdown and Warrnambool. She later served as WIAE’s community liaison officer and was VicWater chief executive between 1995 and 2001.

The former mayor and her husband Kevin moved to Torquay in the mid-1990s and the couple are still involved in community work through Lions and Probus.

Incumbent mayor Michael Neoh said his predecessor was still well regarded by the councillors and administrators that worked with her in the 1980s.

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