Former mayor of Brisbane Sallyanne Atkinson credits her team for her success. Photo: Robert Rough Former mayor of Brisbane Sallyanne Atkinson credits her team for her success. Photo: Robert Rough
Whether you credit the growing arts scene, alleyway baristas or success of local bands, there is no denying Brisbane has climbed the cultural ranks.
This was the goal and proud achievement of Sallyanne Atkinson – Brisbane’s first and so far only female Lord Mayor.
In a 1995 political study, Atkinson was described as first laying the conceptual foundations for Brisbane to become the “urban village” it is today. Yet, behind every politician is a team.
In 1985 Brisbane was a Labor dominated city, a political landscape equally dominated by men.
Atkinson had been popularly elected Lord Mayor, ending Labor’s 24-year hold on the mayoralty.
Going on to remain in the position for six years and make significant contributions in areas such as business, international trade and culture, Atkinson says her dream of raising Brisbane’s profile would not have been possible if it weren’t for those who supported her.
“I wouldn’t have won [the mayoralty] without all the support that I’ve had,” says Atkinson. “It was very much a team effort.”
Despite a legacy of major political achievements, Atkinson wasn’t always interested in politics.
Starting out as a journalist in the early 1960s, she gained knowledge of the way Australian politics worked.
It wasn’t until the late 1970s when a drain pipe in her Indooroopilly street burst Atkinson’s political interest was sparked.
“We were at the top end of the street so it was not far from us and it was very inconvenient of course and people kept saying ‘you ring the council’,” says Atkinson.
“I just did and it got fixed and there was a great feeling of power and people being involved.”
Further supported by her friends and family, Atkinson ran for and was elected alderman for Indooroopilly Ward in 1979.
“It was a blue ribbon Liberal seat and friends and neighbours were saying “you should run for it”, and then some people were saying “you won’t get it of course because you’re a woman” – well, that got my dander up,” says Atkinson.
In 1985, just over 11% of Brisbane City Councillors were female.
So when Atkinson took the risk of running for the Brisbane mayoralty in the same year it took a team of people to help her win.
One integral member of this team was Lynn Everingham. Gathering a large community of Brisbane women together, Everingham spearheaded Atkinson’s campaign fundraising.
“I gathered a group of about 20 friends from across Brisbane and together we all worked tirelessly organising everything from morning teas for the elderly and family picnics to cocktail parties for about four hundred people,” says Everingham.
“We sourced guest lists, addressed envelopes, did all the cooking, decorated people’s houses and waited on people.
“We all worked very hard because all the girls were genuine in their respect for Sallyanne.”
While these tasks sound simple, Atkinson credits the work of Lynn and “the fundraising women” as crucial to her success.
“My women friends were really fantastic and I think it certainly proved wrong the lie that women don’t support other women.”
Atkinson said it was important to keep her campaign people-driven.
“I was in a very fortunate situation because not many people in the Liberal party thought I was going to win, and so it meant that I had a small executive team,” says Atkinson.
“It meant that we could do things our way, it wasn’t a stereotypical political campaign.”
A core member of this tight-knit campaign team was chairman Rod Samut.
Samut describes the campaign team as hard working and focused on benefitting the people of Brisbane.
“With a dedicated group of around 10 members our task was to ensure Sallyanne had sufficient funds for all advertising, promotions and other expenses.
“We also advised Sallyanne on issues in the community that warranted her attention,” says Samut. “There was a strong sense of teamwork at all levels with Sallyanne as a dynamic leader.”
Events such as Atkinson’s bid for the 1992 Olympics and the World’s Fair in 1988 (Expo ’88) made Atkinson a national celebrity – so much so that in 1994 the book, Lord Mayor Superstar: Sallyanne Atkinson and the Media, was published.
Featured in magazines, newspapers and television screens around the country, Atkinson’s media advisor, Digby McLeay, played a major role in Atkinson’s success.
McLeay saw the Atkinson image was true to the people-driven nature of her campaign.
While handling media enquiries and arranging events, McLeay also served on the campaign committee.
“You simply didn’t win elections without teamwork – Sallyanne always insisted on it,” says McLeay.
“What inspired me was her true love for Brisbane and her desire to make it a better place. Sallyanne had a vision for Brisbane before “buzz words” were invented.”
Atkinson’s vision and a strong support team helped her to win the mayoralty for a second term in 1988 and to bring Expo ’88 to Brisbane, forever changing the landscape of Southbank.
As well as going on to become Senior Trade Commissioner to a list of foreign nations and leading almost countless councils and groups today, Atkinson helped establish Brisbane as a major Australian city.
“The great thing about being Lord Mayor of Brisbane is that you can actually do things,” says Atkinson.
“[It] was one of the most satisfying jobs one can have.”
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