Former Walcha Mayor discusses women in local government

WORKING WOMEN: Janelle Archdale in her shop Paper Dolls with Shir Hinton
WORKING WOMEN: Janelle Archdale in her shop Paper Dolls with Shir Hinton

This time last year former Walcha Mayor Janelle Archdale was in Sydney receiving the Women of the Year Award for the Tamworth region.

“That was a real high for me and a bouquet for Walcha as well,” Mrs Archdale said.

Mrs Archdale spent 16 years on Walcha Council – the last four of them as mayor. This International Women’s Day, Local Government NSW is asking more women to get involved with their local council.

Mrs Archdale said her motivation to join Walcha Council was because they were doing a great job and she wanted to be part of that.

“My inspiration to stand for election was driven by the opportunity to continue and enhance their achievements,” she said. 

“There were no barriers, in fact, Council and most people were very supportive and helpful however it was made very clear to me by some men that I didn’t stand a chance of  winning.”

During her long period of public service, Mrs Archdale said there were several high points. 

“Becoming Walcha’s first female Mayor was one, and  the building of the Multi-Purpose Service to replace the old hospital and the developments of the Riverbank and Levee walks,” she said.

“But the highest point has to be Walcha Council remaining as a stand-alone council as this was a combined effort of Council, our elected representatives and 99.999% of the Walcha community. We also had the support of other elected representatives and councils, and this is due to the great reputation of the Walcha Community.”

Women should consider standing for Council to maintain diversity in the corridors of power according to Mrs Archdale.

“Any decision-making body is far better with a mix of genders, races, religions and professions,” she said. 

“Anyone standing for Council has to have the ability to look at the big picture and plan for the future. Band-Aid solutions come back to bite at some stage. I have always found that people involved on any sort of committee who have a particular agenda soon get bored when their issue has been dealt with and leave as they do not want to be involved with other issues.”

While she didn’t start out with the intention of leading Council, this is where her local government led her, but Mrs Archdale says the time commitment was a bit more than she expected.

“I was Mayor for four years, and I decided to stand for that position as I was keen to become more involved at a higher level and also at a regional level,” she said. 

“The role of Mayor was far more demanding than I initially thought it would be, however, this was mainly due to the Local Government Reform process which became all-consuming as it transmuted into the amalgamation debacle.

“The most difficult part was managing personalities and mediating. Challenges were varied, but certainly, commitment to work and being Mayor was a challenge. A Councillor can decide how much time to devote to the position. Attendance at meetings is necessary however the amount of time devoted to the position outside of this commitment can vary greatly from  person to person.”

Women can also be their own worst enemy by assuming they must do it all Mrs Archdale warns.

“Women have to make it easier for ourselves to become involved,” she said. “Learn to delegate! If you are interested in standing for Council, talk to other women who have been there done that or are doing it now, you may be surprised at the amount of support you will get.”

And what are the essential qualities a woman needs to join local government in Mrs Archdale’s opinion?

“They apply to all councillors regardless of gender, and they are: consideration; respect that we all have the right to differ in opinion; diplomacy and most importantly, communication,” she said.

 “If you really want to do it, you will and no matter what you do, do it well. We are all pieces of the jigsaw, and it is not complete without every single one of us turning up.”