Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell, complete in mayoral robes, gets a kiss from her proud husband Ron Dowell in the mayor's office.
Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell, complete in mayoral robes, gets a kiss from her proud husband Ron Dowell in the mayor's office. Jacklyn Wagner / The Northern Star

Country in her heart

JENNY Dowell grew up in rural Victoria in a small town called Beaconsfield that was devastated in the Ash Wednesday bushfires. Much of the town was rebuilt, although today it is more suburban than rural.

"I went to teachers college in Geelong when I left school, then I moved to Melbourne where I taught deaf children," says Jenny. "I then met my husband and we married and bought a house in South Melbourne.

"Down the track, my husband had a mid-life crisis," laughs Jenny.

"He decided to get out of the job he had and applied and was offered two jobs. One of them was in Tasmania; the other was as a lecturer at Southern Cross University in the newly formed Tourism Department. 

"On weighing up the alternatives, we thought Tasmania was a bit too isolated and both our parents were living in Queensland, so we thought it best to come here. That was in 1991.

"It was a huge wrench for me.

I couldn't imagine living back in Melbourne or any big city again. This is my home and where I'll spend the rest of my life.

"I was at Melbourne University and teaching at a pre-school for deaf children which I loved. My daughter absolutely did not want to come; she was 12 at the time and tacked a note to her door saying as much!  She even made arrangements to live with a friend!

"We rented for a while in Lismore Heights until we bought in Goonellabah, where we still are. Our children settled into school and Ron settled into his job, but frankly, I was lost.

"I got involved in the school P&C and the canteen. Then I heard an interview on ABC radio asking for help with community transport, so I became a driver helping elderly people to get to their medical appointments. I didn't know where anything was; I needed a map to get them there.

"But I still felt this sense of not belonging. I felt that I was adrift. But slowly as I got more and more involved, I started to settle in. The parents at the school were very welcoming and by volunteering, I started to feel like I could really live here.

"My years of experience as a teacher were not recognised and it was really hard for me to get work, even though I had been teaching for about 40 years. Eventually I was asked if I would like to work with kids with severe disability. That was at Wilson Park and I loved it.

"Then in 1998, when I saw what happened with Pauline Hanson winning 12 seats in Queensland, I was horrified. I have always believed if you're not working as part of the solution, then you're part of the problem. I contacted Joy Matthew, who was then the mayor of MacLean, and offered to help her. I door-knocked and stuffed envelopes and although she didn't win it was after that experience that I thought I would join the Labor party.

"I continued to do my volunteer work and I started to go to meetings and get involved in some of the issues that came up. In little time I was hooked. I decided to stand for election and door-knocked about 3500 houses and I was elected in March 2004. I guess the rest is his- tory. I just loved it; it felt like coming home! There is nothing as good as being on the council for me.

"I couldn't imagine living back in Melbourne or any big city again. This is my home and where I'll spend the rest of my life. I love the physical beauty; Melbourne is brown in summer now, yet this place is green with clean air. It's physically the most beautiful place I've ever seen.

I'm really please we took that leap to move up here, it was such an opportunity for all of us."

 

JENNY'S TIPS

 

  • Get involved, don't just stay home, with school, volunteer work, neighbourhood
  • Plan where you want to live, rent first
  • Think about travel times. Do you want to drive all weekend?
  • Learn to love humidity. There are advantages. Clean your shoes with clove oil. You won't have dry scaly skin.
  • Slow down a little. This community is a slower pace, learn to stroll.


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