Randwick Local Legends Episode 6: Margaret Martin

Margaret Martin first moved with her husband to Maroubra in the Randwick area in 1973. While raising three children, she continued to help her husband in his business on Frenchman’s Road and was actively involved in the Maroubra branch of the Liberal Party. First elected to Council in 1983, and re-elected three times in 1987, 1991 and 1995, Margaret was elected mayor twice: in 1992 and again in 1996.

In 2012 Council voted to rename the newly renovated Randwick Branch Library in honour of the City's first female mayor and to recognise and promote the leadership and historic achievements of women in the community. The re-naming of the Margaret Martin Library confirms how well-regarded Margaret is within the City of Randwick.

About this episode

In Episode 6, Margaret talks about her life in Maroubra, Clovelly and Randwick since her move to the area in 1973. We hear all about what it was like raising children in the 1970s and the landscape of Randwick City then. Listen to stories from 17 years of serving on Council, her experience as a reluctant mayor, memories of initiatives introduced and of the wonderful people she encountered while serving on Council during that time.

Duration: 29min 34sec
Recorded: 2019

More information

Martin, (Catherine) Margaret. Accessed 29th June 2020. The Australian Women's Register.

Margaret Martin Library, Randwick. Accessed 29th June 2020. Randwick City Library website.

List of mayors of Randwick. Accessed 29th June 2020. Wikipedia.

Episode Transcript


Jillian Lewis: Hello, you're listening to local legends, the podcast that explores the history of Randwick City to through the recollections of locals who know and love the area. I'm Jillian Lewis and with me is Margaret Martin. Margaret served as a councillor for Randwick City Council for 17 years. And she was elected as mayor twice, once in 1992 and again in 1996. Margaret retired in 1999, and she's here today to share some of her favourite memories of the area. Welcome, Margaret.

So, let's start with a little bit of your background. How did you end up in this area?

Margaret Martin: When I was first married in ‘59, we lived at Eastlakes for a number of years and then in ‘73, we moved to Maroubra. And we've continued to live in this area for the next 30/40 years.

Jillian Lewis: And you had three children at the time.

Margaret Martin: Yes, yes.

Jillian Lewis: And you said you live down near the beach, is that right?

Margaret Martin: Yes, South Maroubra

Jillian Lewis: Tell us a little bit about what it looked like.

Margaret Martin: Looked like then?  Pretty rugged. The Sandhills overlooking Coogee they subsequently became very highly developed into lovely homes that they, I think they would call the Golden Sands of Coogee. Somebody discovered them and decided to develop there but the beach area itself was big wide open beaches as much as it is now the actual beach but of course there was no infrastructure there then at all, very barren and a bit miserable looking, like an old fashioned seaside beach suburb really. Yeah.

Jillian Lewis: And what was your life like at the time. You were a stay-at-home mum?

Margaret Martin: No, no not at all. With three to educate and my husband had a business in Randwick in Frenchman’s Road for 30 odd years, so I was there helping him as well. So, it was a busy life. But it was very nice. We loved where we were in Maroubra, South Maroubra. And then we finally moved up into Clovelly.

Jillian Lewis: And when you were in Maroubra is when you became a councillor for the first time, for the South Ward?

Margaret Martin: Yes.

Jillian Lewis: And tell us about that story. How did that come about?

Margaret Martin: It's quite a funny story, actually. I had joined the Liberal Party in, I’m not quite sure, probably late middle 70s. And at Maroubra there was a very small community of Liberal Party people. So the branch maybe had the absolute minimum number of people to operate as a branch. So I just had a normal, very busy life. And I would go to a meeting once a month, to the Liberal Party.

Then the state government decided to completely, reinforce councillors as liberals for the first time ever. So the Liberal Party decided to look at Randwick Council, formed a committee and decided then to look for candidates for each of the wards.

So I have to say, I was so busy with my other activities in life, it wasn't something that I was even contemplating. However, the night of the preselection I didn’t go. But I had a phone call prior to that, asking me would I be number two on the ticket? And I objected strongly and said, I know absolutely nothing about local government; I'm not even sure I know where the Randwick council chambers are. And they said, look, don't worry, you will never get elected, because south ward has two Labor councillors and a very strong independent, but we just need a second name on number two. So I said oh well okay fine; then completely forgot about it. The preselection came and the next morning the president rang me and said look there was a bit of a mishap with the preselection, the gentleman who was going to stand didn't come. So look, we put your name as number one, we hope you don’t mind but you will never get elected. Well, I mean that was also what am I going to do? I had no idea what you did for election, no.

So they printed some brochures for me and said just go knock on a few doors and introduce yourself. Well, this is the last thing in the world I was even remotely involved in having done. I led a fairly introverted life, but a house and a mother and that sort of situation.

So anyhow, finally worked up enough courage to go ahead and start knocking on a few people’s doors and of course, the comment was we’ve never had a Liberal knock on our door because it's a very strong Labor area and still is, of course. So, prior to that I'd been having friendly conversations with one of the neighbours, I really didn't know his name, but we used to chat across the back fence about things happening. In fact, I can actually remember talking to him about Arthur Caldwell you probably never heard about Arthur Caldwell, but he was one of the Federal, I think he might have been the leader of the Federal Parliament many years ago.

However, was always a friendly chat and the election came and went, of which are really don’t have much recall of. But in the of the middle of the week I got a phone call from this, man. He turned out to be the neighbour and he said, “Its Ken here from across the street.” And I said, “Yes”, he said, “Look, I'm just ringing to tell you that you're going to be elected to Council” and I said, “how do you know?” and he said, “Well”, he said, “I watch council elections and voting, the voting pattern very clear carefully.” And he said, “I can see with the support of the independent, you will go into Council”. And I said, “But how do you know all this?” He said, “Well, I'm the campaign director for the Labor Party.”

So that was the beginning. I have to say of a long-term friendship with him. But it wasn't as though I was a political groupie, that I'd been chasing it, I really was an accidental candidate.

Jillian Lewis: And so then you started being a councillor.

Margaret Martin: Yes. And the first night on Council was terrifying, because you sit in your ward, not with your Liberal or political parties. So I was sitting between a Labor councillor and an Independent. And the Labor council man was a lovely, strong right wing, old fashioned Labor man and everybody was a bit scared of him. He'd been a mayor of Randwick for a number of years. John Ford, his name was.

Anyhow, he, took me under his wing. He was so nice. And he used to say to me, “Look mate, you can ask me anything.” But he said, if I say, “Sorry, I can't help you tonight”, he said, “You will know that we have caucus on this item?” And, and of course, I didn't even know what caucus meant. I had no indication of what he was talking about.

But then also on the very first night, there was a motion before the council about something that I thought was a good idea. And the Liberal councillors were all brand new to politics anyway. Much the same as me. There was one man, Ken Finn, who'd been here for a long time and he was great. But anyhow, I was listening to the debate and thinking Well, yeah, that sounds OK. I'd be happy to support that. So when the vote came around, I started to put my hand up to vote on it. He grabbed my hand. And pulled it back and said, "Mate you can’t support this! You can’t support this is a Labor motion.”

So, I gradually over the years, I gleaned a lot of information from his support. I mean, he even told me to be very sure to remember, in a council of 15 councillors, eight will always beat seven. Yeah, he was, even when I retired, he used to ring me when I was living down at Tarbor, encouraging me to get involved in the local politics down there. Which of course I never ever did. But he was a lovely, lovely man and a great support to me. And I've never forgotten how really good he was to me.

Not that I, got a lot of support over the years from all the councillors. I have to say, I got on really well with him. And it was nice to know them on a social level, apart from the political differences that we might have had in the political balance.

But the first year, I went in as mayor with the support of an independent, but the second time around, the Libs and the Labour Party got together. So they had two years and we had two years. And I have to say that that's probably one of the calmest period of Randwick Council, because there was no argy-bargy on the floor. That's not correct, but we used to talk about things before we went into Council. And I sort of, I suppose at the end of my council career, I'd become more interested in the community and what you were doing as a council for the community as against pushing a political, point of view, which I guess probably still happens. But those four years that we had in that situation really was, It was a good four years.

Jillian Lewis: And tell me a little bit at that time when you were in the South Ward. What are some of your proudest achievements down there?

Margaret Martin: Well, I think the retirement village, there at South Maroubra shopping centre.

Jillian Lewis: How did that come about?

Margaret Martin: Well, the Randwick Council owned the Randwick Women's Bowling Club in Tyrwhitt Street in South Maroubra. And the membership had dropped off and finally the Council decided they would sell it. And with the suggestion from a couple of the council officers in terms of what was likely to happen with the land, the proposition was put to me that perhaps a retirement village might be nice there. So I went ahead with that and pushed it got the support of the council and it's been there, it's still there, and happily. And I meet over the years, different people that still live there in the retirement village. Which was nice.

So that was the big one, I think the South Ward but, then the Malabar Beach upgrade of course that was that was probably important, and of course over the years the water quality at Malabar Beach had always been awful. But I think now from what I'm hearing, it's not too bad. Pretty good now I think. Coogee Beach the same, of course.

But I think generally in terms of the beaches around Sydney, I think the Randwick Council beaches have got a pretty good reputation.

Jillian Lewis: And how long were you in Maroubra before you moved to Clovelly?

Margaret Martin: Probably 10 years.

Jillian Lewis: And so, then you move to Clovelly. And you continued as a councillor for that area of the North Ward?

Margaret Martin: The North Ward, yes.

Jillian Lewis: And tell us a bit about that time period. What was some of the concerns of the residents in Clovelly at the time?

Margaret Martin: Well, I imagine they were the same concerns of in whole area of Randwick, but I think over-development was probably a big concern. And in that period of time a lot of people were putting second stories on smaller houses. I mean, the parking in the streets was just…And still is horrible. Very Difficult. Very difficult.

I became involved with a lot of the community people, the surf clubs and the Rugby Club. And also, with the civic receptions we put together at that stage, one in particular, that I was particularly involved in, was inviting the volunteers that run all of those organisations.

And so we went through a period where we invited the schools, all the schools and they had representatives from the schools. All the churches came, they put in somebody, and there's the social and the sporting activities as I said before, and you meet so many people and the work that the volunteers do for the community, no legal, State, Federal or Local, could really function as well as they do without the support of those volunteers. To me, that was a wonderful thing to learn about and to understand and, just to see how much time and commitment they gave to what they were doing.

Jillian Lewis: So you were elected mayor, you were the first female Mayor of Randwick City Council elected in 1992. And tell us a bit about what that felt like.

Margaret Martin: Well, of course, it was exciting. And it was a huge commitment. But it was something that I really enjoyed. It was a huge learning curve for me as well, and I just thoroughly enjoyed it. As far as the actual event itself, well I guess it was something pretty special at that particular time. When you look at the honour board in the Town Hall, and there’s all those men’s names, all the way down from 1850 or something and then suddenly there's a lady’s name. Well, I guess that's pretty special.

Jillian Lewis: Yeah. And you're elected again in 1996. So you serve twice as mayor, one year each time. Tell us a bit about some of the achievements during that time. You mentioned, was it Carols by Candlelight that you got started?

Margaret Martin: Yes, that was really interesting. It was in the 1980’s, to be before I was mayor. Yes, but I'd grown up in In a situation where Carols by Candlelight was a very important thing on Christmas Eve and came to council here and nothing seemed to be happening so I very tentatively put it to council that , you know, why don't we have Carols by Candlelight? And it was sort of a bit ho hum… Yes, okay. They supported me in it.

So where were we going to hold it? That was the next question, and some nice young gentleman was put in charge to help me organise it. Peter, and we chose Coniston Avenue and that's the old tramway. Used to run from Cowper Street through to Alison Road. It was then developed, and a lot of houses overlooked the actual tramway area itself. So, we had a little stage and we advertised it. And I think we must have had recorded music or something I don't, I can't remember how we got over the musical part of what we did. And I think we might have had 25 people, which was, a bit sort of different, I suppose. I don't know whether it wasn't advertised in the degree that it is now, of course. It’s such a big event, such a, very big event. So that was, you know, I guess, that was an achievement.

Jillian Lewis: That was the start of the carols at Randwick. And then you had a little bit to do with the Business Awards.

Margaret Martin: Yes. That was started in my period. The other thing was the precinct committees were set up in those years. Whether it was set up when I was mayor, I can't really say but it was a big thing, a very big thing setting that up.

Jillian Lewis: And for those listeners who don't know what the precinct committee is, that tell us tell us what they are.

Margaret Martin: They are a group of people who are seriously interested in their own ward. And they have the opportunity to present their concerns to the councillors. And to, then hopefully have them picked up and help move them through Council. Pretty important people within the area.

Jillian Lewis: And you were talking about how being mayor gave you the opportunity to get to know the community a bit better. Tell us why that was so special.

Margaret Martin: Well, I think it was just the experience of learning about other people, not just culturally, but to understand the concerns about, in terms of development. And you would normally have lots of conversations with just maybe two or three people who had developments before Council. And it was really interesting, but at that time, and maybe the applicants were just being nice. But on more than one occasion, they would say, we’re coming to talk to you because you're a woman, and you have a different point of view. And we absolutely did, the women of council certainly had a different point of view. So that was, that was a nice tick.

Jillian Lewis: Yeah. So, you got to learn a lot about the community, and you talk a little bit about the citizenship ceremonies.

Margaret Martin: Special, very, very special. Just wonderful to see the commitment on the faces of the people who were accepting citizenship. It was just lovely. It was always a very special occasion and I think probably still is. I think now they do them out at Little Bay but back then, we used to do it in the Town Hall. No, very special.

Jillian Lewis: And tell me a bit more. We touched on this earlier, but a little bit about the Business Awards and the Sports Awards that you were involved in, why was it important to get those things going?

Margaret Martin: Because I thought it was nice to recognise the ability and the effort that all of those people put into the community. So we had some very special people over the years in terms of the sporting awards, and the Business Awards and look, now you know, everywhere you go, you'll see an award, Randwick Council Business Award poster put up or requesting votes and stuff, which is great. It's a great community involvement.

Jillian Lewis: You have had a library named after you. Tell us about that. When you were told that this would happen.

Margaret Martin: Well I had a phone call from council asking me would I mind if they named something for me and previously, people that have been councillors for a number of years had streets named after them or parks or whatever. And I said, oh, well, that's thank you very much. That sounds lovely. And my daughter said to me, “Mum, what do you think it might be?” And I said, “It'll probably be a plaque on a wooden bench in the park somewhere. That's what it'll be.”

So you can imagine my astonishment when they formally rang me and advised me that council had decided to rename the Randwick Branch library the Margaret Martin Library. Just absolutely amazed, really, a great honour. And, I hear such lovely reports about the Randwick Library now, so very popular.  And we had Queen Mary and Frederick there for an afternoon with the,.. I can’t remember the name of the fund.

Jillian Lewis: I think you might be thinking of the Alanna and Madeline Foundation promoting online security awareness for children. And do you remember the day that they renamed the library? We you there for the ceremony?

Margaret Martin: Yes in 2012, just a few years back.  And then we had an official opening a little later in the year. So all very exciting to have a lot of former councillors there. And yeah, pretty special.

Jillian Lewis: And so, tell us a little bit about what you think the differences between Randwick City today and maybe 40 years ago?

Margaret Martin: Well, of course, it's the obviously the development of the City itself.

Jillian Lewis: Especially this Junction area you have some memories about watching the hospital and the university.

Margaret Martin: Oh absolutely. And the continuing expansion, the hospital itself with all its ancillary medical services now, it's a huge area isn’t it. I’ve just experienced some of it myself I'm aware of what's happening. And the university itself. Where they continue to put stuff there, I’m not quite sure, but it seems to be getting bigger and bigger.

But the shopping centres themselves and Belmore Road!  I had a father-in-law in the nursing home that opened onto Avoca Street, which was there beside Marcellin. And there was a laneway that used to run from Barker Street to Belmore Road. There was a fruit market of some description in there I think as well. So, with the Royal Randwick Shopping Centre, that’s been a huge development there. And once again, looking at it now it's so busy. It initially started off a bit quiet. It took a little while to get going, but now it's a very busy hub.

Jillian Lewis: And what do you think about what's going on there now with the light rail and all the transport changes?

Margaret Martin: Yes. And I hear today on the news, they're saying the 14th of December (2019) is the starting date. And sadly it's had a huge effect on businesses in Anzac Parade, which must have been with a sufficient thought put into what was likely to happen there when all that was planned. I don’t know.  Let's hope it's going to be a success.

And I would think when you think of the number of people, especially attending the university and the hospital, and sporting fixtures and stuff like that, to be able to hop on a bus here, a train, light rail here in Randwick, and end up in one go, down to Circular Quay. I think that's pretty, pretty special.

But no doubt about it, there’s been a few pains attached to it.

Jillian Lewis: And how did you see the Council changed over the 17 years that you were a councillor?

Margaret Martin: I think there are more female councillors, which was good.

Of course, we had a few changes. Now, there’s a new Local Government Act in, and that made changes to the administration side of things. And when I first came to council, we had Allan Burgess who was General Manager.

And then of course, we had Gordon Mesitter, who made a huge difference to the running of the council in terms of staff. He was the one that got busy and secured the council chambers. Before, anybody could wander in at any time of the day or night. I'm talking about councillors, which was not the right thing to happen. All the departments were open to anybody that might want to go into there on the weekend and have a look. So Gordon was absolutely gobsmacked when he came. He was there for my last period as mayor. Just a wonderful administrator. He made a huge difference.

In terms of the staff, when I first came into Council, there was some staff who'd been attached to the council for a long time, so they had funny stories about things that happened over the years. And I can remember a staff member telling the story about one of the residents who is complaining about his next-door neighbour’s rooster. It wouldn’t stop crowing. So, he went out and had a look at the situation and he suggested that in the chicken coop, they put another rod above so the rooster couldn't lift his head and crow. I don’t know whether it worked.

Jillian Lewis: I might just ask you to give some tips about what you think makes a good councillor for any up and coming young councillors out there. What do you think makes a good councillor?

Margaret Martin: Well, I personally think is their ability to, to be able to, to mix and to talk to the community. Because we are the, the level of, of government that is closest to the people. And if the community can’t come and talk to the councillors. I think that's the most important component of being a councillor I really do. They've got to be available and prepared to become involved with the concerns of the community.

Jillian Lewis: Yeah. And how do you feel about social media today, with politics and business?

Margaret Martin: Awful. I'm not in favour.

Now, I can see that in some areas, it has some pluses, but I, I really feel it is really difficult for young people growing up today really, really concerns me. I've got grandchildren. And there's so many pressures on young people today. This is just an added one. And technology being what it is, you know, we've got to learn to live with it.

And for the older community, it's not been easy to deal with all of this, because the young people, once again, they rely so much on technology today and to a degree, I think, there are some concerns in terms of how committed the young kids become, especially to their iPads and iPhones, at the schools. Schools, fortunately, are beginning to wake up to doing something about that. So it has had a big, obviously a huge impact on people's lives. No question about that.

Jillian Lewis: And just to wrap up, we'll talk about where you are now. So, you moved away from Randwick City when you retired?

Margaret Martin: Yes, I did for about 19 years, we moved down to towards the Southern Highlands. We retired. And while I kept my ears and my eyes on what was happening around Randwick to a point, we finally, for personal reasons, we moved back to Randwick. And I’m now installed at St Basil's, which is absolutely amazing. It's a wonderful place, wonderful, very well run. Very caring, and I’m in the independent living area, but they have the aged care area, which is very, important I think, those three stages of ongoing care for elderly people. Because that in itself is a huge life problem that people have to find as they get older. I’m very comfortable there and they‘re wonderful, and I consider myself to be very fortunate.

Jillian Lewis: And just down the road from your library.

Margaret Martin: Yes, that's true. Yes, and it’s really nice to hear people talking about the library when I'm maybe sitting in the coffee shop or something like that. And you hear people talk about it. And interestingly enough, I've been out of the area for all those few years. And when I was at the hospital one day; my daughter heard somebody pass a comment as I walked by, and this elderly gentleman said, “That’s Margaret Martin.” And that really surprised me. That after a period of time somebody would remember me. I just didn't even think about that.  So my daughter turned around, laughed and said, “Yes, she's still walking.”

Jillian Lewis: Well, I think your name will be said for a long time.

Margaret Martin: When I think back on those years as a wonderful experience, lots of good times and some fairly heavy stuff as well. But a wonderful experience. And for me, on a personal level, a wonderful learning experience.

Jillian Lewis: Yeah. Well Thank you very much for coming today and sharing all of your memories of the time.

Margaret Martin: Oh, it's been a thrill.

Jillian Lewis: It's been nice to talk to you.

Margaret Martin: Good, Thank you.

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