I’d always felt a connectedness to Ald Rube Hargrave, the first woman to serve as an alderman on Wollongong Council, 50 years ago in 1959, a century after local government had come to the Wollongong area. The council had been formed from an amalgamation of 3 smaller councils in 1947. It was 12 years before Rube broke the barriers as the first woman alderman, before going on to also become the first woman Deputy Lord Mayor. Rube also ran for the NSW State Parliament in 1965 & 1968. However the residents of the northern suburbs of Wollongong were not ready for a non ALP State Representative.
Local northern suburbs journalist & historian, Mick Roberts, quotes her maiden speech to the council “I come here humbly, as a representative of many women’s organisations. I would like to extend the warm hand of fellowship to my fellow aldermen. I will at all times be accessible, and I will try to be wholly impartial. I feel proud because I represent so many fine women, and I will not let them down.”
We had both lived in Thirroul, represented the northern suburbs (Ward 1) on Wollongong City Council, as well as serving on the Illawarra County Council & Illawarra Electricity Boards respectively. It is very humbling to represent such a very special & fragile area, bounded by the Royal National Park to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the east and the magnificent Illawarra Escarpment in the west. Rube had served from 1959-1971, and I from 1991-2004.
At the Bulli Lookout Kiosk, (now The Cliffhanger), during my high school & university years, I’d also worked for Rube’s nephew, Peter Chamberlain (& also a childhood neighbour of my mother – Joan Adams(Callcott) & of NSW Speaker – The Hon. Laurie Kelly). Having no children of their own, Rube and Uncle Jack Hargrave were understandably close to Peter and his brother Teddy. So at Bulli Lookout Kiosk there were often stories of Aunty Rube. Inevitably there was gently exposure to the realm of local politics; especially as Pat Williams and Iris Wheeler, daughters of former Mayor Albert Squires, also worked there.
At high school it was Ald Rube who inducted us as prefects at Bulli High School, where I’d also been in the same class as Sandra, her great niece. Sandra’s brother John, like myself, worked in the technology field in BHP Steel. Their sister Kerrie Ahlburg has been my daughter’s (Katrina Christian) Girl Guide Leader … and so on. And during my 12 years as a Wollongong City Councillor, Rube’s nephew, Peter Chamberlain, regularly dropped little notes on all the things he saw needed doing.
At Rube Hargrave’s funeral in 1996, Peter’s son, John Chamberlain, spoke very movingly of her long and rich life. So in 1997, when the then Wollongong City Councillors were asked to speak on themes to honour 50 years of the City of Wollongong, I chose to speak on Ald Rube Hargrave. Her nephew, Peter Chamberlain, and his wife, Bron, generously shared their memories of their Aunty Rube with me … showing many treasured items from her public life.
Speech by Cr Kerrie Christian at the 50th anniversary meeting of the formation of Wollongong Council – September 18 1997.
“Thank you Lord Mayor
Tonight I feel privileged to speak of a former deputy lord mayor of Wollongong, indeed the first woman deputy lord mayor of Wollongong, Rube Hargrave, as we celebrate our 50th anniversary.
Cr Franks I understand will speak more broadly on the role of women in local government and as the longest serving woman in local government in Wollongong’s history that is truly her honour to do so – but tonight I would like to say a few brief words about one, Rube Hargrave. Sadly she is unable to be with us tonight, having passed away at the grand age of 97 late last year. But those of us who attended her funeral last year will remember it as a very moving ceremony – a celebration of a very full and rich life.
So tonight I think that it is important that along with looking to the future that we acknowledge this watershed, that with the support of the Women’s Local government Promotion Committee Rube Hargrave became the first woman to be elected to Wollongong Council as an alderman back in 1959 – after nearly a century of local government in our city area.
Naturally there were other firsts for Rube hargrave – in 1970 she was elected as not only Wollongong’s but also nsw’s first woman deputy lord mayor. She also Served on the Illawarra County Council from 1968 from 1971 – the first woman from Wollongong Council to do so – an interesting feat in itself. It should also be mentioned that she was made a life member of the Local Government Women’s Association. She was considered to be a truly remarkable woman – but then what would you expect from the person who was also claimed to be Australia’s first woman driving instructor. She quite clearly deserved the Order of Australia that was ultimately presented to her by Governor Sinclair.
Wollongong, in 1959 when Rube Hargrave was first elected to Wollongong Council – nearly 40 years ago was indeed a different place. But I think that it was noteworthy that she had chosen to enter politics because she wished “to break down prejudice against women in the city, to prove women have brains equal to men and to prove that their advice, ideas and counsel in government can be valuable”.
She certainly must have demonstrated that and quickly cleared the way for others – because she was joined by two others – that is Alderman Ryan and Alderman Kelly in 1962. However, sadly there was a drought of women on council over 12 years from 1971 until 1983 before we saw Councillor Franks along with norma wilson elected to council.
On a personal note I guess that I must have experienced some sort of latent or vicarious inspiration as I worked as a teenager for Rube’s nephew in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s at the Bulli Lookout kiosk and as I listened to the talk of Aunty Rube’s doings at council – a highlight I remember at the time being her election as Deputy Lord mayor and her involvement in the visit of Princess Ann to our city.
It is also not surprising that given her involvement in running the Sublime Point kiosk and Clifton’s Imperial Hotel and her husband Jack’s employment in the steel industry that Rube Hargrave would have had an appreciation of key industries in our region.
I also noted with interest when I attended Rube Hargrave’s funeral late last year that two of her principle concerns had included the installation of pram ramps in the city and also the construction of a footpath along the cliffs in the northern suburbs from Clifton to Scarborough – an issue with which Councillor Martin will no doubt empathise. Quite clearly some issues still remain as important basic responsibilities so far as the community is concerned. Even as we near the end of the 90’s with all sorts of reform and buzz words in local government, we are still reminded of these fundamental needs of all our citizens.
But along with running the city and entertaining royalty she still found time to do the exquisite cutwork embroidery and to make knitted dolls to be sold on various stalls for charities such as Red Cross and Crippled Children. She was also a founding member not to mention president of the Northern Suburbs Meals on Wheels. In fact she retained her involvement with groups such as the Guides at Woonona even into her 90’s. And a number of Community organisations were very grateful when they found that she had remembered them in her will.
Obviously there are a range of interesting memories of Rube Hargrave – including some told by our general manager but I will say no more on that – I also understand that she may have also upset at least one other elected rep in the region – but to me that would seem to indicate that she was doing her job and making her presence felt as a strong woman who was working for the betterment of our city. I do think that it was notable that Rube continued to retain an interest in wollongong’s local government affairs – offering quite strong opinions even up until as late as 1995.
Now Rube Hargrave also had the reputation amongst her family and friends of being an excellent cook and so I think of the story of her memorable reply when she was told that a woman’s place was in the kitchen, not representing the people of Wollongong – she replied that she was just as happy in the kitchen as on the council. A true woman of the 20th century.
Perhaps it was to be expected last year when her nephew John Chamberlain spoke so movingly in delivering the eulogy saying that Rube Hargrave had believed that she had been elected to represent every man, woman and child, no matter what race or religion. I think that in this Rube Hargrave has left us a legacy for the next 50 years , not only for women councillors, but for all councillors, a legacy that seems to sit very well with the charter which earlier this year that we as a city invited leaders from across our community to sign – the charter proudly proclaiming that Wollongong is a city of access and opportunity for all.”
When first elected in 1991, I had written to Rube saying how honoured I felt to be following in her footsteps. In reply, Rube wrote a typically very practical letter of advice on being a female alderman. So especially evocative for me, are the photos of Rube in Thirroul taken over a period of 60 years … A young woman, Rube in a 1930’s photo, (taken near my current home), in what is now Hamilton St Thirroul. Her home at the bottom of Bulli Pass, (near my previous home), since resumed in the 1950’s by the Department of Main Roads. At the opening of the first Thirroul Library in 1960 (wonderful to have that little library building in Thirroul in the 1960’s), and a frail Rube receiving an OAM in 1993.
Mick Roberts has also written of her involvement as a past patron of “Thirroul Red Cross, Bulli Kennel Club (more), Poultry Club, Coledale Surf Club (Woman’s Aux), CWA, Wollongong Civilian Widows, Fraternity Bowling Club, Crippled Children‘s Society, Bulli Agriculture Society, Bulli High School and the Woonona Girl Guides. She was a life member of the Local Government Women’s Association, foundation Soroptimist Club president, was an active member of the Professional and Business Woman’s Association, the Crippled Children Society, Sub normal Children’s Society and Chesalon Home for the Aged. “
A life truly well lived.