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Councillor Lilian Fowler MBE JP

In 1938, Councillor Lilian Fowler became Australia's first female mayor.

Honour Roll

Lilian Fowler was born in Cooma, New South Wales on 7 June 1886, and educated at the local public school. As a young woman she assisted her father who was a Labor League organiser and alderman for Cooma. She married Albert Fowler, a bootmaker, when working as a waitress in Sydney and they had a daughter. From 1915 she lived near Newtown Bridge and became secretary of the Newtown Erskineville Labor League.

In 1917, the anti-conscriptionist Labor candidate, F.M.Burke, won Newtown and Lilian managed his electorate for the next twenty years. She was involved in the central executive of the ALP and in 1926-27 was president of the Labor Women's Central Organising Committee. In 1921, Fowler was among the first women appointed Justices of the Peace and presided over the Cooma Court in 1921. In 1925, she led a deputation to the Governor requesting the appointment of women to the Legislative Council. In 1928, she separated from her husband just prior to her election to Newtown Municipal Council, thereby becoming the first woman alderman in the state. She was re-elected in 1935-37, 1938-40, 1941-44, 1948 and, from 1938-39 she was the first woman mayor in Australia.

As Newtown was a congested working class suburb, Lilian strove for the establishment of playgrounds for children and assistance for the unemployed, while opposing the replacement of slum housing with blocks of flats. She ran against Burke unsuccessfully in 1941 when he split from the Lang Labor Party. However she succeeded in being elected as the Member for Newtown in the New South Wales Parliament in 1944 and again in 1947. Both times, Lilian and Lang were the only successful Lang Labor candidates.

She opposed the centralist tendencies of the Labor Party and ceased to be an alderman after Newtown was absorbed into the City of Sydney. She believed that smaller units of government were more effective and democratic, being closer to the people. In 1950, she was defeated at the State elections and in 1953 she was unsuccessful in running for the Sydney Municipal Council.

Her major parliamentary achievement was the 1945 amendment to the Lunacy Act which secured the release of Boyd Sinclair who had been committed to a criminal asylum in 1936 without trial. In 1984, a new Federal seat in West Sydney was named in her honour.