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‘I’ve been very reluctant to get involved at all’: Yvonne Weldon on life at Town Hall

Yvonne Weldon was elected to City of Sydney council in December last year. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

By DANIEL LO SURDO

Yvonne Weldon has to think when asked why she was hesitant to enter public office. Eventually, she finds an answer. It isn’t for the scrutiny, nor for the responsibility, but for something much more unsuspecting.

“Because I’m quite a private person,” Weldon tells City Hub with a laugh. “Which is crazy considering half the things that I do.”

Weldon is the Deputy Chair of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and the NSW Australia Day Council, and a board member of Domestic Violence NSW and Jesuit primary school Redfern Jarjum College. She added to her portfolio in December, when she was elected as a City of Sydney councillor.

Since the election, Weldon has been juggling her commitments “as best as [she] can” but feels that council “has a long way to go in the way it’s run”.

“As a single mum … I shouldn’t have to choose between my job and council and making sure that our constituents have a voice at the table,” she says.

“I shouldn’t have to choose between making a difference for everyone or making a difference in my own family or putting food on the table, that shouldn’t be a choice.”

Weldon cites the council meeting schedules, which are held at 5:00pm every month. In the neighbouring Inner West, Waverley and Randwick councils, ordinary meetings begin no earlier than 6:30. She says that being a councillor is “not a full-time job yet you have to have full-time commitments”, which can disadvantage “those who have to make a living as well”.

Despite her challenges in office, Weldon has renewed her commitment to affordable housing, powering a green COVID-19 recovery and offering equal opportunity in the city, which was central to her campaigning for Sydney lord mayor last year, which she said had “no money” when it launched.

Though unsuccessful in her bid to become the city’s first Aboriginal Australian lord mayor (incumbent Clover Moore retained her posting with almost 43 per cent of total first preference votes), she still won a seat at Town Hall, which Weldon says she will use to raise the issues facing people across the city.

“I want [people] to live in a city where they always have or they want to and to be able to prosper, and to be included as part of a community, not because they’re rich and wealthy but because everyone has a right to live here and be included here.”

‘Real change afoot that needs to happen’: Weldon

Earlier this year, Weldon was named the 2022 NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year following her work with Aboriginal people in the inner-city community.

She said the greatest honour of receiving the award was for her family, who “paved the way” for her activism today. Her mum was the first company secretary of the Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern, while her great-aunt was an activist and her uncle, Paul Coe, was a prominent human rights campaigner who also helped establish the Legal Service.

As the first-ever Aboriginal Australian to be elected to the City of Sydney, Weldon hopes that newfound visibility in the inner-city can spur the incremental changes in Indigenous representation happening in council chambers across the state.

“There’s a lot of Aboriginal women and our young Aboriginal men too who think this could be me, and when you look at the results across New South Wales, there’s been this massive shift in the amount of Aboriginal councillors that have been elected, and I think it’s about time,” Weldon says.

“There’s real change afoot that needs to happen … and it’s been great to have people support me.”

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