'Garden gnome' councillor has a big voice for what matters

8th March 2018 8:55 AM
Whitsunday Division 1 councillor, Jan Clifford believes there's room for a lot more women in politics. Whitsunday Division 1 councillor, Jan Clifford believes there's room for a lot more women in politics. Peter Carruthers

COUNCILLOR Jan Clifford feels like a "garden gnome” among her political peers but believes that as long as she doesn't take things too personally, "it's actually a lot of fun”.

"They're all 6ft and I'm 5ft 4in and shrinking,” she says.

But Cr Clifford is not intimidated by the physical stature of her colleagues, and she's not concerned about being a woman in a mostly male domain.

"All this political correctness quite frankly gives me the jim-jams. You just get on with it. And to be honest, the boys are pretty good. We're all very different people which is good too.”

Cr Clifford, who has lived in the Whitsundays since 1994 and joined politics "because I thought I could actually make a difference”, is also the immediate past president of the Australian Local Government Women's Association of Queensland.

She provides mentoring and training to women as it's "absolutely important” to have more women in politics.

"But it is extremely time consuming, it doesn't fit into school hours and there's work on weekends. Most young women are the carers and nurturers and it's an extremely difficult balancing act.”

"However, women tend to look at things in a different way. It's a different perspective and we do make up half the population, so I would encourage women who are at all interested to join at an officer level because it's a really good career.”

Cr Clifford was first elected to Whitsunday Regional Council in March 2008, and again in 2012 and then in 2016.

"I went to all the council meetings for about eight years as an observer in the late 90s and into early 2000s.

"Then I thought, there's no use sitting on the outside, so if you're going to put your two bob's worth in, then put your two bob's worth in.”

Right now, Cr Clifford says planning and the environment, as well as post-cyclone rebuilding efforts, and "generally trying to improve the liveability of the area”, are her main focus.

"I like to look at things as how to how they fit into the landscape rather than be so prescriptive. I'm not against development but it's got to be appropriate development.

"I've been trying to get rid of single-use plastic bags, and have finally succeeded which is pretty exciting. So I work very closely with the Boomerang Bags group and I'm pretty proud of what we've done here.”

She says current challenges in the region include the redevelopment of the Airlie Beach Foreshore, Shute Harbour, the redevelopment of the ferry terminal and other projects including the PCYC, the sports park, and the reopening of The Proserpine Entertainment Centre.

She is keen to see the delivery of nearly $200,000 million worth of projects across the region and "keep all of our workforce gainfully employed”.

A dedicated representative of both council and her community and a "huge supporter” of Zonta and Rotary, Cr Clifford is also chair of the Whitsunday Housing Company, director of Reef Catchment and on the State Executive for the State River Trust and on the Whitsunday River Trust.

A councillor determined to do the best by her constituents and North Queensland, Cr Clifford is also a woman willing to help others suffering on a personal level.

Having endured almost 30 years of domestic violence before leaving Melbourne and arriving in Airlie Beach, she now says that anyone who needs is welcome to give her a call and have a chat about their situation.

"I'm always happy to listen and provide a shoulder if need be or help point them in the right direction.

"I don't think of myself as a victim, I think of myself as a survivor. It's still painful at times, but I don't choose to sit and wallow about it.

"I've learnt that you have to help yourself. You have to leave in your own time and there needs to be the support for when you do that. It has to be something that you're ready to do.”

The psychological abuse, Cr Clifford says, was worse than the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-partner.

"I was married and his thing was to belittle you and make you feel worthless, and you sink into this mire and think, 'Oh, there's something wrong with me.'

"I would think it's my fault that I didn't do what was right. It's a very slow, insidious eating away at your self esteem to the point where you don't see any way out.”

Her current job as councillor, she says, has been the best thing she's ever done.

"I love it.”

And, while she's content to take a holiday from the stunning surrounds of the Whitsundays, she'll never leave the region.

"I love it here, and every day that I'm here is just wondrous. My favourite thing is driving over the hill and looking out over Abell Point Marina and seeing the islands and going, 'Wow!'

"It doesn't matter how many times I do it, I'm still just blown away by it. And it's the people who live here and the community - they really are awesome.”