Susan Wynne & Family Celebrate International Women’s Day
In Part Three of our International Women's Day special, we speak with Susan Wynne, Mayor of Woollahra. She’s joined by her mum, Margaret and her daughter, Chloe.
Mayor of Woollahra
“Growing up, I’m not sure I focused much on what I wanted to be when I was older. My twin sister was very academic, and I was more focused on sports and the arts. In our house it was about focusing on what we were good at. My father was my greatest influence – he fought in World War II and his approach to life was, if you’ve got food on the table, a roof over your head, and you can afford to see a doctor, everything else is an added bonus.
He valued hard work and always said, ‘I don’t care what you do in life, as long as you do it to the best of your ability. Even if it’s collecting the toll on the Harbour Bridge (and yes, people used to do that, so I’m showing my age) do your best.’ Growing up, it was never about ‘conquering all’ – it was just that whatever I did, I wanted to make sure I could look myself in the mirror and know that I gave it my all.
“I was the youngest female mayor elected to Woollahra Council in over 150 years, and so I guess my age came into question, as did the way that I dressed, and even the fact that I was a single mother of two daughters…”
I became Mayor of Woollahra in 2011/2012, which was a great honour and also an eye-opener. There was a lot of support, but also a lot of prejudice. I was the youngest female mayor elected to Woollahra Council in over 150 years, and so I guess my age came into question, as did the way that I dressed, and even the fact that I was a single mother of two daughters… I’d turn up to meetings and some people would think that I was the mayor’s EA.
I have to say, through the lens of politics and in business, the people who have been my greatest champions have actually been men. In all honesty, I cannot fault the men who I have worked with, and their commitment to helping me, supporting me and mentoring me. Unfortunately, I can’t always say the same about all of the women I’ve come across, which does create some challenges.
Don’t get me wrong – I have some extraordinary women in my life – and sometimes when I say that women can be undermining in my experience, it does feel like I’m betraying the ‘sisterhood’. I often say this to my female friends in leadership positions and there is a resounding ‘oh my gosh, I thought it was just me, this happens a lot’. I do feel it’s a conversation we need to have more.
“I am very lucky that I get to surround myself with kind, positive beautiful women like Zena K’dor.”
Of course, then you have incredible women who support other women; who pull their sisters up and show compassion, kindness and humanity. People often tell me my biggest ‘weakness’ is I’m too nice or too kind, but I’m okay with that – I share my vulnerabilities. Life can be hard and people really appreciate when they realise they aren’t alone in their challenges. I am very lucky that I get to surround myself with kind, positive beautiful women like Zena K’dor. She sees the best in everyone – she’s genuine, authentic and real – and she celebrates everyone’s success, never judges and just spreads joy.
What I like about International Women’s Day, is it’s celebrating women, but it’s also a reminder that we still have a long way to go. Many of us are so privileged, but you don’t have to go too far to realise there are vulnerable women and children in our own backyard, in Indigenous communities, and all around the world. There are girls and women who will never have access to education and never have the luxury of being able to make their own decisions.
“I look at the youth of today and this next generation, and I truly believe our future is very bright as they look to step up and take the lead.”
When I think about a future for my daughters, I’m proud that I’ve raised two strong, independent women. My 22-year-old Sasha is just amazing – she has extraordinary resilience and currently lives in Melbourne where she has almost finished her degree. Chloe is also amazing – currently planning a trip around the world, studying and modelling. I love their passion, their ability to take on anything, and their belief that they don’t even think about men versus women. They don’t have prejudices that other generations have grown up with. I look at the youth of today and this next generation, and I truly believe our future is very bright as they look to step up and take the lead.”
Margaret with her granddaughters, Chloe and Sasha.
“I grew up in Melbourne, which was a pretty easy and safe place to grow up in the 50s. I was very close to my father, and I never felt that being a woman was any different in a lot of ways. For instance, when I went to university, I did commerce and there were only five women in our year. I was just one of the boys, and I felt no discrimination at the time because I wasn’t given a hard time. I went to teachers’ college first, and another friend and I both got what was called an ‘extension’ where we got paid weekly to go to university, which was pretty exciting.”
I remember we used to travel a long way to school on the bus, train and tram. There was none of this being dropped off all the time, but it was really quite safe. Looking back, our lives revolved around the church in the 50s and early 60s. There wasn’t really any other way to meet people or enjoy yourself. It was a very sheltered sort of existence.
I did the rite of passage and travelled overseas in the 60s, like everybody did back then. I was based in England and got a very well-paid teaching job because I had such good qualifications. I then hitchhiked around Europe for weeks and weeks on end – you would never dare do that these days. But it was amazing.
“I was the first woman in Australia to ever be State Treasurer of the Young Liberal Movement.”
I used to be, and still am, very keen on motorcars. I learned to drive in the late 50s and a lot of the boys at the church had interesting cars – Austin-Healeys, MGs, that sort of thing. I’ve had a couple of vintage cars and post-vintage cars as well. I joined the Young Libs when I got back from overseas, in 1966, and I went on to be State Treasurer. In fact, I was the first woman in Australia to ever be State Treasurer of the Young Liberal Movement. I worked during my university holidays at a place called Wardrop My Tailor in Melbourne, which was a wonderful place. Because it was a menswear store, I got paid a man’s wage. There was this tremendous gap between money paid to men and women, but I was very lucky that I didn’t experience that because of where I worked part-time.
I met my husband in a restaurant in Newcastle in 1969, married him six weeks later, and then moved to Sydney. He was 20 years older than me, but he was young for his age. He was also a widower with five children, and a World War II veteran – a veteran of the Kokoda Track. I later encouraged Susan and her twin to walk in their father’s footsteps and do the Kokoda Track, which they’ll tell you was the best but most difficult thing they’ve ever done. My girls had a great deal of respect for him.
“I remember sitting there, on a couple of occasions, waiting on these people and thinking that some of these guys are in managerial positions just because they’re men.”
I’ve always been involved with a lot of charities, fundraising and organising big events. And the interesting thing in the 70s was, because my husband was a senior executive in a multinational company, I used to host a lot of dinner parties at home. It was the dinner party era. The table was always beautifully set and I remember sitting there, on a couple of occasions, waiting on these people and thinking that some of these guys are in managerial positions just because they’re men. They’ve not got any real abilities, but they are where they are because they are male. I used to think that was wrong but it was never discussed because that was just the way it was.
It probably started to change a little bit in in the 90s. My husband went to America a lot on business, and the twins came with us a couple of times. Some of the people I met there had all these qualifications, but they couldn’t manage – they weren’t managers. Probably by the time my husband retired, things were starting to change. But there were no women on boards or in senior executive positions, and it was awful.
“That’s why I hope that International Women’s Day is now an opportunity to recognise the contributions that women have made in the past – and are making now.”
That’s why I hope that International Women’s Day is now an opportunity to recognise the contributions that women have made in the past – and are making now. And the contributions they will continue to make in the future. I hope it’s a day to recognise that.”
Photography by Scott Ehler.
Student & Model
Growing up my life was quite sheltered, and I know how fortunate I am compared to many girls. I had such a wonderful childhood – I had the best time. And having a mum like mine, I knew anything was possible. She, and my dad, always made sure I knew I could do whatever I wanted to.
“My mum works so hard, and she does it so gracefully and well. She is an absolute girl boss.”
My mum works so hard, and she does it so gracefully and well. She is an absolute girl boss. People often say to me that my mum works too hard and she needs a break, but I have to disagree with them – she loves working hard, it’s one of the things she does so well.
And then you compare it to a man who works that hard, and people never say they need a break – they’re just ‘making a name for themselves’. I think the whole stereotype about how women can’t have a home life and a successful career is so false. My mum gave me such an amazing home life – she was always there for me, all the time. I know she sometimes feels guilty that she wasn’t around as much as she wanted to be. But, for me, she was always present – in my school, after school when I needed help with advice, or with anything really. She was also juggling a million jobs. She taught me you can have it all – she is an absolute powerhouse and the strongest woman I know.
“The new generations are coming up and they’re coming up strong. They’re not holding back, and we’re now gifted with the presence of social media which creates powerful communities.”
I’m quite an optimistic person and I’d like to think that there will be more equality in the workplace in the future. The new generations are coming up and they’re coming up strong. They’re not holding back, and we’re now gifted with the presence of social media which creates powerful communities. Platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Facebook are changing into places where you can share experiences and personal stories – and also speak out. Before social media, people didn’t really have platforms like this to band together. For example, it’s been just one year since Chanel Contos’ poll on Instagram went live, and now education ministers around Australia have unanimously agreed to mandate consent education in schools from next year. She was able to create a movement and it was just awesome.
I see some amazing people sharing their stories online, and I definitely think more communities are forming. Even when we learn about history and the women’s movements, they had to come together in person, and it’s harder to reach a lot of people that way. But now everything’s online, you can literally create communities from your bedroom. You can talk about something you care about, make changes, get politicians involved. It takes one person to start a conversation that can grow into something much, much bigger.
“For me, International Women’s Day is a reminder of the achievements we’ve made as women, but also that there is still so much work to be done and things to overcome.”
For me, International Women’s Day is a reminder of the achievements we’ve made as women, but also that there is still so much work to be done and things to overcome. It’s also about celebrating being a woman, celebrating your mum and your friends. It’s a reminder that we’re striving towards a more inclusive world together because, when we join forces, anything is possible.”