Trailblazing ex-councillor and champion of women’s leadership earns prestigious award

Trailblazing ex-councillor and champion of women’s leadership earns prestigious award
Brendan Rees

Susan Riley (pictured right), the first woman to be elected as Deputy Lord Mayor in the history of the City of Melbourne, has been recognised with a prestigious Australia Day honour.

Known for her unwavering commitment to fostering a vibrant city and being a pioneer for women at Town Hall, Ms Riley was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her service to local government, and to the community of Melbourne.

Ms Riley expressed deep gratitude and humility, saying the honour had come at a complete surprise.

She quipped it was the “best kept secret I’ve ever had in my life” after having received the news before Australia Day.

“I am humble, and I still do not know to this day who nominated me, and I probably never will,” she told CBD News.

Ms Riley, also a respected publisher and advocate for community newspapers, served under three Lord Mayors during her 15-year tenure with the council, in which she became a beloved figure among residents and fellow council members alike.

Of the various contributions she made, she said one of the more rewarding moments was being able to conduct several citizenship ceremonies as the Deputy Lord Mayor during 2001 to 2004 and 2008 to 2016.


“I just got such huge pride when you honour someone on Australia Day; it is a national pride and they came from every walk of life and they were able to call Melbourne home,” she said.


“I always walked out of that feeling a little bit humbler than anything that they had made that choice and that’s why, in my opinion, if Australia Day stops having ceremonies like that, it would be a downfall.”

But her most significant highlight was being named the first woman to be appointed Deputy Lord Mayor, which inspired her to become a symbol of gender equality and empowerment for women leaders.

“I thought there’s no way that they’re going to vote for an unknown publisher, and when we did win and I walked in, I thought, ‘my goodness, where are the women’? All the walls were just full of old men, portraits that were years old.”

“I think that was another really fabulous feeling for me when John So, the Lord Mayor [at the time] said ‘we need to bring women into Town Hall’.”

Determined to make a difference, she launched an annual “Women in business lunch” which began with about 10 women attending boardroom meetings but by the later years “there was about 400 women and I just felt extraordinarily proud that I’d started that”.

Beyond her civic duties, Ms Riley enjoyed a successful career in media and publishing over a 30-year career, which included publishing free lifestyle magazines for the CBD and St Kilda Rd.

She noted the local media was a “good industry because you are always giving back to the community … I think the local paper is the backbone of communities, apart from the Melbourne Town Hall, of course.”

Now retired, Ms Riley still has a deep-rooted passion for serving the community, including acting as the chair of Turning Hope into Action, an organisation supporting people at risk of homelessness

She also assists in sharing her knowledge of local government issues and initiatives with the City of Knox, the municipality where she resides today, and she also recently joined the Country Women’s Association.

“I can’t make scones and I don’t do jams but I’m really good at selling raffle tickets, so they accepted me, so that’s good,” she laughed. •


Caption: Susan Riley (right) with Beverley Pinder (left) and Lisa Peterson (centre).

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