Getting into politics was an accidental journey for former councillor Priscilla Prescott. From humble beginnings as a tennis association tennis secretary, Priscilla went on to follow in her mother’s footsteps in local government.
Priscilla was on the South Barwon Council from 1977 to 1993 and was closely involved in the community. One of her first battles on the council was to have a lift installed at the swimming pool. No one else saw a need for people with a disability to use the upstairs area, but Priscilla fought for it. She became the representative for the Geelong Technical School, and helped elect Edna Russell as the first female principal at the school.
Having joined the Australian Local Government Women’s Association as a councillor, Priscilla started exploring ways women could be more prominent in the community. She decided that the Water Board needed to be represented by more women and nominated herself for it, becoming successful on her second attempt. Not one to sit back passively, Priscilla immediately got to work ensuring the proper meeting procedures were being followed. At the first State Association Water Board Conference in Warrnambool, Priscilla walked out when the speaker made an inappropriate sexist remark. She followed up by moving that the Association constitution should use more gender inclusive language instead of using ‘man’ and ‘he’ as default terms. It took years and much pushback, but eventually the Board agreed.
Priscilla was a fiercely determined and outspoken member of local government, but it was not always easy. Once during a public meeting at the Water Board in Anglesea, there was controversy over sewage going through an ocean outfall. The other representative, supported public opinion of the time; when Priscilla rose and outlined the Board’s position on health and environmental grounds, the audience was not happy and moved a motion of no confidence in her. Fortunately chairwoman Julie Hansen would not accept the motion and Priscilla was able to remain calm and collected, but once she got back to the car Priscilla let it all out and cried all the way home.
During her time on the council she became secretary, then Victorian president and finally president of the National Board of the Australian Local Government Women’s Association(ALGWA). Priscilla travelled far and wide attending conferences and fighting for what was right, but at her heart she was always a councillor.
The political landscape for women is much different now from what it was in Priscilla’s time. When Priscilla stood for Council she had no committee, no money, no qualifications and was not paid for her work. Now people have to deal with the media, and the vast information highway we called the Internet. It is a completely different world that requires a person who is willing to adapt to those changes, is committed to building their community and has a willingness to learn and speak up for what is right.
There are many ways of leaving a legacy, and Priscilla’s legacy lives on – not only in her granddaughter who bears a similar sense of justice – but in the lives and communities that she has touched. From the South Barwon Council to the Jewish Group/Chavurah, Priscilla’s legacy is one of championing women in Geelong and trying to overcome obstacles.
Significantly, Priscilla is a founding member of Women in Local Democracy (WILD), and her experience and wisdom is greatly valued by other WILD committee members. Formed over a decade ago to promote women in local leadership, WILD is currently focused on achieving gender parity on Council and recently launched the Empowering Women 50/50 x 2025 Network. Events are being planned, such as a panel and Q&A session on Council Ethics and Integrity to be held on Thursday 2 March from 5.30 – 7.00pm.
Humans in Geelong, along with other key organisations, has already joined the Network helping to build widespread support for gender equality and diversity across our community. For more information or to register for the session on 2 March, please email WILD: email@example.com.
Facebook: @WILD – Women in Local Democracy Insta: @wildgeelong