2019 NALG Profile – Holly Cowdery, Willoughby City Council (NSW)

Holly Cowdery of Willoughby City Council and her National Award for Local Government

A landscape architect who project managed and was the sole woman in meetings for a $10.5 million redevelopment in Sydney’s north has won a prestigious national award that recognises the work of women in local government.

Holly Cowdery, from Willoughby City Council, earned the Susan Grace Benny Award for Women in Local Government and Community for her work on the Gore Hill Park redevelopment.

The award is one of the National Awards for Local Government presented by the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities. It commemorates Susan Grace Benny’s achievement a century ago of being the woman elected to public office in Australia.

Holly Cowdery, Willoughby City Council, NSW from Infrastructure & Regional Dev on Vimeo.

‘I was made aware that I had won the award at the same time as I learned that I had been nominated by the Director of Planning and Infrastructure at Willoughby City Council,” Holly recalled.

“To find out I had been nominated was a real honor, and to have won the award was an absolute thrill, career highlight, and an experience I will take with me through my working life.”

Willoughby City Council Mayor Gail Giles-Gidney said her Council has strong female leadership and a culture that encourages and builds talent, particularly in areas of Council that are traditionally male-dominated.

Gore Hill Park in St Leonards has been a sporting ground for more than 90 years. Its redevelopment began in November 2017 and finished in March 2019.

Holly, who has more than 20 years’ experience in local government, led its project management and was also mentored during the redevelopment.

Her typical day during the project included site visits to inspect construction or review construction issues, gathering information from design consultants to reviewing claims against the contract, and communicating information to internal and external groups.

Site visits normally involved Holly and at least eight men in engineering, site management, construction or safety roles, as well as other design consultants such as hydraulic and electrical consultants, Holly explained.

“I was the only female present at these meetings,” Holly said.

“Site work is heavily male dominated, but after working in the industry for over 20 years, I am comfortable working in a male-dominated workplace.

“I learned more about my strengths during the project and consolidated skills I have developed through my career.

“My knowledge in contracts was also really developed as part of the process.”

Holly added the project had an extra layer of complexity because it involved Federal and Local Governments: $9.5 million came from the Federal Government, while Council contributed $1m.

Willoughby General Manager, Debra Just, said Holly steered the project from its infancy to finalisation with professionalism and efficiency.

“She established excellent working relationships with stakeholders from local sporting groups, government departments and with contactors to deliver an amazing facility for our community,” Debra added.

Holly added that the Council has received lots of positive community feedback about the project.

“The site is heavily used through the week and the playground is now one of the LGA’s busiest.

“My hope is that women working at Willoughby City Council will receive a clear message that the management team are supportive and encouraging of their career endeavors and development,” Holly said.

“For women starting out their career or looking for career progression, the award will highlight the opportunity that is available working in Local Government.

“Following the announcement of the award, and the media interest in it, it has been made very clear to me the reach that the award has had within the community, far beyond my local government contacts, and this is sure to have a positive impact on women considering a career in Local Government.”

Holly thanked the Australian Local Government Women’s Association, in particular, Cr Marianne Saliba and Cr Coral Ross, for starting and championing the Susan Grace Benny Award.

Grace, as she was known, was elected to the then Brighton Council (now Holdfast Bay) in December 1919.

“It is fantastic to see this award now included as part of the National Awards for Local Government and I really look forward to watching this space in the future and celebrating the great work of women in Local Government,” Holly added.