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Make time to be prepared

Councillor Alex Monk was first elected to the Moira Shire in 2008 and became mayor in 2011. She led the community through what were to be the worst floods ever recorded in the district.

Alex lives on a dairy farm in Katamatite in the Murray Valley, where she and her husband Greg raised their four children.  Despite a long association with local community groups, Alex was surprised when she was asked to stand for council.  “Don’t be ridiculous, I’m not the right person,” was her response.

The floods proved that Alex was exactly the right person to lead the community through the natural disaster.  “You’re out supporting the whole community and making yourself available to people.”

“It makes you a better person by challenging you inwardly.  You learn to be stronger within yourself.”

Alex’s skills as a community organiser were shaped by working for many years in schools and sporting clubs and through participation in large management projects involving crown land and public buildings.  After participating in a rural leaderships program Alex decided to run for local government, for she knew how the Shire operated and was well known within the community.   According to Alex, “In a small county town you stand out if you’re not involved with the community.”

The floods left much of the Monk family farm underwater.  “I supported the family as best I could, not actually working there.  A fortnight after the flood peak on our properties my husband, Greg, underwent surgery for a total hip replacement.  Then I really had to step up –  the mornings when I was up at 5am, when I could not sleep  thinking about the people and communities.  I was being told to look after myself and bed times were irregular.”

During the day Alex visited relief centres, consoling people and advising on where to find help on insurance issues, financial counselling, accommodation and many other matters.

“During my time as Mayor I was conscious of the fact I had been elected leader.  We are all elected by the community, but as mayor your job is to bring the other councillors along with you and not to let your colleagues down.”

Handling the media became a large part of the job.  During the floods, Alex found herself dealing with interview requests from local, national and international media outlets.

“It was important not to buckle under pressure.  If you do not prepare you will be hung out to dry.  If you are not showing good leadership it reflects badly on everyone in council, the public then make a judgement call on the whole group,” Alex said.