May 2, 2019. Moira Jenkins is a doctor of Philosophy, a Master of Psychology, Graduate of Conflict Management, and an experienced skydiver. She has sailed the high seas and ran marathons in Paris and Queenstown, New Zealand.
But as the Mayor of Victor Harbor, has she enough dare-devil action, patience and pace in her to control her councillors in chamber to run this town?
Moira gives one of her humbling chuckles at the notion, and suggests she merely likes to see herself only as a person of authenticity, one who genuinely cares for others. “When you are in a position like a mayor it is easy to feel that you have to put on a front to try and be somebody, whereas I have always said I can only be myself.”
Being herself, that she is. Name another mayor with a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Xena after the ‘Princess Warrior’ in that action-hero TV show in the late 90s, and who loves to read “trashy thrillers”?
Our mayor was also seen sleeping in a swag at Morgan Park a few weeks ago as part of a fundraising mission to help our homeless. This, more than anything, tells us that Moira is a caring person, and it comes from deep within having faced her own incredibly confronting challenges.
“Homelessness is a hidden problem in Victor Harbor, and as a council we cannot ignore that,” Moira said. “We have asked the state government for more money, but they say they don’t have the funding. Our community has got together to raise it, but we need help.
“More than $30,000 was raised from the sleep-out at Morgan Park with the money going to Junction Australia and to the Fleurieu Foundation for homelessness prevention. It was an incredible example of our community spirit.
“People slept in boxes, in their cars; it was a real family event which reminded me that we have lots of children across the Fleurieu going to school after sleeping in their cars at night. Either their home is not safe, there are domestic violence issues or the parents have drug problems. Whatever, we need to raise the profile of homelessness being a problem and do something about it.
“Everybody wants to do more, but when people say you are the mayor you can do anything it says to me they do not know the role. There are so many things I wish I could do; as mayor, you can’t change everything. There are so many issues here.
“Mental health is another thing that I am very passionate about, not to mention the dire need for a youth drop-in centre. We have a working party trying to get that happening, but it is excruciatingly slow. I can understand people’s frustrations with wanting things to happen because I am frustrated as well.
“We are much more than roads, rubbish and rates. They are important, of course, but if we forget the human aspect of it all we just become numb to what is really going on. Councils are about community and communities are about people.
“It’s about giving the community a soul, being proud of being part of Victor Harbor. We have more volunteers here than anywhere in South Australia, and that to me shows people do care.”
Moira’s academic background extends to nursing, a thesis on workplace bullying and as a senior clinical psychologist working with the Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services unit, all of which has packaged a different view to her approach to life since being elected to council since 2014.
More than anything, it was her childhood upbringing that sees her reach out to those less fortunate within our community. Her primary school days were in Tonga in the South Pacific where her father, Doug, was a schoolteacher. At 13 her parents divorced with her mum, sister and brother heading for Australia to live, leaving Moira with her single dad in Auckland.
“Dad and I went through a tough time together, but as adults we worked through everything,” Moira said. “As a young teenager I had to learn to be resilient, and I guess I still am.”
Sadly, her dad died unexpectedly two years ago, aged just 74. “I miss him terribly,” Moira said. “It was devastating; we were so close.”
It was a trip to Australia to see her siblings that Moira met the love of her life, Drew, who have been married for 16 years and live in Inman Valley.
In some ways Moira’s deep personal loss saw her devote even more time to the community and take on the role as mayor. Now six months into the job, she doesn’t hesitate in saying she really enjoys it, something which she sees as a privilege.
“I have the opportunity to meet and talk to so many people on behalf of Victor Harbor and listen to so many issues,” Moira said. “That’s so important; we need to connect and build relationships.
“My role as a psychologist has recognised that having a sense of belonging or being part of the community is something bigger than yourself.
“We have a very diverse community. We have pockets of great disadvantage and need, affluent members of the community, and 40 per cent of our residents don’t actually live in Victor Harbor which presents its challenges.
“But we also have a beautiful community that we saw with the homelessness sleep-out – the amount of volunteering that we have here says we have a community that really cares. Linking into that by helping people is an important part of my job.
“As the mayor you can follow what’s in the Local Government Act (1999), chair meetings and do things like that. As a council working as a real team like we are you can have great infrastructure and great roads, but unless you actually bring the community along and create a sense of community and a sense of belonging, it is just an empty sort of town.”
Moira’s passion for this town is unquestionable. “Apart from the people and their wonderful community spirit, the thing I love about Victor Harbor is that we have the pristine southern ocean on our doorstep and the bush going down to the ocean,” she said. “The air and the sea are so clean, there is the Heysen Trail, the bush and cliffs.
“Victor Harbor is so special, so unique. At night the skies light up with stars, which is something a lot of people in big cities overseas have never seen. There is so much to love about our town and I take it all in when I go for a run; the scenery is just magnificent.”
Moira, who has dual citizenship of NZ and Australia, finds inspiration from achievers, especially those who have overcome adversity; what they have done to do this. No one has earned her respect more than New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. “Her ability to be there for her community is amazing,” Moira said. “Being a strong leader, especially over the darkest of days while also showing great kindness and compassion has been a fantastic example of women in leadership roles.”
The challenge of being Mayor of Victor Harbor has brought its subtle changes to Moira’s private life. Her mayoral duties as a ‘social butterfly’ at night has made her six o’clock morning runs over 7-10km at least four times a week a little tougher. Fewer biographies are being read.
However, along this half-yearly journey on which Moira has also inspired us with her own kindness and care factor, some things remain. Xena the Rhodesian Ridgeback, which she describes as her and Drew’s ‘four-legged child’, is still much more of a whimpering ‘princess’ than a ‘warrior’ contrary to her namesake. As Moira said, as mayor you can’t change everything.