Lesley Hewitt, newly elected Councillor for Birch Ward, believes in the old Greek saying that “a society grows great when old people plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.” Lesley has, for many years, contributed to the growth and development of our community.
Lesley’s commitment to her community derives from many of her life experiences. Lesley was born in Warrnambool but grew up on a farm in Leitchville in northern Victoria and attended Cohuna High School. As a young teenager, she had an opportunity to attend the World Guide and Scout Jamboree in Bombay. Her local Leitchville community supported her trip by offering casual jobs to help her raise the necessary funds. In India she made life-long friends and has returned for several visits since. Now, through her involvement in the Daylesford Rotary Club, she has been working to provide similar opportunities for rural and regional young people to participate in exchanges and youth conferences.
Lesley studied science at Monash but worked afterwards at a state government children’s home in Burwood. She was unimpressed by the leadership in the home (and they may have been unimpressed by her) but she was convinced she could do a better job. After travelling overseas for a year with her future husband, Mark, she returned and did a Social Work degree with Honours at Monash and a Masters at La Trobe.
She set up the first hospital-based 24-hour sexual assault centre at the old Queen Victoria Hospital and was then seconded to John Cain’s Department of Premier and Cabinet to write a discussion paper on child sexual assault. She later worked as the manager of child protection services in the Melbourne regions.
She taught in the Department of Social Work at Monash University for 20 years but after she moved to Daylesford, the commute became too much and she retired. But retirement brought more time to devote to her community. She was on the Board of Hepburn Health for five years and the Words in Winter Committee for four. She has a continuing involvement in the Daylesford Rotary Club, Riding for the Disabled, the Daylesford and District Horticultural Society, the U3A Bushwalking Group and the Daylesford Indoor Aquatic Centre .
Lesley finds it difficult to sit on the sidelines. She learned bush riding skills from her father as a young girl. When she and Mark bought a house in Daylesford, they kept a horse at the Boomerang Ranch and her daughter joined the pony club. But it turned out that riding was also good therapy for her son who lives with a disability so she became involved in Daylesford Riding for the Disabled. RDA was in hiatus during the drought but Lesley stepped in as Secretary to help reactivate the group. Later, the coach, Steve Clare, wanted to travel around Australia for an extended period so Lesley trained as a disabled riding coach to fill the gap. She served as Secretary of the local club and later as President of RDA Victoria.
Lesley is committed to ensuring that people are able to make a living to support their families in this community. Lesley’s maternal great grandparents were married in Christ Church, Daylesford, but were forced to move to find work eventually settling near Colac. “This council term will be significantly impacted by the task of living with COVID,” said Lesley. “We need to support tourism, agriculture and construction to rebuild a strong local economy. A strong economy will support local jobs and better services. And we need to develop a 21st century hospital and indoor aquatics facilities to support our health and well-being.”
Lesley feels that the Council election results were an indication that people in the community wanted change. Satisfaction with Council was significantly lower than in other similar local government areas in the last state-wide survey. Three previous councillors retired before the election and three more were defeated in the election. “People want better transparency, more engagement and clearer communication from our Council,” she said. “People are prepared to use their skills for the community good and Council needs to harness that enthusiasm.”
Lesley is committed to providing strong representation for Birch Ward and to working with her fellow councillors for the betterment of Hepburn Shire. In her new roles as a Councillor, she looks forward to “planting a few more trees”.
Editor’s note: We plan to publish a profile of Jen Bray, the other elected Birch Ward Councillor, in the next issue of The Wombat Post.