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Rockhampton’s 50 Most Influential: Number 1


“We absolutely must deliver a similar quality of life to what young people know they can get in the more urban capitals. Otherwise we would never keep our kids here and if they go, then the grandparents follow.”

Margaret Strelow


Jann Houley and

4 min read'

July 9, 2020 - 12:39PM






Margaret Strelow taught the men of Rockhampton it was okay to shake hands with a woman.

She was the first female mayor of Rockhampton when she came to office in 2000, and there were few other women in positions of authority.

“I felt very excluded for the first couple of weeks,” she said.

“The men would shake each other’s hands then look at me awkwardly.

“I had to stick my hand out and dare them not to shake it.

“I bet they don’t remember that now.”

Ms Strelow’s been sticking up for what she believes in since, at 17, a first year University student in Brisbane, she joined a march against Bjelke-Petersen’s anti-protest policies.

“I always feel a sense of alignment between what I think should happen and my responsibility to get involved,” she said.

“It really stings when I feel injustice is being done to me or to someone else, so I have to stick my neck out.”


Ms Strelow has taken the flak for some of Council’s bolder decisions but, she said, many people overestimate just how much power the Mayor has.

“Especially with the new legislation introduced last year; it’s now quite limited, really,” she said.

“I can set direction only when others allow me do it. But I guess all leadership is like that.”

“It is both a weighty responsibility and an incredible privilege.”

Her first stint in office, 2000-08, saw the overhaul of Central Queensland’s basic infrastructure, which Ms Strelow calls the “bread and butter stuff”.

“Our water and sewage, our roads had deteriorated so badly, Rockhampton had a reputation around the state for all the wrong reasons,” she said.

“But these last eight years have been about envisioning what kind of place our region can become, comfortable in its own skin and ready for new adventures.”

Ms Strelow was accused of wasting taxpayers’ money – on the RiverBank precinct, on the new gallery, on Kershaw Gardens – but she said the 2016 election results came “right over the top of all that.”

“We absolutely must deliver a similar quality of life to what young people know they can get in the more urban capitals,” she said.

“Otherwise we would never keep our kids here and if they go, then the grandparents follow.”


One of Ms Strelow’s favourite memories is walking around in the rain on the first night of Rockhampton’s first River Festival.

“I really went out on a limb that time; I really pushed for the festival to have a particular style or flavour,” she said.

“The first night it rained but nobody would go home, they were walking around in the rain in awe and coming up to me and saying, “I can’t believe this is Rockhampton.””

“It was a city stepping out again.”

So, what’s it been like during Covid-19 lockdowns, as the threat of a pandemic sent everyone back indoors?

“It reminds me of a few years ago, when bird flu was floating around, I went back to work after Boxing Day and the office was nearly empty,” Ms Strelow said.

“I remember thinking, at the time, we had no plan to manage the community through a pandemic. I spent time thinking about what we would do if bird flu broke out as a full pandemic.

“That’s why I’m so proud of the Council’s Rose’s Angels initiative which aims to make sure nobody is left without help.”

Ms Strelow cites among her sources of strength her Christian faith and the support of her community.

“If you’re just on social media it can seem all negative but, in fact, I receive very meaningful words of encouragement,” she said.

“It might seem like someone in my position has to have a thick skin but you still need to be able to feel, otherwise you get cut off from the people you’re elected to take care of.

“It’s a bit like being a parent – there’s a deep sense of responsibility alongside times of absolute exhaustion.

“But then there are moments of deep-seated joy you can’t get any other way, when you know you’ve made a positive impact, even beyond others’ expectations.”

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