Sallyanne Atkinson

Interviewed by
Peter Spearritt, Danielle Miller & Kathryn Talbot
Feb 22 2012
Sallyanne Atkinson
Time Summary Keywords

Sallyanne Atkinson discusses her childhood and education, and states she was born in Sydney in 1942 after her mother had been evacuated from Colombo. She describes her peripatetic childhood and her education at a range of institutions before the family eventually moved to Southport in Queensland where she finished her education at St Hilda's in Southport before studying at the University of Queensland.

Gold Coast, University of Queensland

Sallyanne Atkinson explains that due to her family's strained finances she decided to take up a cadetship at the Telegraph newspaper. She states that she finished her degree at the University of Queensland as an external student and highlights the importance of taking political science as part of her degree.

Paul Braddy, political science, University of Queensland

Sallyanne Atkinson discusses her time as a journalist, interrupting her career to start a family. She states that she stopped being a full-time journalist in 1964 but she has continued to write individual pieces.

Courier mail, journalism, sexual discrimination, women

Sallyanne Atkinson discusses the development of her political views. She states that her time in Edinburgh was integral to sparking her political interest which continued when she returned to Brisbane in 1970. She claims that she would have joined the ALP if not for the influence of the unions. She details the change in party conferences since the 1970s.

DLP, Gordon Chalk

Sallyanne Atkinson describes the National Party in the Bjelke-Petersen era and the politics of the BCC during this period. She states her support for an amalgamated party.

Brisbane City Council, Clem Jones, Coalition

Sallyanne Atkinson discusses writing her 'Around Brisbane' book while working for Federal Senator Jim Killen. She highlights Brisbane's inferiority complex at that time.

Brisbane, Jim Killen, tourism

Sallyanne Atkinson explains her decision to stand for the BCC. She states that she was encouraged to run for the Ward of Indooroopilly when Lex Ord announced his retirement. She discusses the challenges of a woman running for a safe seat.

Brisbane City Council, Clem Jones, Ian Prentice, women

Sallyanne Atkinson states that she doesn't think of herself as a politician. She discusses the similarities between journalism and her job on the BCC.


Sallyanne Atkinson reflects on the culture of the BCC when she was first elected and the challenges of being a woman in a male dominated environment. She states that she got greater press coverage and people were polite to women. She also describes the view that there were male and female policy areas.

Brisbane City Council, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, journalism, sexual discrimination, women

Sallyanne Atkinson describes the composition of the BCC when she first entered Council in 1979. She recalls the support she received from Clem Jones when running for Lord Mayor. She discusses the alterations made to the electoral processes for Lord Mayor and the attempts to get a National Party candidate to run for the position.

Brisbane City Council, Brisbane Lord Mayor, Bryan Walsh, Clem Jones, Frank Sleeman, Ian Brusasco, Roy Harvey, Russ Hinze

Sallyanne Atkinson describes her decision to stand down from the safe Indooroopilly Ward and run for the Lord Mayoralty in her mid-thirties. She describes her campaign and the major issues.

Brisbane Lord Mayor, campaign strategy, Commonwealth Games 1982, mayoral elections

Sallyanne Atkinson discusses heritage conservation in Brisbane during the 1960s-70s, highlighting the connection between buildings and the identity of a city. She describes the development of Brisbane and its infrastructure.

Bellevue Hotel, heritage, John Greenwood, state development

Sallyanne Atkinson reflects on the relationship between the Bjelke-Petersen State government and the BCC during her time in office. She discusses the boundaries between State government and the local Council and how they have changed over time. She discusses the importance of a garbage workers' strike in her campaign for the mayoralty.

Bjelke-Petersen Government 1968-87, Brisbane City Council, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Ken Mead, Russ Hinze, SEQEB dispute, waste disposal

Sallyanne Atkinson discusses her relationship with the town clerk, Tony Philbrick, and his eventual replacement. She discusses an incident when a listening device was found in her office.

John White, Ted Campbell, Tony Philbrick, town clerk

Sallyanne Atkinson discusses the White Report into Council structures and reflects on the contacts she made during her time as a councillor.

Brisbane City Council, John White, White Report

Sallyanne Atkinson describes the politics behind Expo 88 and her relationship with the State government. She describes the lessons she learnt from observing expositions in New Orleans and Vancouver which revealed the necessity of planning for the site post-Expo.

Expo 88, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Llew Edwards, state development

Sallyanne Atkinson describes State government encroachment on Council responsibilities. She considers the Council's role as an alternative State government and compares the BCC to councils in the southern cities.

Anna Bligh, Brisbane City Council, Peter Beattie, Wayne Goss

Sallyanne Atkinson discusses implementing the green levy. She reflects on the 1991 election when she lost office.

budget process, Drew Hutton, Green, green levy, preferences

Sallyanne Atkinson states that she was never involved in the internal politics of the Liberal Party.

Brian Austin, Don Lane

Sallyanne Atkinson describes the politics of the attempts to build the World's Tallest Building in Brisbane. She reflects on allegations about bribery during the Bjelke-Petersen years and states that she didn't see evidence of corruption in local government.

corruption, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, John Minuzzo, Sydney Schubert, World's Tallest Building

Sallyanne Atkinson reflects on the Brisbane bid for the 1992 Olympics and the Australian Olympic bids more generally. She describes the impact of the bid on Council operations.

Australian Olympic Committee, Brisbane, Commonwealth Games 1982, John Coates, Kevin Gosper, Olympic Games bid, Roy Harvey

Sallyanne Atkinson compares the bids for Expo and the Olympics.

Clem Jones, Expo 88, Frank Sleeman, Llew Edwards, Olympic Games bid

Sallyanne Atkinson describes the garbage dispute that helped bring her prominence. She discusses negotiating with the unions, and the workers directly, and describes how the industry had changed over time.

Brisbane City Council, privatisation, strikes, waste disposal

Sallyanne Atkinson describes her attitude towards privatisation and the importance of maintaining a Council labour force.

Brisbane City Council, privatisation

Sallyanne Atkinson reflects on water policy, while in office never imagining that Brisbane would potentially run out of water. She discusses Council budget processes and the State government takeover of electricity in 1979.

Brisbane, budget process, electricity, water policy

Sallyanne Atkinson discusses the preservation of the Brisbane Powerhouse and her desire for the site to be used for the arts.

Arts, Brisbane Powerhouse, Don Lane

Sallyanne Atkinson recalls her belief that she would win the 1991 election. She discusses the Brisbane Plan, which was a whole-of-government plan examining infrastructure and green space in Brisbane. She discusses media coverage of Council issues and she reflects on the mistakes of the Liberal Party campaign. She compares her final campaign with her first. She discusses the 2009 State government election.

2009 election, Anna Bligh, Brisbane, Brisbane Plan, campaign strategy, Environment, green space, Jim Soorley, Lawrence Springborg

Sallyanne Atkinson describes changing the self-perception of Brisbanites as her major achievement. She discusses the development of Southbank and reflects on the importance of restructuring Council. She describes her relationship with various State premiers.

Bjelke-Petersen Government 1968-87, Gordon Chalk, Joan Sheldon, Kevin Rudd, Southbank, Wayne Goss

Sallyanne Atkinson states that her biggest regret was losing the 1991 election, which meant she was unable to implement the Brisbane Plan. She discusses the level of complacency amongst the team in the lead up to the 1991 election.

Brisbane Plan, Leo Hielscher, Sydney Schubert

Sallyanne Atkinson considers the nature of local Council boundaries. She describes the formation of the BCC boundaries and states her views on the Beattie government's council amalgamations. She discusses internal tensions in the Labor Party.

Anna Bligh, Bryan Walsh, Jim Soorley, Local council amalgamations, Peter Beattie, Roy Harvey, Wayne Goss

Sallyanne Atkinson discusses the growing interest of the State government in the city. She describes the political culture of the city.

Brisbane, Gold Coast, Russ Hinze

Sallyanne Atkinson briefly discusses secession movements in Queensland.


Sallyanne Atkinson states that she believes lord mayors should be popularly elected in order to better represent the city. She argues popular election adds authority to the position. She mentions her support for a republic.

Governor, republic

Interview ends.

Further reading: 

Joseph Siracusa, Sallyanne: portrait of a Lord Mayor, The Jacaranda Press, 1987

Sallyanne Atkinson, Sallyanne Atkinson’s Brisbane Guide, UQP, 1985