Joy Cummings – Australia’s first female Lord Mayor
Joy Cummings was Australia’s first female Lord Mayor and the Lord Mayor of Newcastle from 1974-1984. She had
many achievements during her time in office and left a tremendous legacy to the city after her death in 2003. Her
interest in politics began in 1938 at age 15 when she joined the ALP. Whilst maintaining her involvement in ALP
politics, Joy married Ray Cummings and raised four children. Her political life began in 1968 as the first woman to win
a seat on Newcastle City Council, when she was appointed alderman of the city’s East Ward.
Joy’s first political venture was campaigning to save Moreton Bay Fig trees in Islington. During her political career she
was known for her many environmental achievements in Newcastle including the preservation of Blackbutt Reserve
and its extension to include Richley Reserve; the saving of Civic Park, the establishment of the world-renowned
Shortland Wetlands and Glenrock state preservation areas, and perhaps most particularly, the development of the
There were very few women in politics in Australia in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and Joy served as a strong role model
for them. Not only was she the first female Lord Mayor in the country but she was also the first woman to be elected
to the Hunter Conservation Trust and the Hunter Water Board. She was also the first woman to enter and address the
Newcastle Business Men’s Club and the Newcastle Club, paving the way for other female politicians in the region.
As a passionate sponsor of the arts and an active patron of the Hunter Orchestra, she identified closely with the
creative members of our community. Council support and sponsorship of the arts were very important to Joy, and her
grand-daughter Sarah Wynter (also a Novocastrian) has gone on to become an internationally successful actress.
Joy Cummings was a politician for and of the people and her genuineness, warmth and compassion for all citizens of
Newcastle made her a popular Lord Mayor and much-loved member of the community. She was re-elected for three
consecutive terms before she retired after a stroke in 1984. Joy could often be found joining in singalongs at elderly
citizens’ clubs or enjoying a cup of tea at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She embraced the ethnic and aboriginal
members of the community and was the first Lord Mayor to raise the indigenous flag over a town or city hall and to
hold a civic reception in honour of indigenous peoples. A proud Novocastrian, Joy ensured the preservation of many
iconic heritage buildings such as the old police station, City Hall, Civic Theatre, Fort Scratchley and the streetscapes
of Cooks Hill and Newcastle East.
Joy Cummings was a woman with abundant energy and a wonderful spirit whose love of and life long dedication to
the city of Newcastle and its people made her a truly outstanding individual. Through her governance of the city and
great compassion towards its community, she reshaped the role and image of the Lord Mayor and left a remarkable
impact on the city of Newcastle.