Mary Veronica Neilson was born on 22 August 1895 in Waterloo, NSW, daughter of Moses Wheeler and Mary Gumbley. Her father Moses Wheeler was the first secretary of the Transport Workers Union, then named the Sydney Trolly and Draymen’s Union, formed in 1888. She married John William Neilson on 11 November 1912 in Redfern, NSW and they had three sons and three daughters. Mary Veronica Neilson died on 28 July 1985, aged 89 years, late of Raglan Street, Waterloo and she was buried in the Roman Catholic Section of Rookwood Cemetery. John William Neilson died on 9 November 1960 at Waterloo, aged 69 years. Mary and John Neilson lived at 56 1/2 Raglan Street, Waterloo.
Occupation & interests
After her election as mayor, Mary Neilson told the press of her vision for a better Waterloo. Its inadequate housing would be demolished and better living conditions created for its residents. The northern end of Waterloo would be created a residential area and among the new amenities would be a nursery, and health and community centres. Neilson also believed sex education and mothercraft should be included in the public school curriculum.
Mary Neilson was on the board of Royal South Sydney Hospital, serving as chairperson for a period, and was actively involved in the local Police Boys’ Club.
Local government service
Mary Veronica Neilson was Waterloo Municipal Council’s first elected female alderman, serving from 1945 – 1948, and also Waterloo’s first (and only) female Mayor, elected for two terms in 1946 and 1947. Women were conspicuous by their absence from local government and her election as Mayor was reported by several newspapers across the state due to its novelty. Mary Neilson was a female trail-blazer and important community role model.
Mary Neilson was no stranger to local politics. She was a member of the ALP Waterloo branch. Her husband John Neilson was previously an alderman on Waterloo Council (1932-40) and mayor twice. During that time, Mary Neilson served as the Mayoress, attending civic events and ceremonies, and working as a local patron, assisting with fundraising and communities activities. She also acted as Mayoress during the mayoral terms of two other aldermen.
Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 1940, p. 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17674924
Riverine Grazier, 7 December 1945, p.4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136631112
‘New Mayor of Waterloo is Mother of Six’, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 December 1945, p. 6, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17962657
‘Woman Mayor has Modern Views’, Evening Advocate, 24 December 1945, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212286206
‘Women Delegates To Conference’, Daily Examiner, 21 October 1947, p.1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article194907409
City of Sydney Archives, 2013/265164
City of Sydney Archives, Waterloo Municipal Council Minutes, 3 December 1945.
South Sydney: shaping the future, research by the South Sydney Parish of the Uniting Church in Australia, 1975, p. 46