Edna Duncanson (OAM) has long been a formidable force and a pioneering woman in the Bega Valley.
From preschools to the aged care sector, Edna has committed most of her life to being a regional community advocate.
Edna was born in 1938 and grew up in Carlton, Sydney. She left school after intermediate (year 10) following a workplace accident that left her father unable to work.
"There was no such thing as workers comp. I was the eldest of five girls so someone had to bring some money in," she said.
She was able to gain a public service scholarship at Sydney Technical College to learn short-hand typing and following that worked in legal offices and at an import and export company in the city.
In 1961 she married her life partner Ray Duncanson and the two jumped onboard a ship to Europe where they lived, worked, and travelled for 18 months.
Ray was working as an electrician and Edna worked for a company that put on motor, caravan, and boat shows.
The two returned to Sydney in November 1962 where they lived and worked for another three years before moving to Bega.
The idea to move to Bega came about after Edna's sister Colleen had moved down, along with her uncle Jim who was teaching science at the high school.
The couple also decided, "we didn't want to have and bring kids up in the city". They moved to the Far South Coast in November of 1965 after Ray successfully found work with Bega Valley County Council.
"We thought we'd try living in the country for five years, it kind of got extended", laughed Edna.
A year later, Edna gave birth to her first son David, followed by her daughter Kerith, and then her third child Ian. She has since been blessed with six grandchildren.
Becoming a mother made Edna impassioned about equal access to childcare for people in regional areas.
"I was having children and getting very involved with the preschool movement as there were not many preschools in the country areas at that time".
She became a representative for NSW Country Preschools for this area and advocated to get community preschools built and operated in Pambula, Bombala, and Bermagui. She said there was only one preschool in Bega prior to that, which was also fairly new.
It was her excellent grant writing abilities and her work with Country Preschools that got people around her talking her into running for Council.
She said all of the councillors at the time, or alderman as they were called, were "Carp Street businessmen" and their meetings were very brief and held during evenings, often followed by a beer at the bowling club.
"They'd decide what they were going to do at a council meeting that went for 10 minutes.
"You've got to remember the Bega Municipal was one mile square and we virtually had everything, it wasn't as though they had to get all that much.
"They didn't have to worry about Eden or Bermagui, it was just this area here that they were looking after," said Edna.
Edna recalls how shocked the alderman were to see her turn up to the public gallery to observe the meetings in the lead up to her running for council.
"I was the first person ever to appear in the public gallery," she said.
Edna further shocked the public when she started a door knocking campaign and then when she stood outside the polling booth on election day and handed out how-to-vote cards.
"It was a bit of a shock to them. Because they had never had them before," she said.
In September 1974 Edna was elected to serve as an alderman on the council and said she was the first woman to serve a full-term, with only one other woman voted in before she elected who served half a term.
Edna served as alderman until the amalgamation of Bega, Mumbulla, and Imlay Municipals in 1981. The she became a councillor on the newly formed Bega Valley Shire Council.
It was only after the amalgamation that Edna and her colleagues started receiving monetary allowances for this work.
She served a year as deputy in 1983 before becoming Shire president (mayor) in 1984. She was the area's first female president. Then, she served as deputy again before she retired from council in August of 1995 after a massive 21 years in the job.
During her time as councillor Edna was involved in various committees and took a great interest in areas such as shire art galleries and libraries.
Up until she became council president, she was also a member of the Local Land Board and was the first woman to hold such a position in NSW.
"The Local Land Board used to adjudicate on rural property disputes between rural owners," she said.
She resigned from that position during her presidency due to identifying a possible conflict of interest.
Another big part of Edna's life has been her work founding community aged care in the Bega Valley, and her fundraising efforts with the Bega District Nursing Home Auxiliary that began in 1974.
On how Edna found the time to give so much to her local community, Edna said her had very supportive parents who lived in Ulladulla
"Mum and dad were particularly supportive while I was on council. They used to come down and look after Ray and the kids while I was away at conferences and things," she said.
Ray said he was used to Edna spending time in service to her community, and had always been well aware of how bright and determined she was.
"Our kids learnt how to answer the phone. It was a very busy house for years," he said.
Edna and Ray have travelled extensively throughout their lives, having visited around 80 countries in total.
They also taught their young children the value of travel when in 1977 they took them on a 10 week trip to Europe and the Americas.
"It's only the last couple of years that I've slowed down, I had tongue cancer and that caused all sorts of problems," she said.
Edna said it was the contact with people that has always driven her to contribute.
"My son Ian reckons we could never go down the main street without talking to someone. He used to climb up the traffic poles while he waited for me to finish speaking."
"I've always enjoyed contact with people, especially community contact," said Edna.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.