BECOMING the youngest elected Mayor in Swan Hill Rural City Council (SHRCC) history at just 41 years of age is a pretty remarkable feat. Doing so with only two years of political experience, with two young boys in tow and while running your own small business under your belt is even more remarkable. For Robinvale resident and SHRCC’s newest Mayor, Jade Benham, who topped the voting polls in the 2020 election, it’s meant she has a “lot of extra work” on her plate. But Cr Benham says she’s not one to shy away from hard work, and says she’s ready to hit the ground running. Cr Benham spoke to Mildura Weekly’s Ash Falvo about how she juggles politics and parenthood, what her hopes are for the duration for her mayoral term, and how she plans to leave her mark on SHRCC.
AF: After serving some time as councillor, what prompted you to put your hand up for Mayor?
JB: It wasn’t an impulse decision.
Getting onto Council unopposed in a bi-election didn’t really validate my position. I was grateful, don’t get me wrong, but when there’s no fight how can you feel validated.
So when the election was held in 2020 and I topped the poll, I certainly felt validated in my role as Councillor. It was only then that I thought, well, perhaps with some planning I could aspire to be Mayor in the not too distant future.
It does take some planning though. I’ve run my own small business for over 10 years so the last 12 months I’ve gone about winding that workload back and will continue to do so over the next month, but of course I had to make sure my village was on board.
AF: How did it feel to be elected?
JB: I don’t think I wiped the smile off my face for at least three days. It’s humbling. Really humbling to think that these six other highly intelligent, accomplished people sitting in the chamber think that I am able to do the job of Mayor. It’s incredibly humbling.
AF: How do you plan on juggling your new role with being a Mum to two young boys?
JB: I don’t do any one thing by myself, I have a huge support system around me.
My husband had to be supportive and to be honest if he had’ve said that he didn’t want me to run, I wouldn’t have put my hand up. But he’s well aware of how I’m wired and my capacity to get things done, and we’re a great team.
He’s also the Orchard Manager of an almond farm as well as vice president of our local cricket club and on the Robinvale Golf Club committee so it’s not like he’s sitting at home waiting for me.
Being very community minded also, he understands the importance of being involved and how good it is for your whole individual being. But my extended family had to be on board also – my father plays a big role in childcare so I can attend Council meetings and other duties in Swan Hill, and to be honest, he certainly doesn’t hate it – I think he quite enjoys having his youngest grandson for a full day each week, and what great memories he’ll grow up with spending so much time on the farm with his Nonno.
My mother-in-law is also a huge part of that equation too. She’s Robinvale based and with the state of childcare in town being at capacity at the moment, I’m so glad she is.
I can ring her at a moment’s notice for support which I’m eternally grateful for.
So as you can see, it wasn’t an impulse. I had to make sure this is the path I wanted to follow and line lots of ducks up so I could give it everything the position deserves.
AF: In your opinion, what are the main differences between being an elected Councillor and Mayor?
JB: Mayor is certainly a lot of extra work. Not just in the extra meetings and functions, but getting to know all of the different issues, facts, figures and being across all of them.
Then there is trying to keep in touch and be a support to the other Councillors and I really hope I can keep a good grasp on that.
AF: What are the main projects or priorities for Robinvale that you’d like to undertake or work on during your time as Mayor?
JB: I would hope that by the time my term is up, four new townhouses in Robinvale are ready for people to live in.
We also have a lot of planning and rezoning issues that need to be worked through so Robinvale can grow and develop for the future.
I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m dedicated to raising the profile of Robinvale as not only an agricultural super power of our municipality, but as a tourist destination as well.
We are in the community consultation phase of our Robinvale Riverfront Masterplan and that is a huge priority for me.
AF: Where would you like to see Robinvale in say, five years time?
JB: In a perfect world it would be terrific to have another low density subdivision being developed and our riverfront developed and being the envy of our neighbours.
I’d like to see adequate and suitable housing for our agricultural workforce, the Robinvale College being a school of aspiration to attend and people having a sense of pride within our local community.
Wouldn’t it be nice if when people in other locations thought about getaways on the Murray River, Robinvale was top of their list?
Of course, we also need a pub. The pub is a huge issue which I have little to no jurisdiction over, but there’s no angle I’m not willing to tackle on this matter.
AF: What are the biggest issues or barriers facing Robinvale currently?
JB: Housing is a big one but we’re not unique and without private investment we may not address this issue in a swift fashion.
We are currently undertaking a Robinvale Housing Revitalisation Project which is looking at different ways the private sector might be able to invest to help with this issue and thus leading toward the growth and development I was referring to earlier.
AF: What does a typical day look like for you now?
JB: Typical? There’s no real typical day. Each day is different, but it always starts with exercise, be it my spin class or a swim at dawn! Then the morning is full of mum duties; getting my boys to school and daycare, then it could be anything – from dog park openings, zoom meetings (which still happen thankfully, it means I can attend without long distance driving), a drive to other parts of the state, there’s always a call to our acting CEO or council directors, I lean on them a lot for support too.
I’ll check in with our comms team who do a brilliant job and keep checking the calendar because if it’s not in my calendar I don’t show up.
Then the afternoons and evenings are different from day to day.
I still dedicate myself to basketball in Robinvale at least one night per week and I consider that community engagement because if I wasn’t there I may not get to talk to such a huge cross section of our community.
I really do consider basketball in Robinvale to be the one thing that carries across gender, age, religion, vaccination status and race.
None of that matters on the court, it’s such a great way to stay engaged with the whole community, not just one section of it.
Other nights there’s cricket, community meetings, dinners, it’s always different which is great.