Irene Doutney retired as a City of Sydney Councillor and Deputy Lord Mayor in September 2016. She represented her community and The Greens on Council for 8 years. Not everyone has heard of her – self-promotion was never her thing. But if you’ve been involved in community activism in the inner-city you’ve probably come across her.
Irene was always an unlikely politician. When I first met her as an inner-city Greens activist I thought of her as a warm, unassuming lady who was always ready to roll up her sleeves and support campaigns in any way she could. She volunteered in Greens offices and attended lots of rallies but I would never have guessed she would run for office.
Irene surprised me in 2011 by hiring me to work in her office at Sydney Town Hall. For five years I got to work closely with her and witness her unrelenting commitment to the communities she represented. It didn’t matter what was going on, personally or politically. Irene just kept going.
During our five years in Town Hall I came to learn some of the extraordinary details of her life. Her battles with mental illness and drug addiction were placed on the public record during the 2012 Council election campaign. Going public with these details was a huge challenge for Irene but I came to realise that huge challenges were an ongoing theme in her life. Addiction and mental illness aside, she had already survived many other hardships including childhood poverty and domestic violence.
This audio story was compiled from a number of oral history sessions I did with her between August and November 2016. It also features recordings from an event held by Lord Mayor Clover Moore in August 2016 to farewell retiring City of Sydney Councillors.
This story features discussions about some fairly dark topics including drug addiction and suicide. Irene is proof that people can re-surface from the darkest of places to live meaningful lives. If that content brings up anything for you there is support available. Lifeline is a 24 hour phone counselling service available on 13 11 14. A visit to your GP for a Mental Health action plan is also a great place to start.
If you would like to know more about Irene’s work on Council you can visit her website: https://clrdoutney.wordpress.com/
Big thanks to Irene for trusting me with her story. It’s only one version, but one that I though was important to tell. xx