On the ASHET weekend tour to Glen Davis, Kandos and Rylstone earlier this year we met Esme Martens, President of the Kandos Museum Committee. Esme has made history as a woman engineer in Australian local government over a career of so far 47 years and still going.
In her engineering course at the University of Queensland Esme was the only woman among 600 male students. When she graduated in 1962 in Civil Engineering in 1962 it was some time before she was able to find a position as an engineer but eventually fond one with the Department of Main Roads where a part of her duties was considered to be making tea for the male staff. She was soon appointed foreman of a construction crew in central Queensland constructing culverts and doing road work. Seeing little future with main Roads, she moved to New South Wales to work as an engineer with the Tweed Shire in Murwillumbah.
At the age of 27 she was appointed Shire Engineer of Woodburn Shire at Coraki, the first woman to be appointed to a Shire Engineer position in Australia. The Town Clerk told the Council they had gone stark raving mad appointing a woman. A few years later after the Town Clerk’s wife died and he had retired he married the young Shire Engineer. The position of Shire engineer at Woodburn disappeared with amalgamation of the shire and rather than accept a position as deputy in the amalgamated shire, Esme found a Shire Engineer position at Rylstone which she held for 18 years.
She took a leading part in community affairs and was Chairman of the Rylstone Hospital Board for many years. She was honoured with an AM and nominated a bicentennial woman of the year in 1988. Over the years Esme has continued to study and has earned a degree in economics a diploma in front line management and a university certificate in construction management.
Now retired from engineering, she runs the farm at Running Stream since her partner died in 2006. She was elected to the Mid Western Regional Council based in Mudgee in 2006 and re-elected in 2008.
Source: Newsletter of the Australian Society for History of Engineering and Technology, July 2911