First Indigenous Councillor For Western Downs

Within a month of announcing her candidacy for a seat on the Western Downs Regional Council, QUT Pathways to Politics for Women alum, Sophie Bougoure, was standing shoulder to shoulder with neighbours as the second bushfire in 10 months tore through her rural community.

The sixth generation Tara local saw the ‘realness’ of small communities in those October flames and it strengthened her resolve to follow a political career.

Five months later, Cr Bougoure has now won the right to support her community in an official capacity after being elected as the youngest and first Indigenous member of the Western Downs Regional Council.

“When you’re faced with disaster after disaster, it’s a matter of bringing that connection back in and saying we are all in this together,” Cr Bougoure said.

“Yes, there are families who have lost everything, but we are all here to support and it’s about bringing the community along for the journey and fighting for what’s right for the community.

“My aunt was on the ground delivering the mail in the fire zone that day and I remember ringing her and saying there’s been a report that the fire is on her route.

“And she said yes, it’s just behind me.”

Cr Bougoure’s aunt made it to safety but tragically two people lost their lives, and almost 50 homes were destroyed as fires ripped through the Western Downs.

“We have a great community filled with strength and resilience which comes together in times of need, and I take great pride in being part of it,” she said.

QUT Pathways to Politics for Women program director Professor Vicky Browning congratulated Cr Bougoure on her election win, saying the most successful political careers are based on community trust, honesty, and a deep understanding of the local issues.

She said the new wave of women graduating from QUT Pathways to Politics for Women would also challenge the public perception of how female politicians from diverse backgrounds can make a difference in a positive way.

“The Pathways program allows them to explore what the real opportunities are and see other women who have navigated the challenges of politics.”

Cr Bougoure, 35, grew up in Tara and joined the Royal Australian Navy for four years before moving to England for two years.

Sophie Bougoure with her grandfather Phil Bougoure. Picture: supplied

For her 21st birthday she was given a commemorative key and with it was a message that said: ‘To the future Mayor of Tara Shire’.

“I still don’t know who wrote that note but I’ve always had aspirations to go into politics,’ she said.

“My father works in oil and gas, my mother passed away when I was 12, and my grandfather was the last mayor of the Tara Shire before we amalgamated.”

In 2022 she applied to be part of QUT Pathways to Politics for Women, coincidentally joining at the same time as her cousin, Aleisha Staines, who ran in the Noosa Shire Council election this year.

“Every aspect of the course helped me prepare for the campaign. You look at things in a different way and that was a really good starting point.

“One of the things I thoroughly enjoyed was you had people from all walks of life, all parties there. It didn’t matter which party you were aligned with; we were all there for the same purpose. The networking is phenomenal.”

Now in government, Cr Bougoure is keen to draw on her QUT Pathways to Politics for Women experience to mentor young people who may be interested in a political career.

“There was a teacher who followed me on social media and every week in her Year 10 class she pulled up my profile on Facebook and said this is how you run a campaign.

“They are all learning about the world, I don’t see why you can’t capture that enthusiasm at school and home in on it.”

Applications are now open for the 2024 QUT Pathways to Politics for Women, closing on 24 April. Apply HERE.

A virtual information session to learn about the course will be presented by program director Professor Vicky Browning on Tuesday, 16 April. Register HERE.

Main picture: Cr Sophie Bougoure. Picture: Supplied

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