Sally Capp: one last chat as Lord Mayor of Melbourne

Sean Car

In her final days as Lord Mayor, Sally Capp caught up with Southbank News one last time to reflect on her “extraordinary” journey leading the City of Melbourne through the most challenging period in its history.

For some it will take a bit of time to adjust to the idea of Melbourne without Sally at the helm, such is the energy, drive, and passion she brought into leading it out of some of its darkest times.

In many ways, she’s given new meaning to what it means to be Lord Mayor having very much made the position her own. As she put it, “it’s consumed my life for six years, and I’ve loved that.”

Speaking just days before her official end date on Sunday, June 30, she said that while she felt “really sad” to be finishing, she also felt “very happy” to have been part of what’s been an incredible time for Melbourne.

“It’s a real feeling of, ‘WOW’,” she said. “We have been through the most extraordinary times.”

“You don’t always get a chance to stop in the busy day-to-day and reflect, but of course, these are the times for doing that when you transition onto something else.”

While it’s not known what that “something else” is on a professional level yet, she said she had planned a break with her husband Andrew Sutherland in July to spend some time with their son Will who lives in the UK.

When she returns home, don’t expect her to be a stranger in the community. She said the parts of being Lord Mayor that she found “intoxicating” were being “engaged, informed and connected”.

As a Carlton resident she anticipates that she’ll still be playing an active role in helping shape the city, only this time as a local.

“Being a responsible citizen and all of those things which I’ve come to really appreciate through this role aren’t going to go away, so I’m going to find different ways in which I can continue to be fueled by all of those things,” she told Southbank News.

And while her legacy will be judged differently right across Melbourne, it’s that way in which she helped bring the role of Lord Mayor back to its foundations – the local community – that will be looked back on favourably by many.



So too, her desire to drive change within the City of Melbourne, no matter how “risk adverse” she found local government to be after switching over from a career in the private sector.

From her early days as Lord Mayor in 2018, she made no secret of her love for “big ideas”. Her signature Greenline project is a testament to that ambition – something she said she hoped would form part of her legacy.

“This job’s helped me push my own personal and professional barriers, and it’s been a fantastic and extraordinary environment,” she said, adding that the change of mindset within the council had “unleashed the team”.

Among the many big-ticket items she’s proud to have been a part of include bringing renewable energy to more residents and businesses through Power Melbourne, and providing accommodation for rough sleepers through the Make Room project.

The renewal of Queen Victoria Market is another project she highlights, which she said “was at a standstill” when she came to office and was now 65 per cent complete. “It’s just stunning to stand there on the weekends as a customer of the market and enjoy all of the new features,” she said.

But beneath all the larger stuff, she’s just as proud to have had a hand in providing the everyday amenities, such as community and sporting facilities, parks, playgrounds, trees and keeping the city clean, that makes Melbourne the city it is.

“On the whole we’re just so lucky in Melbourne; it’s an awesome city.”

While the COVID pandemic marked some of the toughest times our city has ever endured, she said the need to “operate without a rule book” was one positive aspect of this period that had helped change the culture at Town Hall for the better.


“We needed to respond with care and with speed, and we had to take more risks and that’s where ‘city of yes’ came from as a cultural theme here,” she said.


“We’re really trying to do more and more of that to acknowledge that, yes, red tape is necessary sometimes, but that it can’t be the reason why we do things – we’ve got to stay focused on the outcome and delivery for our community.”

But perhaps the most important part of her legacy, and one which is often overlooked, is the way in which she so quickly helped to repair the broken City of Melbourne reputation she inherited from her predecessor Robert Doyle, who was forced to resign amid claims of sexual misconduct made against him by multiple women.

“It doesn’t often get talked about because so many other things have happened since then. But for me personally, it’s why I put my hand up,” she said.

“We have not just recovered or responded to that, but we’ve taken so many big steps forward in culture and performance – that is something I’m proud of. I can walk away from this organisation, which is a really important institution, and feel that I’ve played a positive leadership role, which we’ll see play out into the future as well.”



With her now former deputy Nicholas Reece being sworn in as Melbourne’s 105th Lord Mayor on July 2 for just a few months ahead of the elections in October, she also paid tribute to her “terrific” councillor colleagues, who she said had been a “very collegiate and respectful” group.

While there are “so many things” she’ll miss about being Lord Mayor, it’s “the interactions with community” and being “the number one champion for the city” she told Southbank News tearfully that she’d miss the most.

“I’ve said this a little bit towards the end of my term, but I’m an introvert on the Myers-Biggs spectrum and some people find that very hard to believe. I’ve been highly energised by the passion of the people who have given me this inner sort of resolve and fortitude to get out there to be the champion on their behalf, because I see the work that they’re doing and the ambitions that they have and their own selflessness,” she said.

“I talked about big stuff earlier, but I’ve also come to understand that little things can create ripples that turn into waves, and all of those combined efforts have resulted in wonderful outcomes for the City of Melbourne.”

“That’s what I feel when I’m out there and it’s not that I won’t feel that anymore – it’ll just be different in that I won’t be the number one champion for the city, and I’ve really loved that.” •

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