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I want to be a mayor for the people

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I want to be a mayor for the people

The woman at the helm of a new-look Sunshine Coast Council has hit the ground running. WORDS: Ingrid Nelson.

Rosanna Natoli is a woman who is not afraid of hard work. Born to immigrant parents who arrived in Australia from Italy in the early 1950s, our new Sunshine Coast Mayor comes from tough stock.

The eldest of three, Mayor Natoli was educated through the state school system in Brisbane and had to grow a thick skin early on in life.

“I went to Aspley Primary School and then Aspley High,” Cr Natoli says.

“Being an Italian at school and being teased mercilessly about having hairy legs or what we ate on our sandwiches or having parents who didn’t speak without an accent makes you strong.

“It prepares you. Perhaps it was preparing me for a career in politics.”

Cr Natoli’s parents originally settled in Bundaberg, where her father farmed sugar cane and tobacco until he was diagnosed with cancer of the hard palate, not long after his first child was born.

“It was a really scary time for them,” Cr Natoli says. “Here was my mother in a county where she had no family, she didn’t speak the language and had a young child.

“They waited quite a while after my father’s treatment to have another child, and then I came along, and my brother followed shortly after.

“We moved from Bundaberg to Brisbane because my father was concerned if something happened to him, my mother might not be able to manage the farm.

“We only had each other. So, the five of us formed a very tight family bond.”

It’s fair to say Cr Natoli has always been a high achiever.

She was high school captain and received the Dux Award in Grade 12 for the highest academic achievement.

“Because I achieved a 990 TE score, everyone said: ‘You have to do medicine. If you don’t do medicine, you are wasting your life’. Unfortunately, I faint at the sight of too much blood. So, I couldn’t see that as a career path,” she says, laughing.

“Mind you, no one at the time explained if you don’t like blood there are other avenues.

“I’m sure it’s a lot different now.”

Aside from her academic achievements, Cr Natoli is also passionate about the arts and took part in several school productions, including playing the lead role in her high school musical.

Performing is something Cr Natoli has continued to enjoy into her adult years and, in 2017, she played the Wicked Witch in a stage production of The Wizard of Oz.

It’s also the reason she began a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Queensland.

“I went to the opposite side because I did love arts and performing and then because of the pressure from teachers and people telling me I was wasting my time with an arts degree, I moved to a Bachelor of Science, majoring in psychology,” Cr Natoli says. “I loved psychology.

“I wanted to be the interface between science and people.

“But when I married my husband Joe in 1989 and we moved to the Sunshine Coast, there were no organisations large enough at the time to employ an organisational psychologist, which is what I was interested in.”

Going full circle back to her love of people, performing and presenting, Cr Natoli decided to return to university and completed a Diploma of Journalism at Queensland University of Technology, with her sights set on becoming a television news reporter and presenter.

“I did work experience at Sunshine TV (a Seven Network affiliate in regional Queensland that was purchased by the network’s parent company, Seven Network) until they gave me a job. That was 29 years ago and the rest is history,” Cr Natoli says.

Despite her longevity and success in the industry, there were plenty of hills to climb along the way. But if anyone is up for a challenge, it’s Rosanna Natoli.

“My boss said: ‘I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is, I have a job for you. The bad news is, it’s in Bundaberg and I don’t expect you to last three months’. They underestimated me,” she says.

“I had to commute weekly from the Sunshine Coast. I would leave on a Sunday and come back on a Friday.

“Then, after six months, a position became available in Maryborough. So, I could leave on a Monday morning. I did that for 18 months before I got a job on the Sunshine Coast.”

That steely resolve is a quality that has served Cr Natoli well throughout her career and one she says will help her in her role as Sunshine Coast Mayor.

“Whatever I set my mind to, I’m going to do it,” she says.

“I’m going to see it through. I’m going to work really hard along the way. I don’t expect anything to be delivered to me.

“I know I have to go out there and get it and make it mine. So, that is something that is part of my personality.”

As well as her lengthy tenure as a news presenter for Network Seven, Cr Natoli has also worked as a journalism lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast for 24 years, while raising the three Natoli children – Ruby, 22, Mia, 20 and Roman, 17 – with husband Joe, the Sunshine Coast Division 4 councillor.

“For many years, I would start my day at the studio, then I would be at the university, then back to the studio in the afternoon. So, I have been doing the juggle for a long time,” she says.

So, what made this media stalwart decide to run for Sunshine Coast Mayor? Cr Natoli recalls the moment vividly.

“I was listening to a podcast by (former Foreign Affairs minister) Julie Bishop. She talked about how her first career was 20 years in law, and then she had 20 years in politics and now she was starting her third career as Chancellor at the Australian National University.

“I thought, ‘I’ve been at Network Seven for more than 25 years. I’ve been at the university for more than 20 years. What’s my next career?’. That’s when I knew I had more to do.

“If I looked back at what I had donein my 29 years, would I have felt like I had done enough? My answer to myself was ‘no’. I still had more to give to my community. I wanted to serve my community as Mayor of the Sunshine Coast.

“Once I had seen it, I couldn’t unsee it, but I didn’t say it out loud for quite some time. When I did, other people could see the same thing I could see.

“I had worked with community groups for nearly 30 years. It seemed like a natural progression.”

Although Cr Natoli is the first to admit that running an election campaign is “brutal”, she says it was a challenge she was well prepared for.

“I wanted to be the kind of leader my community would be proud of. You have to put yourself out there and ask your community to vote for you. That is a very humbling experience and also a privilege to know that the majority of people voted for me. That is a wonderful feeling.”

It was a nerve-racking couple of weeks after the election until it was officially confirmed Cr Natoli had won the mayoral race – a moment she will never forget.

“It was 10.15pm on Easter Thursday. My family had just watched our beloved Brisbane Lions lose and were stuck in traffic leaving The Gabba when we found out. I just said: ‘I’m in’ and we
all cheered. It really was a pinch-me moment. I couldn’t believe it had finally happened.”

As she reflects on her past and looks to the future, Mayor Natoli is clearly filled with emotion and pride.

“Both of my parents are gone now,” she says. “They came to Australia to give their children better opportunities.

“They were so proud every time I did well in a test or every time I got an academic award. They gave up connection to their family and their home for us and I wanted to make it worthwhile for them. Now, I feel like I have done that.”

As she embarks on the second week in her role, Cr Natoli says she wants to be known as a mayor for the people.

“I would like the people of the Sunshine Coast to feel like I am one of them and representing them. I want to be approachable. I want them to speak to me. I want to have an open relationship.

“Being on social media was one of my strategies during my campaign to be available to people and I intend to continue that as an avenue to stay in touch.”

It’s a big role, and one she knows will be a steep learning curve, but if Cr Natoli’s past achievements are anything to go by, the Sunshine Coast is in safe hands.

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Ingrid Nelson is the Co Editor of My Weekly Preview and a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience.

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