PRESTIGIOUS AWARD: Nancy Bates has been recognised as a Queensland Great. Photo: Cody Fox

ONE OF THE GREATS: Legendary editor earns QLD Day honour

6th June 2020 7:11 AM
UPDATED 1:25 PM
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WHEN a country publican or two didn't like the idea of serving a woman a beer in the main bar, Nancy Bates had no trouble marching up to the police station and returning with officers in tow.

She was also resolute in her fight to change a Queensland law that allowed men to rape their estranged wives.

These are some of the lesser known tales and legacies of the legendary newspaper editor and community advocate who was today officially crowned a Queensland Great.

Despite being the first female editor of a Queensland newspaper (only the second in Australia at the time) and having written an estimated 5550 editorials, Mrs Bates said she still found it surprising she was considered a trailblazer in journalism.

Community and state leaders however were well convinced.

Fraser Coast mayor George Seymour said Mrs Bates had, for many years, "used her skills and energy as a writer, organiser and lobbyist to the great benefit of the Fraser Coast community".

"From the Mary Ann steam train to Mary Poppins statue, the Gallipoli to Armistice Memorial and everything in between, Nancy has been a great advocate for Maryborough as a city with a culture, history and spirit of its own," Cr Seymour said.

"Whether mentoring young reporters, advancing projects or promoting our region she has at all stages showed a strong determination, an independent spirit and relentless energy that we can all look to for inspiration.

"Her leadership at the Fraser Coast Chronicle for over two decades saw our community through triumph and tragedy - always giving a voice to the issues that mattered and a very insightful perspective."

Former Chronicle editor and community advocate Nancy Bates has been named a Queensland Great.
Former Chronicle editor and community advocate Nancy Bates has been named a Queensland Great.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Mrs Bates and the others who joined her on this year's honours list including Bruce and Denise Morcombe, all had something in common.

"They display strength, courage, ingenuity, talent and determination - all of the things that continue to make Queensland what it is," she said.

Through her career, Mrs Bates took on the issues few dared to touch.

"My fight to change a Queensland law that allowed men to rape their estranged wives was challenging," she said.

"In the mid-1980s Queensland law required couples to be separated for three years before filing for divorce.

"A woman who had been separated from her husband for two years and was in a new relationship was violently raped by her husband, who broke into her unit through the laundry window.

"She went to the police: they could do nothing because the law said she was still married to him and it was not illegal for a man to rape his wife.

"She came to me. I was told by the patriarchal head office to forget it but put my job on the line to fight for the story to be published and the law to be changed.

"Then-editor Andy Anderson stood behind me and we published a watered-down version; then MP for Maryborough Gilbert Alison went in to bat against a fiercely patriarchal Bjelke-Petersen Queensland Cabinet and the law was modified but it was not until 1989 that Queensland became the last state to criminalise marital rape in 1989."

Mrs Bates was passionate about making sure the culture of the Fraser Coast's Butchulla people had a place in the newspaper.

That included running a page about Butchulla customs and language every week, a project she championed along with her close friend and colleague, the late Toni McRae.

Former Chronicle editor and community advocate Nancy Bates has been named a Queensland Great.
Former Chronicle editor and community advocate Nancy Bates has been named a Queensland Great.

"The Let's Learn Butchulla series, used in schools and workplaces," Mrs Bates said.

"I had wanted to do this for many years because I strongly believed that the Butchulla culture was a part of the Fraser Coast heritage and we all needed to embrace it.

"When Toni McRae joined my team she understood my vision and together, with people like Aunty Frances Gala, we ran the weekly feature that helped weave our indigenous heritage into our social fabric.

"Much more needs to be done but with the seeds we sowed have sprouted, and with leaders such as Glen Miller, we will be richer for taking pride in living in the realm of the Butchulla."

Upon her retirement, Mrs Bates' contribution to the state was recognised by then Labor premier Anna Bligh.

"Nancy is known for her colourful turn of phrase and she never pulls a punch," Mrs Bligh told the parliament.

"In her time she has certainly written some very fiery words about all politicians, and many times they have been about those on my side."

Indeed, Mrs Bates often took the anger sometimes directed at her by both sides of politics as a sign she was doing her job right.

The work for her beloved Fraser Coast has not ceased since she retired.

She was the driving force behind the Gallipoli to Armistice memorial built in Maryborough's Queens Park in time for the 100th anniversary of the landing at Anzac Cove.

She's been crowned Fraser Coast Citizen of the Year and awarded an OAM.

Born in New Zealand and still proud of her heritage and the All Blacks, Nancy has always maintained that her adopted home is the best place in the world to live and raise a family.

She has been supported in every endeavour by her husband Tony and daughters Amber and Tasmin.

Amber, who spent her infancy in a bassinet (and sometimes on a pile of shredded copy) in the Chronicle office, said yesterday "Rarely have I ever seen a woman who is as resilient and determined as Mum. Her passion for our local area, ideas and enthusiasm to promote our region is nothing short of incredible."