This year, the Yarra City Council paid homage to Victoria’s first female politician by introducing a new pedestrian light silhouette in the shape of a woman.
The figure – although often mistaken for Mary Poppins – is of Mary Rogers, dressed in the classic 1920s fashion and is the first of its kind in Australia.
The Yarra City Council and VicRoads teamed up to introduce the new set of pedestrian lights on the corner of Bosisto Street and Bridge Road in Richmond.
The planning was in the pipeline for several years and was thought up as a way to not only celebrate an iconic figure but as a way to promote gender equality.
Mayor of the Yarra City Council, Roberto Colanzi, says Mary Rogers is the perfect role model for gender equality.
“She was elected in 1920 as a Labor councillor when politics, particularly in Richmond, was hard and tough and pretty unforgiving,” he says.
The light will remain for a 12-month commemorative period, with no plans for any duplicates in the area just yet.
“There are issues that VicRoads need to assess because essentially it’s a new piece of equipment,” Colanzi says.
“But throughout the trial we’ll find how people connect with it and how they relate to it and function to it, and so there may well be other opportunities that arise.”
A poll conducted on the Herald Sun website had negative views on the issue with 96% of voters claiming it was ‘political correctness gone mad’.
Online, some residents are calling it a “waste of taxpayer’s money” and the whole issue as “sexist, simply because the original figure isn’t wearing a dress, the assumption is made that it is a man”.
But Colanzi says the poll is “ridiculous” and was hijacked by particular views and opinions.
“I’ve genuinely had people, both men and woman, email, phone call, people walking down the street saying it’s just either long overdue or it’s just a simple lovely idea,” he says.
In addressing the financial complaints from critics, he explains “It’s not a piece of necessarily expensive kit or equipment.”
“It fits over the top of the existing or new standard lighting system so it’s just the screen that we’re dealing with,” Colanzi says.
The idea came from New Zealand where councillors were acknowledging and celebrating their first woman to parliament, Mary Shephard, and parliamentarians here wanted to do something similar.
Mary Rogers was most famous for her work with people living in poverty in Richmond, improving their sanitary and living conditions.
The widowed mother of four also initiated the first community maternal and child health services in The City of Yarra and lead progress in the areas of education and welfare. She was appointed to the board of enquiry into neglected children and worked heavily with family issues.
The pedestrian light is not the first initiative to commemorate Rogers. In 2008, an upgraded square on the corner of Bridge Road and Church Street was renamed Mary Rogers Square.
So while there is ambivalence about the light in its contribution to gender equality, the main focus for the Yarra City Council was to honour a person that did so much for her local community.
Even if her identity is occasionally mistaken for the lady who sings about sugar helping the medicine go down.