For Councillor Fern Summer her workplace is favourite place

By Shepparton News

In the tiny staff kitchen at Mooroopna Medical Centre there is a table covered in Easter goodies, including chocolate eggs, bunnies and non-alcoholic champagne.

Out the front, in an equally small room of the McLennan St practice about six patients sit, waiting for their turn to see a nurse or a doctor.

Both rooms represent how a community cares for its members.

The Easter goodies were left by the centre’s cleaner Mel Stewart and practice nurse Fern Summer reckons she sets a great example for everyone.

‘‘She spoils us every Easter and Christmas. Each year she raises the bar. I reckon eventually she’ll need to bring out the fireworks and a parade,’’ she said.

Ms Summer, 39, has spent the past seven years juggling her responsibilities as a City of Greater Shepparton councillor with her role as a nurse and a mother of three, including twins.

She chose the clinic as her favourite place because it was her coalface contact with the community.

‘‘Most of us spend more time at work than anywhere else, so we need to make it count,’’ she said.

‘‘We need to improve our attitudes towards work and actively look for things that add value to your day.’’

Social justice is a big motivator for Fern.

In between her college years she travelled across South America and ended up at a place called Arequipa in Peru, where she lost her passport and had to survive for eight months on her own.

‘‘I had no money or job. But people were so kind. They had no money or jobs either, but they took me in and they were just so happy,’’ she said.

As a councillor, she has gained a reputation of going against the grain.

She opposed funding for the new Shepparton Art Museum, she voted to support central Shepparton accommodation at The Cottage for recovering drug and alcohol addicts, and she is a long-time warrior against the municipal charge.

All this has gained her an army of popular supporters and a backlash of negativity from other quarters.

But Ms Summer takes it all in her stride and said being a councillor was just another chance to make a difference.

‘‘I have been known to bite when people step over the line and don’t appreciate people making assumptions about my personal life,’’ she said.

‘‘However, the majority of correspondence is positive and I’m happy to answer genuine questions to the best of my ability.

‘‘People need to realise that councillors are people too and we wouldn’t put our hands up unless we wanted the best for our community.’’

Ms Summer was born in Byron Bay to a mother who was an Amway distributor and a father who was not around much.

She spent her childhood and early teens moving around from Beenleigh to Mullumbimby and Tatong.

‘‘In Mullum we lived above the local pub. I always liked the smell of stale beer, pink lemonade and arcade games,’’ she said.

Eventually she ended up at Benalla, where in her own words, she ‘‘was going off the rails’’.

Ms Summer said a move to Shepparton and Goulburn Valley Grammar School helped to straighten her out.

Despite her early difficulties, including being bullied at school because of her name, Ms Summer went on to graduate with high distinction in nursing at Deakin University and was recently awarded a Melbourne University scholarship in primary care.

As a practice nurse, she spends her time either at Mooroopna or Kialla doing vaccinations, dressing wounds, ordering stock — and, above all, talking to patients.

‘‘I’m so grateful to have this job,’’ she said.

‘‘Arguably, I can do more good here than on council. I can make a real difference at an individual level, rather than being bogged down in bureaucracy.’’

Bureaucracy is something that irritates her.

In the 2013 and 2016 federal elections, regulations against government employees standing for election meant she had to resign her position as a nurse at Goulburn Valley Health in order to stand as an independent candidate.

Being forced to stand down from her job still rankles. ‘‘I thought that was terrible. It’s really unfair and undermines the idea of the fair go,’’ she said.

In her tiny Mooroopna office she points to a coffee mug emblazoned with her own unusual name.

It was a gift from office cleaner Mel.

‘‘We all got one, like a big family,’’ Ms Summer said.