WHEN Catherine Cumming was first elected to Maribyrnong Council, the Western Bulldogs were still playing matches at Whitten Oval.
How times have changed.
It was 1997 and the then 24-year-old was in the final year of university studying Chinese medicine when she decided to put her name down as a candidate at the council elections.
Born and bred in Footscray, she stood alongside her brother, John.
"I was young and when you're that age, you think you can change the world," she said this week.
"I had no political aspirations but wanted to be a voice for my community."
Now, five terms later, the mother of five is celebrating 15 years as a councillor, while John is midway through his first year as mayor.
A passionate Bulldogs supporter, the Bluestone ward councillor counts the council's contribution to the Whitten Oval redevelopment as one of its most important achievements during her time.
Cr Cumming has also overseen a dramatic transformation in perceptions of the city.
"When I was first elected, there was a certain stigma attached to Footscray.
"I could never understand why it had so many negative connotations, especially from people on the other side of town.
"I've always considered us to be lucky, because we've got a magnificent river, great parks and easy access to the city - it's [Maribyrnong] always been one of Melbourne's best-kept secrets." Cr Cumming cited Sika Kerry, the first woman elected to Footscray Council in 1972, as one of her greatest influences.
Born in Belgrade to Russian parents, Ms Kerry was regarded as a strong and vocal advocate who started the Yarraville library.
"She inspired me to get involved and help save the West Footscray library," Cr Cumming said.
"At the time, the council had received a report calling for it to be amalgamated with the library at Highpoint.
"We were told it was derelict and needed to be demolished and I said 'over my dead body'.
"So we relocated the West Footscray Neighbourhood House, built a new learning centre and patronage doubled."
Despite Maribyrnong's ever-changing face, Cr Cumming believes it has retained its unique identity.
"It's always had the same sense of community spirit," she said. "People say hello to one another and still put the bins out for their next-door neighbour."
Women now make up 29percent of Victoria's councillors and the Victorian Local Governance Association has launched a campaign to increase the numbers at October's council elections.
Maribyrnong's first female mayor, Mai Ho, served with Cr Cumming between 1997-98.
"Four out of our past five councils have been dominated by women," Cr Cumming said.
"Some men probably still think women should be at home.
"But I'm proud to be able to go out and attend a meeting for a few hours and still pick up my children from school.
"Women offer a different perspective, an important perspective."