Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Death of Peter Monley - a personal memoir

This is a very belated and personal post in memory of Peter Monley. Denise and I did not know that Peter had died last December (2006) until just last week. We were both upset.

Peter occupied a very special place in my life, so I thought that I should set down some memories.

Peter's dad had a men's wear store down the western end of Beardy Street. But while I knew who the Monleys were, I did not really know Peter until he came to The Armidale School (TAS) in 1961. This was my leaving certificate year and we became great mates. Among other things we were both day boys, played football together and talked a lot.

Towards the end of the year we agreed to go hitchiking together in Tasmania. To my great regret, Peter was not able to go in the end and I went on my own.

Peter finished that year, while I went back to school to repeat the Leaving because my parents felt that I would benefit from another year at school before going to university. Life now took us in different ways. Peter became a teacher, while I finished University and then went to Canberra to join the Commonwealth Public Service. Our contacts became fleeting.

In 1981 I returned to the University of New England to work on my PhD. In the meantime, Peter had purchased a small property just to the west of Armidale - something he had wanted to do - and had become a councillor with Dumaresq Shire.

At this point the Federal Government decided, in one of those unilateral acts that we have seen so often over the years, that the Armidale of College of Advanced Education and the University of New England should be forced to merge. I was opposed to this, and contacted Peter who agreed that we should organise a public protest.

We had to handle this carefully. I was a senior public servant on leave, while relations at the time between Armidale City Council and Dumaresq Shire were absolutely poisonous. This meant that any public involvement by Peter would be a kiss of death so far as the Armidale Council and mayor were concerned.

My job was to get University support. Here I sent a formal memo to Professor Gates as VC setting out what we proposed and why. He signed off on the approach, so we had formal top level University support. For Peter's part, he worked his contacts on Armidale Council, getting them to support a protest so that its organisation became Armidale City Council business. The resulting protest was a huge success, drawing a crowd of some four thousand and gaining national media coverage. The merger was put off, if only for the moment.

Peter was a doughty fighter for local causes.

One thing that you learn in regional Australia is that preservation of what you have requires constant vigilance. Peter knew this. When CSIRO decided to close its local research facility - a facility with a long history that owed its original existence to a local donation of land - Peter went into the fight. The facility was not only saved, but expanded.

Under Peter's leadership, Dumaresq Shire became an innovative Shire well supported by those living within it. Armidale's regional airport is one outcome. There were mistakes, there always are when you are trying to do new things, but the overall record was positive.

Things change. When Peter concluded that the interests of Shire residents would be best served by a merger with Armidale City Council, he steered the merger through in spite of opposition from some residents and councillors, becoming foundation mayor of the new Armidale-Dumaresq Council.

I see that the Armidale-Dumaresq Council is thinking about naming a road in his honour. I think that that would be a small but suitable tribute for a life of service.

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