CH 9

Campaigning for Council

My contract at the University ended on 31 December 2007 and two realities of life led me to a weighty decision about my future. The first was that while we love to say “people with disabilities can do anything” there were limited opportunities for employment for me and one of them was politics. The second was a passion for the southside of Cairns, including a love for the people and a sense of fate that had positioned me here. This was where I was from and where I would stay.

Edmonton was where my heart was, where I had grown up, where I went to school and where I bought my first house. Together with Bentley Park it was where my extended family and wider networks were located. However, Fran Lindsey was the local Councillor. Fran had long been a fantastic local councillor and deserved support. Dad had often told the story of approaching Fran and personally asking her to run for the old Mulgrave Shire Council. Fran never let him down or indeed the people of Division 2, who she served with great distinction. While I did not call her to ask, I assumed (mistakenly) Fran would run for Council in 2008. I hoped to serve with her and looked forward to having her as a mentor.

Around this time another local legend, Jeff Pezzutti (the long-standing Councillor for Division 3) announced he would retire and not contest in 2008. Like a bull at a gate I announced my decision to run for his patch, which included White Rock, Forest Gardens and most of Woree and Bayview. Jeff had been a friend of the family for as long as I could remember and was someone for whom I had profound respect. He came from a cane farming family and his house was located in the heart of the division, on land now occupied by Trinity Anglican School. Ironically Fran would later announce her retirement, but my decision had been made.

My severance pay would be used to fund my campaign. The summer of 2008 was largely spent on the streets of White Rock, Forest Gardens and most of Woree and Bayview. A young German man by the name of Mike was my main support. Mike grew up on the East side prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. We spent most mornings walking together door to door canvassing and talking to residents where we found them. It was interesting to hear Mike’s views on the world. As a plumber he had a low view of the quality of some of our trades people and it was interesting to hear of his experience of the Berlin Wall coming down. He painted east-siders as solid hard-working folk with a strong moral code. West-siders however were not to be trusted. Mike said his experience was of people from the West Side ripping off honest east-siders who were not savvy to the ways of capitalism. They were frequently taken advantage of by the hustling scamming west-siders. I liked Mike, but his parochialism reminded me of a Queenslander during state of origin time. I am sure that like Australian tradespeople, most West Germans were not all that bad.

Control of the Cairns Council had alternated between administrations that were ‘development at all costs’ and those that were pro development, but with some sense of a social conscience and commitment to the environment. In 2008 Val Shier ran as a mayoral candidate with her Cairns First team. Val and her team were in the latter category and could be categorised as a left of centre alternative to the then Kevin Byrne run Unity Team, with their development at all cost mentality.

I originally took a position in the Cairns First team as the Candidate for Division Three. I campaigned hard and made every effort to get my name out there in every forum I attended and in printing newsletters that I distributed door to door. In what I believe was a tactical error and a sign of a lack of political experience, Val took offence at my self-promotion in Division Three and insisted I should promote her as my primary focus and only refer to myself as her candidate. In my view this was a poor strategy for both of us. Why promote just a mayoral candidate when you can promote both a mayoral candidate and a councillor, using each to feed votes to the other? As I could not get her to see the logic of this and believing that my approach would be more successful, I resigned from the Cairns First team and stood as an independent. Seeing how how much I had already campaigned, Cairns First did not run a candidate against me, so I was very well placed leading into the 2008 council election.

My opponent was the Deputy Mayor Terry James. Loyal Deputy to Kevin Byrne, I felt no hostility towards him. Terry was not loud or outspoken. I found him as conservative in his nature as he was in his politics.

As the election drew close, I booked the Balaclava Hotel for what I hoped would be election night celebrations. As the votes came in it became clear I was going to win. I can remember one of my supporters John Gayler a former Member for Leichhardt saying as the vote came in “This is going to be an epic victory of Pyne proportions!” That made me feel proud and by the time counting had finished I had emerged with almost 60% of the primary vote, the most resounding victory of the night. While I would not be able to serve with Fran of Jeff, I was looking forward to the challenge.

Schier Swing Vote

CCC New Councilers


Schier Swing Vote



Recognising and Honouring Others

Sometimes doing good does not have a big price tag. It may just involve saying sorry or thank you. It was the right thing to do when as a Council we all voted to establish a memorial on Council grounds to honour those who tragically lost their lives in the Mount Emerald Air Crash of May 1990 (see Chapter 3). The memorial is just off Spence Street on the west side of the Council Offices, not far from a big shady fig tree.

Bill Mills Park

Earlville Library

The other Councillors from local pioneer stock were Cr. Paul Gregory and Cr. Kirsten Lesina.  Cr. Lesina, a fifth generation Cairns resident was the youngest person ever elected to Cairns Regional Council. I found her a joy to work with. She demonstrated a strong commitment to social justice and a real understanding of the need to work and improve the environment and quality of life for local people.

There is nothing a local councillor likes more than their division receiving some funding and attention, so Cr. Lesina was more than happy with the opening of the Earlville Library in the Stockland Shopping Centre in 2008.

I was there to show support for Kirsten and because I am a great advocate for taking government service to where the people are. For me having a library at the local shopping centre every bit as appropriate as having a McDonalds or a KFC and far more beneficial to the community.

R.I.P. Tom Pyne

2012 Election and Manning Madness

The Deep North’s Slave Trade (our Pacific Past)

The broadcaster Phillip Adams has likened the politics of Queensland’s Far North to that in the deep south in the United States, with social conservatism, agrarian socialism and a strong element of racism. A tragic practice the two regions had in common was slavery. Many people from the Pacific islands surrounding Australia were kidnapped and forced to work in Queensland cane fields.

To avoid use of the term “slavery” (despite so many not receiving wages), the term commonly used by the white population for enslaving islanders to work on the sugar plantations was Blackbirding. The Australian South Sea Islanders today consider their ancestors to have been the Sugar Slaves. South Sea Islanders transported to Australia worked in the development and establishment of the new Queensland sugar industry. These peoples were collectively referred to at the time as Kanakas, but we prefer to be called South Sea Islanders as the word ‘kanaka’ is considered derogatory by Islander communities in the Pacific and Australia.
The expansion of sugar plantations in Australia also created market destinations for blackbirders.

The trade in Pacific Labour drew criticism from many sectors. But it was the White Australia Policy and the desire to protect jobs for white Australians that finally ended the Labour trade. In 1901 the Labour Trade formally ceased, and the Australian government took steps to deport South Sea Islanders to their home islands. This was impossible and undesirable for many and resulted in more hardships and discrimination for those who had made Queensland home.



Other Reference Material and Pictures


Rob Pyne: A Far Northern Life

A Far Northern Life