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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4240

Mr PRICE (8:37 PM) —I wanted to put into the Hansard record a eulogy I recently gave. I said:

We are met here at St Bernadette’s Lalor Park, family and friends, to welcome back Sylvia Amy Whilesmith, to celebrate her life and bid her our last farewells.

I note that we have here Richard Amery MP, Amanda Fazio MLC—

and Deputy President of the Legislative Council—

former member Bob Christie, former MLC Dorothy Isaksen amd Assistant General Secretary Rob Allan amongst many others.

There were three pillars in Sylvia’s life, her family, her religion, and the labor movement. The latter may also qualify as a religion, but I wouldn’t make that point here. Stephen reminds me about her love of Souths footy team.

Born in Mascot, it was here in Lalor Park that together with the love of her life her late husband Vic and her young family that Sylvia settled. And it’s here in Lalor Park that Sylvia put down the strongest and deepest roots.

To make ends meet Sylvia found work in the hospitality industry and quickly became involved in the Union. Sylvia was involved at all levels and became an organiser with the union. She attended the State Conference of the Labor Party for more than 20 years as a delegate for the Union. She was a fixture there.

At a time when women played a lesser role in the Labor Party Sylvia was front rank occupying most positions at branch, State and Federal Electorate Councils.

Sylvia joined Mascot branch in 1946 and when her family moved joined Seven Hills Branch and then Lalor Park Branch.

Sylvia was the campaign director for the Seven Hills State seat for Bob Christie. Sylvia was just a born organiser. If there was a fundraising function, a Chifley Ball, a pre poll booth or postal votes or polling booth rosters to be organised Sylvia would be in the thick of it for Federal, State and Council campaigns. Today we would say that she had abundant leadership qualities which she regularly exercised.

Sylvia was someone who was on first name terms with some of the most powerful Labor politicians in this State and she was never backward in pointing out any of their perceived shortcomings. But Sylvia just treated everyone the same, Premiers, Minsters, General Secretaries and just ordinary folk, just the same.

Sylvia was a trail blazer when she ran with Leo Kelly for Blacktown City Council Ward 2 in 1983 and became Labor’s first elected woman Councillor on Blacktown City Council and again in 1986 when she became Labor’s first woman Deputy Mayor on Blacktown City Council.

This was all before affirmative action and weighted votes for women candidates that we now have. Of course today we would think it odd if we didn’t have Labor women Councillors on Blacktown Council but before Sylvia we had none.

Sylvia was a rough diamond that sparkled brightly. If you met Sylvia you wouldn’t forget her, she had that kind of personality.

Sylvia was a fighter who never took a backwards step. To be befriended by Sylvia, was to have the loyalest of loyal friends. But if you didn’t have an argument with Sylvia you didn’t know her and you weren’t her friend.

But beneath that sometimes gruff exterior beat a soft and compassionate heart. One that never forgot those who were struggling or what it was like to struggle to make ends meet or who the Labor Party should be working for and helping.

A particularly generous gift of Sylvia was to inspire and encourage younger members of the Party and I was a recipient of that. I owe a lot to her for her support. I know that I am not on my own.

Sylvia was immensely proud of her children Steven, Sharon, Noelene, Annette, Phillip and Michael, their partners and her grandchildren and great grand children.

To Sylvia’s family we thank you for her life of service dedicated to helping others, making life a little bit easier for others. We thank them for 63 years service to the Labor Party for which she was honoured with life membership.

May Sylvia’s life continue to inspire others; she was; she is a legend in the Labor Party.

Saint Peter take care, Sylvia’s coming. She’ll organise those angels with her beloved Vic once more by her side.

Sylvia Whilesmith rest in peace.

I also want to say a few remarks on the passing of John Armitage, the first member for Chifley. John was elected in 1961 for the seat of Mitchell and held it until the election in 1963. He was again elected as the federal member for Chifley in 1969 until his retirement in 1983.

At his FEC John had Tony Johnson, Bob Christie, Richard Amery and John Aquilina, who all went on to become state members of parliament—two are still there—and, of course, Russ Gorman and me. All of us would acknowledge that we were influenced by him. He lived at Normanhurst and when Chifley was created moved to Sevenhills. He was, by profession, a banker. He started off with the Commonwealth Bank and then worked for the Reserve Bank. In the break between parliaments from 1965 to 1969 he was Assistant General Secretary of the party. One might say that he was a little unlucky not to have risen to the rank of being a minister. In those days I remember the old seat of Mitchell that included Blacktown—but Madam Deputy Speaker, you would know—as far up the mountains as East Kurrajong, taking in what we would say was a lot of tiger country. So it was a difficult seat, and when Mitchell was split into Mitchell and Chifley he was able to win Chifley. I would like to read the last paragraph of his first speech in 1969:

Finally, I once again make an appeal to this Parliament to have a look at the situation of those underprivileged sections of our community, small in number, who have such very great problems; those underprivileged sections of the community which do not have the influence because they do not have the voting power but whose problems nevertheless are far greater than those of most of the rest of the people living in this very affluent society. Until these things are looked at the conscience of this country and the conscience of this Parliament cannot be satisfied.

He represented Chifley when there were huge new housing commission areas, at both Leila Park and Mount Druitt—Leila Park was already there but Mount Druitt took place. If we ask, ‘Well, what did he achieve?’ I particular remember the polyclinic which was constructed in the Whitlam years. It provided, essentially, an emergency service, plus some other specialist services, in lieu of having a hospital there. So it met a very real need for a lot of people who were really struggling.

Throughout their development the Mount Druitt suburbs were, of course, lacking in a lot of facilities, but in each suburb you will find a community hall which was funded by the federal government but run by the council. After his retirement, a childcare centre in Mount Druitt was named in his honour—the John Armitage Child Care Centre. His nickname, of course, was ‘The Bomber’. To my understanding he acquired the nickname because he was very much opposed to the building of a second airport in Sydney—at that time not in Badgerys Creek but north of it. He had the habit of recording aircraft noise at Mascot and then playing the noise back at rallies; hence the nickname ‘The Bomber’.

We could not do it today, of course, but he loved smoking a pipe, and I can remember many branch meetings where, with pipe in one hand and foot on a stool, he would give a report that could in no way ever be described as short. But he did make an immense contribution to the people of my electorate. On behalf of all those people, I would like to particularly pay a tribute to his beloved wife, Betty, to his children, Chris, Will and Margot, and to his grandchildren, and thank them for the real contribution that John made in his nearly 16 years of service to the people of my electorate. We will always remember him and his contribution very fondly.