Regional Council has always relied on volunteer committee members to represent the membership and to guide the organisation. Neil Stuart reflected on his involvement in Regional Council while Co-ordinator at South Sydney Community Aid.
It was 1982. I was out of work and I was being interrogated for the job of Co-ordinator of South Sydney Community Aid Co-operative (SSCA). The interview was in what I later came to know as “the confessional” – an octagonal shaped room in the middle of the mezzanine level of St. Luke’s, under the rose stained-glass window. The confessional was designed by Colin James, who was on the board of directors of SSCA, and who was also the architect who helped in the internal alterations of St Luke’s to house SSCA. St Luke’s is the grey church at 117 Regent Street, Redfern. The mezzanine level had been the choir gallery, with a sloping floor. The redesign by Colin was to provide desk-space for some of the paid workers of SSCA. It wasn’t really a confessional but it was the only space where a semi-private conversation could happen.
I remember a large group of people, maybe 10. I remember Evelyn Cordatos, Brenda Maling, Terry Folan, my cousin Fred Turvey, Marg Barry – all workers with SSCA, some paid and some as non-paid directors. Most of my inquisitors were women. It was a tough experience. They were out to make sure that whoever was selected for the job was someone they could work with – especially the applicants who were men. Towards the end of the interrogation I was told that a requirement was for the co-ordinator to attend two night meetings a month. One meeting was the Board of Directors of SSCA. The other was for the monthly meeting of the South Sydney Committee of the Inner City Regional Council for Social Development. I didn’t know much about this last organisation. Anyway I said yes, and got the job.
Soon after I started the job I went to the monthly meeting of the South Sydney Committee with some other members of SSCA. It was in what was known as “the round-house room” of the then, Rachel Forster Hospital. Another interrogation and I was then appointed to that Committee. Sometime later, elections were held for the organisational representatives on ISCRSD, I ended up being on the Committee of what was usually given the short-form name ‘Regional Council’, together with Harvey Volke – we were the two from South Sydney.
Harvey was the co-ordinator before me at SSCA and lived in the flat at the back of St. Luke’s. We got on alright together. Harvey was a one-time Baptist Minister and I was a one-time candidate for the Presbyterian ministry. Both committed socialists in our own way and in Regional Council.
Hanging in the hallway of my home in Katoomba is a duffle coat, a relic of the 1960s – 1980s. On the inside of the coat is a scarcely visible white stain. It’s from a white spray can. Sometime in the early 1980s Marg Barry surprised me, and maybe others, by buying a small van. About the same time SSCA supported a local campaign in South Sydney to stop the paired roads proposal as solution to Sydney’s through-traffic problems north-south. The road system proposed would have divided many local communities. Part of the campaigning was for a group to go out at night from St Luke’s to paint graffiti on the roadways and put up posters protesting the proposal. Marg offered her van for our work.
Marg’s van was really small. About 5 or 6 of us would turn up in the early hours of the morning. We had to keep a look-out for police, street cleaners, shift workers and be ready for instant getaways. Marg was the getaway driver. So we’d crush into the van with spray cans, stencils, posters and sticky tape and sticky paint. One night I was in such a position in the van that I triggered the spray can in my duffle coat pocket. It was freezing. I thought I’d permanently damaged myself. We couldn’t stop but it turned out OK.
I remember the night Inner Sydney Council moved office from the premises in Goulburn Street, to new premises in the cavernous Capital Theatre building at the end of the city block. Harvey and I trudged upstairs and downstairs, time after time, crossed streets, carrying armfuls of files from Regional Council’s library and archives. All non-paid work, except for the Regional Council workers.
The distinction between paid or non-paid workers in community work, is often blurred in my experience. Sometimes I reckon that blurring is done intentionally and unethically, as a means of exploitation, both ways. But my experience, both in Regional Council and in SSCA is such that such blurring was a given. I have seen paid workers in Regional Council doing far more work than they were ever paid for. And I have seen non-paid workers gladly work for no pay. It’s that work, whether paid or non-paid, shared without envy or competition, which in my experience binds people together.
I remember my connections with Regional Council with gladness. It has been my good fortune and on the way I’ve done some good stuff for the inner-city.
Neil Stuart wrote the above article for ISV shortly before his death on May 26 2016
Neil Stuart served in both paid and non-paid positions within numerous community groups in the inner city, where he lived in the 1970s and early 1980s, including The Sydney University Settlement, South Sydney Youth Services (now WEAVE), Inner Sydney Tenants’ Advice and Referral Centre, Surry Hills Social Justice Coalition, South Sydney Community Aid and Inner Sydney Regional Council for Social Development (now Inner Sydney Voice).
About a decade ago Neil was a pivotal member of Friends of The Settlement who ensured that the community centre’s premises were not sold off as Edward Street Darlington gentrified. While all in the group devoted many, many hours to the campaign, Neil’s dedication led him to commute from his Katoomba home for over two hours each way to chair meetings. His knowledge from 23 years of teaching community welfare at TAFE and his natural attention to careful process helped to ensure The Settlement survived and set it on the way to its major renovations.
Michael Gravener, who was EO at The Settlement when Neil was Chairperson of the incoming board, said of him: “One of life’s pleasures is that you meet fine people along the way. Thanks Neil, rest in peace.”
Neil Stuart was one of five authors, (others being John Rule [also pictured above], Kate Nolan, Roy Bishop, and Gael Kennedy) who have this year had the book ANTHILL: a place of knowledge about community work and community management published by Borderlands Co-operative Ltd.
Neil also wrote Community Development: Standing with dissent for the Summer 2015/16 issue of Inner Sydney Voice, reflecting on his experience of community development over 50-60 years.
Adapted from South Sydney Herald Obituary in July 2016 – Vale Neil Lewis Stuart (16/1/1937 – 26/5/2016)
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