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Geoffrey Turnbull Funeral Tribute to Trevor's Activism

At the Funeral of Trevor Davies on 23 June 2011 Geoffrey Turnbull gave the following address regarding Trevor's Activism.

Remembering Trevor’s Activism

Prepared and Delivered for the funeral service of Trevor Edward Davies Pitt St Uniting Church June 23 2011 by Geoff Turnbull

I come with an impossible job. I am supposed to somehow capture the story of Trevor’s activism in Redfern. Over the last 10 days as I passed on word of Trevor’s death I have seen many of your comments and stories. It is surprising the number of people who say they saw Trevor in the days before he died. It was a testimony to how many people Trevor knew and how much he did around the community as he knitted together people’s lives in his friendship and endeavours. This was his greatest political achievement. He created communities, he generated discussion and he made everyone, even those he disagreed with, matter. I had my disagreements with Trevor.

I have known Trevor since the mid 1970’s from the days when Uniting Church Ministers John Hirt and Vladimir Korotkov and the late housing activist Harvey Volke were all Baptist Ministers preaching Radical Discipleship at the House of the New World in West Ryde. It was at a time when Fred Nile ran the Jesus Commune and the Labor party of Gough Whitlam stood for righting long term injustice and delivering change.

When Trevor came to Redfern with his sister he came with view that both politics and faith mattered - they were two sides of the same coin. I was pleased to share some of those two passions with him here at Pitt Street and South Sydney Parish and in the activism of REDWatch’s battles like with Frank Sartor over The Block.

Robyn Fortescue says that “Trevor was a great believer in the people having a voice, the right to be heard” and that “Trevor’s community activity exemplified this”.

In the days of inner city branch stacking Sue Wicks remembers making sure Trevor actually existed when he applied to join the local ALP branch in 1979. He went on to become the Darlington Branch long term Secretary ensuring that the branch dealt with real issues of community interest. He regularly invited speakers to address the Branch. He was involved with saving the Erskineville Public Housing estates; trying to save South Sydney Council, and raising issues elected representatives often did not want to hear - whether it was taking on Andrew Refshauge over drug issues around The Block or on one visit I made with him asking Upper House President Meredith Burgmann to explain why they were allowing Frank Sartor to attack the Pemulwuy project.

When NSW ALP  looked set to sell off state owned electricity Trevor called an activist meeting at the AMWU  building and thus was born the grass roots campaign against the sell-off.

Many of Trevor’s contributions to the community were outside his branch and his church. Over the years Trevor served on the management committees of many of the local organisation in the area such as The Settlement and South Sydney Community Aid. He was very involved in Redfern Residents for Reconciliation who campaigned for what became the Redfern Community Centre. At the time of his death he was on the committee for South Sydney Community Transport and Vice President of the St Vincent de Paul Society at Erskineville just to name two organisations where he was carrying on this important facet of his community involvement.

Trevor liked debate and discussion and he helped create the debate not just report it. The “Chippo Politics” Trevor created on Saturday afternoons at the Thurless Castle Hotel spored the “Chippo Politics newsletter”, “Road Runner”, “Chippo News” and the “Redfern Chippo Herald” that lead to the South Sydney Herald of today.

“Chippo Politics” list of speakers over the years covered a very broad spectrum including Alan Jones, Brendan Nelson, Mungo McCallum, David Oldfield, Piers Ackerman, Bob Ellis, Richard Glover and a young ALP tyro not yet running for pre-selection Tanya Plibersek. Topics included the history of the Eveleigh Railway, euthanasia, council amalgamations, the future of community radio, East Timor and progressive local government.

While “Chippo Politics” might have ended ten years ago Trevor organised visits of Alan Jones, John Brogden, Brendan Nelson and Barry O’Farrell to The Block to meet Mick Mundine and the Aboriginal Housing Company. It generated debate and articles in the South Sydney Herald and stories in the wider media. It carried on this long Trevor tradition of generating debate and also covering it. I am sure I was not the only one that had a mixture of excitement and foreboding when Trevor would say “I’ve just had a good idea”.

Trevor may have been a staunch Labor man that liked debate but I have also had the opportunity to see him work over the last 7 years across the broader political spectrum in REDWatch where local members of the ALP, Greens, Liberals, Clover Moore Independents and people not associated with any party worked together to try and ensure extensive community involvement in all decisions made about the Redfern Waterloo area by government and the Redfern Waterloo Authority.

Remarkably we have held REDWatch together through a long battle with a Labor government and a number of polarising election campaigns and sometimes heated discussions within, where Trevor would threaten to walk if he thought his branch might not back him. Some things happened through Lyn and my independent email updates to provide Trevor and other ALP members with plausible deniability.

My son Alexander has had his political education informed by the multi-party discussions and debates around our kitchen table, by attending the RWA Legislation debate, by watching Trevor argue with MPs, by listening to planning for the “See Redfern before Frank sells it” bus tours and candle light vigils on The Block. My daughter Esther has worked with Trevor on the South Sydney Herald.

In the past few months we have been planning for the proposed redevelopment of public housing forming a new coalition called Groundswell. We will miss Trevor as this struggle unfolds but hopefully some of Trevor’s friends will help take his place.

Greens Councillor Irene Doutney, who is also on the REDWatch Co-ordination Group, talks about Trevor not being blinded by party attitudes and of Trevor’s support for the South Sydney Greens and their candidates like her. She says she will miss Trevor’s regular phone calls to find out the latest gossip around Council and his cheeky leading questions about the Greens.

Seeing Trevor meet up with Ian Thompson, the Liberal party person involved with REDWatch in its early years, was to watch two friends who loved politics catching up rather than watching a clash of class enemies.

I was catching up with Trevor in the front of Saucepan in Darlington as very many of us did. After a succession of people passing by had stopped to talk to Trevor I jokingly said to him that if I was ever to write an autobiography that I would have to call it “Who’s that with Trevor?” A few minutes later a bishop walked past and Trevor stopped him and said he had seen him around a couple of times and wanted to know who he was and what he was doing around the place. He was the Anglo Catholic Bishop for Australia and New Zealand who lives in Holden Street. An interesting discussion ensured on a number of topics including the role of women in the church and it ended with Trevor asking for his business card and promising to be in touch.

The encounter underlined to me why Trevor knew so many people and why so many people knew Trevor. It showed the important role that Trevor played in knitting the social fabric of Darlington, it bought together some of the issues Trevor cared about politically and religiously and I suspect Trevor thought there was an opportunity for a future debate or a South Sydney Herald article there also.

We will all miss Trevor and the role he played in our community. If there is one way we can help Trevor’s spirit live on it is by talking to our neighbours, building community and remembering that the people around us really matter.

Geoffrey Turnbull - 23 June 2011

 Thanks to Robyn Fortescue President Darlington ALP Branch, Sue Wicks the ALP Branch Secretary before Trevor and Greens Councillor Irene Doutney for the use of their memories of Trevor.

Reproduced in www.southsydneyherald.com.au - July (PDF 2.9MB PDF)