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Speech: Ms Margaret Henry

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 2 Feb 2016

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:43): Margaret Henry, a wonderful community activist, sadly died in September last year. Margaret was a Newcastle transport and heritage advocate, a former Newcastle university history lecturer, a Greens councillor, an activist on big and small issues across five decades and a dedicated mother and grandmother.

Margaret's community activism kicked off in 1965, when she started Newcastle's-and possibly Australia's-first play centre. Fifty years later, in 2015, Margaret was still campaigning. She organised a protest picket line for Save Our Rail at Hamilton Street. Save Our Rail was a campaign that she helped initiate. She was one of the founding members in 1992, when that all-important organisation kicked off. It was successful from 1992 to 2015, when the O'Farrell government then started pulling up the rail line, which had been a policy at times of Labor, Liberals and Nationals. It was the Liberals and Nationals that put it into place. And Margaret fought it all the way along.

Like many dedicated Greens members, she started political life in the Labor Party. She joined in 1968. In 1980 she joined the National Trust and started decades of campaigning to save Newcastle heritage. She formed the Citizens Earthquake Action Group after the 1989 earthquake. One of the many famous-and entertaining, I have to say-stories shared among friends when Margaret died describes Margaret standing on a pile of rubble in the days after that earthquake. There she was, urging Novocastrians to think before destroying. What she had identified was that there were unscrupulous developers out to use this earthquake as cover to pull down some very unique heritage buildings-buildings that were able to be saved easily.

Professor Peter Hempenstall of the School of Humanities and Social Science at Newcastle university has made some moving comments about Margaret's years as an academic. He said:

Margaret taught two generations of staff how to allow student voices to be heard and to coax them into independent thinking, even if it came out uninformed.
He went on to say:

The university today rightly boasts about its equity and transition programmes - Margaret Henry was one of its flagship operators decades ago, in the 1970s and 1980s ...
Margaret was so enthusiastic and so hardworking; always with a vision and really ahead of her time in so many ways. It was an absolute pleasure to know her.

Margaret Henry left the ALP in 1988 and a few years after that she joined the Newcastle Greens, running as a candidate in a number of elections. She served two terms on Newcastle council and was also a deputy mayor twice. As a councillor, Margaret involved herself in a wide range of committees and board work. She campaigned often on less popular issues, such as disability access, homelessness and migrant and refugee services. She also worked, in terms of her council work, on public art, library services and the art gallery, and on her great love, heritage. Another great love was campaigning for Aboriginal issues, in this case on council for an Aboriginal affairs officer and the establishment of the Indigenous Guraki committee. Margaret's work was so extensive. It was one of the things that I learnt with Margaret: when I was heading into Newcastle you could get a brief from Margaret about what the current issues were.

The final word does go to her loving partner, Keith Parsons. He said:

It is hard to imagine a Newcastle without her.

Margaret was a wonderful, generous and courageous woman. It was my pleasure to know Margaret, and my condolences go to her partner, her children and her grandchildren.


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