Interview with: John Smith
Interviewed by: Ann Wensley
John Smith was the Landsborough Shire Council Deputy Shire Clerk 1967-1971 and Shire Clerk 1971-1987, continuing on to become CEO of Caloundra City Council 1987-1996.
Image: Caloundra City Shire Clerk Mr John R Smith at official opening of the Kawana Community Centre and Kawana Library, 5 August 1989.
John Smith oral history [MP3 51MB]
AW: All right John, tell us what you did before you came to Landsborough Shire Council in 1967?
JS: Before I came to Landsborough in 1967 I was in local government at Murgon where I was serving at that time as the Deputy Shire Clerk.
AW: And why did you come to Caloundra, Landsborough Shire Council?
JS: Well I wanted to come because the then shire clerk of Murgon. Frank [Narracott?] was a relatively young man and he wasn’t showing any signs of moving on, so if I had to gain any progress in the industry I would have had to make my move elsewhere. So I applied for Landsborough and I suppose I was a bit fortunate because before I applied for Landsborough there was a delegation of councilors from Landsborough Shire Council came up to Murgon looking at the new administration building up there, so I met Ted Roberts and some of the councilors and the chairman at that time and I used that opportunity to find out a bit about Landsborough Shire.
AW: I’d sort of heard that they went up to Murgon checking you out, wasn’t that correct?
JS: Well if it was I haven't heard that story, but the story I was given was that they were looking to build new administration buildings at Caloundra and there was two or three other places they had to look at that had just also built new administration buildings and Murgon was one of them working in Landsborough.
Working in Landsborough
AW: So what are some of your memories in the very early days in the early to late 60s of coming to Caloundra, living in Caloundra but working in Landsborough?
JS: Yes I worked in Landsborough for about eighteen months; we arrived in Caloundra in July 1967 and I worked in Landsborough for about eighteen months, I have very, very warm memories of Landsborough as a matter of fact.
AW: What were the offices and everything like, for you know, the staff?
JS: The offices were primitive in the extreme; I didn’t even have a table that I could call my own, I used to do my work during the week on the [...] in there. I used to do my routine work during the week on the meeting room table, the board room table, and when there was a meeting scheduled I would have to shift camp and find a corner in which to dump my books and papers and...
AW: That’s once a fortnight?
JS: We used to meet once a month in those days; the council used to meet once a month and the committees used to meet on a fortnightly basis, but once a month I’d have to find a new home wherever I could find a vacant spot and shift back the next date.
AW: How many inside staff did you have then?
JS: Oh there would be fewer than twelve.
AW: And how many outside staff about?
JS: I would say about sixty to seventy, something like that.
AW: That’s opposite now, isn’t it?
JS: Oh very much so, the situation there was more than half of the 700-odd staff are employed Inside, which is a mystery to me but nevertheless that’s the case.
AW: All right, anything else in those early days that you have memories about that you would like to talk about?
JS: Yes, one of my very early recollections of Landsborough Shim was the then shire clerk, Ted Roberts and the enormous respect he had for the public purse, and that attitude rubbed off on the whole of the staff. I recall that when the mail used to come in of a morning we used to take off the elastic bands and string and all that sort of stuff and save it, they were saved, they weren’t thrown out, and things were so tight that we didn’t even have a post box at the Landsborough post office, we used to wait every morning for the postman to trot in at nine o’clock with his bundle of mail and then we’d save the elastic bands on a string and no one threw them out! There was absolutely no waste, and of course that whole stringent attitude was reflected through the budget process too, and there was absolutely no waste in the budget because it was as tight as a drum, it was all essential works and services and there were no concessions to luxury in the budget at all. Air conditioning was not even a word that we had heard of and there was no heater in the office and I think there might have been one fan.
AW: Yeah above the meeting room table, wasn’t there? I think that’s still there.
JS: Yeah I think there was a fan which wasn’t turned on until the temperature almost reached unbearable proportions.
AW: And it wasn’t exactly designed for flow-through air ventilation either was it? The building in Landsborough?
JS: It certainly wasn’t no, no, I’d hate to pay for the cost of air conditioning these days.
AW: Ted was sort of a bit like your mentor wasn’t he? Ted Roberts?
JS: Oh yeah, very much so, I thought I knew a lot about local government until I came down here, and then I ran into elements of local government here that I hadn’t experienced in Murgon, like town planning. It was a totally new issue. I knew the theory of it, I knew all about Chapter 33 of the Local Government Act, but I hadn’t run into the practical side of it and it was a pretty steep learning curve, and it had to be, but yeah it was like that. In many cases it was similar to Murgon because it was dominated by rural based councils which was the case in Murgon, and of course there was no money thrown away up there either because it was fairly tight, but there wasn't the same respect for the public purse as there was with old Ted.
AW: Oh John, did the council then have a publicity program of any sort?
JS: No, we had nothing like a publicity program or a media officer or anything of that nature. I think the attitude in those days was that if the council was doing a good job the community would clearly see that, and we didn’t have to revert to expensive publicity programs as is the case now. I understand there’s some nine people working m the media office at the council now, but we didn’t even know what a media officer was.
AW: That’s all right.
Tasks of council, Councillor wages
AW: So what were the basic tasks that council did in those days? I know it was roads, rubbish.
JS: Very, very basic, there were no concessions to luxury, there were very few roads sealed, it was getting the roads sealed, getting the drainage done; that occupied a great percentage of the budget, just getting the street sealed. In 1998 the sewerage started in Caloundra and...
AW: Nineteen sixty-eight that was John, keep going.
JS: Yeah 1968, that’s what I said.
JS: The sewerage started in Caloundra. When the sewerage started in Caloundra the council from the rural areas, gratuitously stopped borrowing for their works so that the program could be accelerated here.
AW: Oh wow!
JS. And not too many people are aware of that, they used to heap ridicule on the rural councillors, but to their everlasting credit they were responsible for accelerating the rate of
progress on the sewerage construction here.
AW: Because Selwyn Carbery was saying when I interviewed him the other day — Selwyn Carbery was a councilor at the time — about the rural town split in the councilors. Was that obvious?
JS: Very obvious. At that stage there was five councilors representing the urban area of the coast and seven representing the other rural areas, plus the chairman who also came from the rural area, and there was constant pressure to have that situation adjusted, although I must say in defence of that, no one was getting financially ripped off because in those days we had divisions for financial as well as electoral purposes, so you know, money that was raised in one particular division would in the main, be spent in that division. You would just take off a percentage for expenses of a general nature like administration and insurance and those sort of things and the balance had to be spent by law in the division in which it was raised, so whilst there might have been a numerical imbalance as far as membership was concerned, no one was short-changed so far as expenditure was concerned.
AW: What were the councillors’ so called wages or meeting fees then? Back in the mid 60s?
JS: Oh from memory I think [...].
AW: The only got meeting fees didn’t they?
JS: They got meeting fees and the rural councillors got a token allowance for travelling. I think it was something like five or six dollars, and the meeting was something like that, and that situation prevailed right up until 1993 when the new act came out and that act gave councillors — the new act. 1993 conferred on councilors to write and to set their own remuneration so far as meeting attendance was concerned, and that was the opening of the floodgates. That attitude went right through to other areas of expenditure, and that was when the excesses and extravagances came into the budget, and that’s just...
AW. So a wage now would be what. $85,000? The councillors’ wage?
JS: I believe from what was in the paper on Sunday. the councillors’ wage here is something like $87,000.
AW: Yeah all right.
JS: But that opinion about the opening of the floodgates is not exclusively mine, its that of many people. Including Harold Jacob who was the director of local government and one of the best directors we’ve ever had, and he’s often made mention to me that so far as he was concerned as a director, the role started in local government when that right was given to local government and they abused it.
AW: And John how often did they call council meetings in the mid 60s? One a month?
JS: The general councillors itself met once a month and they had three committees: they had a Finance Committee, a Health And Building Com mine and a Division 5 Works
Committee, and they met on a fortnightly basis, but they were relatively short meetings, they would have only taken a couple of hours each and they didn’t occupy much staff time. But once a month the general meetings, yeah.
AW: Yeah What were some of the advantages of working from the Landsborough Shire Council offices in Landsborough?
JS: Well I suppose in one word, peace; you could come to work in the morning you wouldn’t besieged with people coming in with petty complaints because it was too far to drive from Caloundra to lodge a complaint and it was too tiresome to write a letter, so you got only a fraction of the complaints that you got from the community as compared to when we came to Caloundra.
AW: Yeah and then no customer service then of any sort, was there?
JS: It was all customer service then. The biggest disturbance in those days was listening to the whistle of the train go by.
AW: All right John, what were some of the projects that council started and finished when you were in your position that gave you a lot of satisfaction to look back on?
JS: Well I think most of the projects with which I was associating gave me satisfaction; you felt that you were a part of it. You probably were responsible for raising the money for it and looking after it in that respect, but I suppose the biggest one and the one that gave the most community benefit was the sewering of the coastal area, the Caloundra/Kawana area, and I might mention that Caloundra was the first major seaside town on the Sunshine Coast that was sewered. It was sewered long before [...] or Noosa.
AW: I didn’t know that.
JS: Oh there were other ones too. The sewerage scheme brought universal benefits because Caloundra was alive with drainage problems, defective sewers, health problems and a lot of smelly properties because the allotments were too small for septic disposal trenches and you could do what you liked but you couldn’t cure that, it was just a band-aid situation, but it wasn’t cured until sewerage came, and sewerage removed all those drainage problems and all those health problems and I’m quite sure that the health of the community would have improved greatly as a result of the installation of sewerage.
AW: And did the Ewen Maddock Dam start in your time?
JS: Ewen Maddock Dam certainly did start in my time arid I have quite vivid recollections of it because mid-way through it the contractor. K.D. Morris, went bankrupt, and that threw a cat among the pigeons and the council had to finish it by the same day, later start.
AW. So what day- if we’re talking about dates? Mid 70s was it?
JS: Early 70s I think, yes, early to mid to, yeah, yeah, and we had to try to collect staff that were competent In that, so we took over a lot of the staff from K.D. Morris and we put on our own inspectors and we put on our own cost clerk on the job to keep accurate records [...].
AW- So how much had they done by the time they went bankrupt, a third?
JS: Less than half, yeah, you see because it was a job...
AW A big crisis?
JS: But it came out well, it probably came out better than it would have come out without the contract we [...] on because the profit margin wasn’t there.
AW: Well what about the Baroon Pocket Dam? That happened in your time too, didn’t it?
JS. Well Baroon Pocket happened in my time but it was a project of the Caloundra/Maroochy Water Supply Board, which was a 50/50 joint local authority between the two councils. Yeah it started in my time: as a matter of fact I was the initial part of the board and I held that position for some — oh for about four years, and during those years the major contracts were left, that is. The contract for the dam itself, the contract for the tunnel viaduct through the Blackall Range and the treatment plant on the eastern side of the range that was after my time, but the one that gave me the most heartache and most work was the acquisition by resumption of some thirty-four properties for the darn; that was not easy, that was not easy.
AW: Part of that was Jill Jordan’s property too, remember?
JS: Some flow to mind very freely but Jill’s wasn’t one of them. There was some big major properties there, you know, dairy farms and one of the biggest kiwi fruit plantations in Queensland was resumed for the dam, but the difficulty was arriving at the compensation, making sure that A we got the property, but B their dispossessed owners were fairly compensated and I think we only had to resort to the Land Court on two or three occasions; most of it was settled harmoniously and I recall...
AW. Says something for council, doesn’t it?
JS: Councils two.
AW: Councils, two councils.
JS: I remember one dispossessed, and I won’t mention names, but he had a big property and he was very, very dissatisfied with what the board offered him so he went to the Lands Court in Brisbane and they gave him a figure less than the board offered him, so he came home rather unhappy.
AW: Now here we’re talking about the mid 80s are we?
JS: All the 80s.
AW: Mid 1980s? Early 80s?
JS: Yeah in the 80s.
Water infrastructure takeover
AW: John, what’s your opinion about the latest development in the state government? The Beattie Government is proposing to take over the water infrastructure of the local councils and will we be compensated for the infrastructure that we ratepayers have put in?
JS: I suppose the answer to that question depends upon where you live; if you lived in Brisbane you would probably think it’s a good idea, but if you lived in the Sunshine Coast you would probably be horrified because you get the impression that the situation could have been avoided if the same foresight had been exhibited in Brisbane and the Gold Coast area as was exhibited here.
AW: So you’re saying our forward planning was better than theirs, for water infrastructure?
JS: Without the slightest shadow of doubt.
The best council
AW: Good, thanks. John in your opinion, what do you think constitutes a good council? Because you’ve been involved in one for a long time.
JS: Well in my time we had a pretty simple test to determine what is the best council when we were trying to compare ourselves with other councils on the Sunshine Coast and nearby regions; we’d pick it out, and I think it’s a pretty fair assessment, that the best council is the one that spends the highest percentage of its disposable funds on tangible works and services for the ratepayer; in other words, the one with the lowest overheads.
AW: So what happened in the nearby shires? Like Maroochy.
JS: We were light years ahead of them, we were light years ahead of them, and even as late as 1996 when I retired we still by far had the lowest per capita rate of the three councils on the Sunshine Coast, but we can no longer boast that.
AW: No we can’t, no.
JS: Third now.
Caloundra Civic Centre
AW: John have you got any memories about when the Civic Centre started and the public controversy about how expensive it was going to be and...?
JS: Yes, I have recollections of the...
AW: So give us some more thoughts about the Civic Centre John.
JS: I have a lot of thoughts about the Civic Centre. As you probably know, the Civic Centre as built in two separate contracts. The first contract was for all the foundations and the land or the [...] and then the rest of it was built as stage 2. But we had some dramas, we found out that the contractor for stage 1 was removing from the site some of the bricks required for stage 2 and it was a bit of problem recovering those, but we got them all back and it went ahead pretty well, it went ahead pretty well. I think the only defect we had with the wisdom of hindsight was the flat aluminium roof with the one degree pitch which leaked from day one and probably will continue leaking so long as it’s there, but...
AW: Can you remember the initial cost of it?
JS: Oh it was around about the four to five million dollars I think: it was a bargain because at that stage we did whatever we had to do to enable it to qualify for a major capital conflict subsidy from the state government, and with the exception of elements like the car parking and things like that, we got a thirty per cent subsidy from the state government on the whole instruction expenditure which put it within the realms of affordability so far as the council was concerned. Had it not been for that thirty per cent we would have not been able to embark upon a civic centre of that magnitude. One interesting feature too that followed it, although it’s not directly related to the construction, after it was up and running — that was in the time of Landsborough Shire Council, not Caloundra City Council — Landsborough Shire Council was the first shire council in Queensland to ever host an annual conference at the local government association of Queensland back in J.L. Beausang’s time, and it was...
AW: And you used the Civic Centre for it?
JS. We used the Civic Centre and it went off like a bomb, it went off beautifully, and Jack Beausang was the proudest man in Caloundra.
AW. And he was a big supporter of the Civic Centre wasn’t he?
JS: Absolutely, yes he was...
AW: Also, was Bill Venardos a supporter of the Civic Centre? I remember Bill.
JS: No, Bill...
AW: Bill asked me quite a few questions about it at the time and I remember saying I really supported it!
JS: No, Bill Venardos was opposed to it right through and he put up his hand in opposition all the way through: as a matter of fact when we came to the stage where we were doing the opening it fell a task for me to get an opening plaque done for the opening, and I had it all worded out and I thought I would get the council’s blessing on it before I got it made in bronze, and I deliberately left off Bill Venardos’s name just in mischief, and it went around the council and they all nodded and they all got the message, and then it went to Bill and he went off the Richter scale! He said, ‘Hey boy?’ he said. “you’ve left my name off!” I said, “Well I didn’t do it accidentally Bill,” I said, “I did it because I know that you were against this and I didn’t want any flack to attach to you when they open It,” and he said "I’m for it now, I’m for it now!’
AW: And in council there were some councillors who were against it, weren’t there? Was it the rural councillors or...?
JS: There was only a minority opposition within council; its escaped me now who it was.
AW: And there was also a fair bit of opposition in the public. I believe — I remember it..
JS: Oh yes, oh yes, there was a lot of community organisations feared it would send them broke and one particular man, I won’t mention his name, he was very, very, very vocal in his opposition, a retired school teacher, and after the Civic Centre was up and running for twelve months he came down and he apologised to me and said what a fool he had been for opposing it was the best council [...].
AW: Yeah I agree with that [...]
JS: And that was also the attitude of a lot of individuals and organisations that originally took a negative stance; they were all for it once it was up and running.
AW: And the situation with it today too now, it’s run by its own board now isn’t it? And it’s called the Caloundra Events Centre.
JS: It’s run by a board which is [...] the council and the name has been changed, although the big concrete plaque out the front still announces it as the Civic Centre.
AW: And I still call it the Civic Centre! [laughs]
JS: Well you know, you must remember that it was called the Civic Centre for that government subsidy, that thirty per cent subsidy. It had to be. It had major cultural elements in it.
AW: And weren’t we the only council outside of Brisbane that had a big civic centre for large cultural events?
JS: Oh no, no, there were others.
AW: In this area I mean.
JS: Oh in the Sunshine Coast?
JS: The Sunshine Coast we were, yeah, and at the time that I retired in 1996 it was the — there might have been fifteen or twenty In Queensland and the operating deficit of the Civic Centre here was the second smallest with any council in Queensland, which was a credit to the manager of the Civic Centre at that stage, and the only one that...
AW: Who was?
JS: The only Civic Centre that ran at a small profit was the Ipswich Civic Centre, and that was because every night of the year it would be used for bingo tournaments, so it wasn’t really being used for the purpose that it was originally provided, but nonetheless it had a long term.
AW: You all right? Do you want [...]?
Memories about Caloundra Library
AW: All right, what’s your memories about the Caloundra Library when it opened?
JS: The first library that the council constructed was the one.
AW: Which is now the art gallery.
JS: Yes there’s the art gallery and it was constructed entirely from a grant by the then Whitlam Government under the Area Improvement Program; I think it was either $71 or $91 000 dollars and it was open [...] to the council, and that was a major improvement on the old School of Arts Library.
AW: [...] Did you aim with the School of Arts Library [...] — sorry. Was the School of Arts Library, you know, in that side room that’s got [...], that wasn’t a council operation was it?
JS: Not for many, many years until they were experiencing all sorts of management and financial problems and they asked for the council to take it over, which we did when-what’s her name?
JS: [...] came on our staff and came around it from there, but it was a...
AW: So how many years was that before the library...?
JS: Only a short time, a couple of years, a couple of years under — anyway that served the town well, a small library until the demand outgrew the supply.
AW: And then we got the Jack Beausang Library twenty-one years ago.
JS: Then we got the John L Beausang Library, twenty-one years ago, I remember that, and one of the key features about the design of that library, everyone on the council was absolutely consistent that the roof must not leak like the Civic Centre, so they put a concrete roof on It about four Inches thick, but then that was put on in anticipation for the library going up.
AW: Yeah, and also I remember there was discussion I think when you were in the council about taking over the library and building up levels above it for council chambers for the new ones, can you remember that?
AW: I don’t know how serious it was but it irritated me greatly?
JS: That was on the [...] that was, that was thrown in the ring by him.
AW: Oh was it?
JS: When it got knocked out he then was going to get rid of the — he was going to put everybody in the Civic Centre and get rid of it as the civic centre and open it up as the shire council chambers, and that got knocked on the head, and then several other sites were looked at including one out on the [...]and all sorts of things for the new office but [...] it went where it is.
AW: Which is? Which is?
JS: It’s on the area which was originally out of Bill Venardos Park, but why it went there because there was always a plan of the council to have a civic precinct; you had the Civic Centre there and you had the library there and the council chambers sort of fitted into that.
AW: And that’s still a pain isn’t it? They’re [...] knowledge centre going through there.
JS: That’s right.
Sewerage, Arthur Street swimming pool
AW: When you arrived John, one of the aims of council was to seal and curb and channel all streets in Caloundra. And did council succeed in doing that?
JS: Yes they succeeded but it took a long time because a lot of them already had been constructed with gravel, a lot of them were simply sand tracks; Bowman Road was a sand
track when I came here, but yeah, that occupied the majority of the budget for years and years and years until they got the [...] Caloundra sealed and curbed and channeled. That
was after sewerage too.
AW: Right. John what were some of the other projects that you felt were important that were started when you were in council, and finished?
JS: Oh the biggest and one that gave the widest range of benefit was without doubt the sewering of this railway towns and the sewering of Maleny; there were tremendous drainage problems in some of those rural towns, especially Landsborough because it was built in a hollow, and Maleny was also experiencing problems, and I might mention that.
AW: In the interim you had a [...] didn’t you in the interim before it was sewered wasn’t there — or still you have people go out and take the sewerage and bring it back? What’s that all about?
JS: Whereabouts? Oh in some of the bigger problem areas in those towns some of the houses were equipped with holding tanks and the contract of the council was a refuse contract; he used to go out and pump those tanks on a weekly or a fortnightly or a monthly basis depending upon uses because the land simply wouldn’t absorb the waste that continued on until sewerage was put through. And interesting enough though, when Maleny was sewered there was no way that the community of Maleny could have ever afforded to fund that sewerage scheme had it not been for a major subsidy from the coast. I acknowledge that because it would have cost them over 500 and something dollars a year in sewerage rates.
AW: And was the swimming pool in Arthur Street started and completed in your time?
JS: Oh yes, it was well and truly, yes...
AW: That would have been well received by the public too.
JS: Yeah. I think the only controversy, if you could call it a controversy, was where it should be built. There were two or three sites bandied around as to where it should have been built but I think the council did the right thing dumping it in the Recreation Reserve, yeah.
AW: What about talking about sites? The new admin building, you were looking at a lot of different sites before that one was decided on.
JS: Oh look, the sites were probably a couple of years, all over the place, including one out on the Aerodrome Reserve, and as I mentioned earlier, the Civic Centre was mooted as a possibility at one stage, the library also had its moments, and there were two or three others too that they — they didn't consider the element of convenience as far as the public was concerned; sure you could go out build one in Whoop-Whoop out in the middle of nowhere and get the land cheap and everything would be fine, but it wouldn’t get you convenience for the people. So this one had the element of centrality and it had the convenience and it had the big benefit that the council owned the land, they didn’t have to acquire land. That made it a much sweeter financial proposition than any of the other options, yes.
AW: John, did you get job satisfaction in this job even though it was incredibly difficult at times? Did you get any satisfaction in it?
JS: Yes Ann, I got a lot of satisfaction out of it, a lot up until the last — up until the stage where the Gray Council came into power and [...]
AW: We’re just going on about job satisfaction with young John; do you want to tell us more?
JS: Yeah the position gave a lot of job satisfaction, and the variety was one of the aspects that appealed to me. There wouldn’t be two successive days that I would be doing the same thing. I’d be doing financial budget work one day and the next week I’d be doing contracts and all sorts of things. and the variety was excellent and stimulating and generally the whole working cycle gave me a lot of satisfaction with the exception of the last few years when the Gray Council came into power and things sort of went a bit belly-up from there on in and it became very stressful for me and a lot of other people working in the staff during that period.
AW: There were large personality clashes between councilors and staff wasn’t there? From what I read in the paper.
JS: Well there were clashes between some councillors and staff, but it wasn’t a uniform feeling within council, but there was one councilor who took advantage of the situation to
or he manipulated the situation to vilify certain staff members, including myself and a number of others whose ideals didn’t coincide with his, and that made life very untenable there for some time.
AW: So that was the whole term that he was in, the whole three years?
JS: The whole three years, yes. Most of the people on staff that had any dealings with him at that time knew that he was mayor in title only, he wasn’t (the power behind the throne).
Personal satisfaction and staff morale
AW: What were some of the things John that you did that gave you real personal satisfaction?
JS. I think one of the aspects I took satisfaction was with the great satisfaction level that existed within the staff, we had an extremely low turnover rate, an extremely low turnover rate. We had a relatively small staff and I can recall the late chairman of Maroochy Shire, Eddie De Vere and Fred Murray, frequently saying that they were astonished at the output of Caloundra Shire — Caloundra City — Landsborough Shire in those days — with the relatively small amount of staff we had compared to their levels of staff up there, and that was true too, but as I say, we had an extremely small, low level of turnover and a great level of staff satisfaction. I cant remember a major industrial dispute that we had involving office staff. We may have had a couple of people that were thorny but it didn’t go beyond that, and even the outside staff, once again we had a low level of turnover there and disputation was very, very, very rare, very seldom.
AW: And in my observations as a rate payer would be that staff morale in the council pre 1995 about, were very high, staff morale, would that be correct?
JS: Well I think you can form your own opinion of that by the fact that a whole of staff regularly, every week, used to work overtime without claiming a cent, and that used to go on for years and years and years: they’d take stuff home, and they would stay back and do work and if the councilor come in and asked them to do something they’d bend over
backwards to help them. I don’t think that probably exists any longer.
AW: Well my observation of council at the moment as a ratepayer is that staff morale is nowhere near as high, that’s my observation.
JS: Well they don’t talk to each other.
AW: I know, and also the changeover of staff is...
AW: Very high, yeah.
Interesting stories and memories about Jack Beausang
AW: Have you got any interesting stories or memories about Jack? I have myself, so you must have.
JS: Well with my current [...] I don’t know, I don’t know what you know about him but I know a heck of a lot about him.
AW: Oh very interesting.
JS: He was the chairman when lint came here in ‘67, I think that was his first term as chairman; he’d aggressively beaten the late Duncan MacDonald, and so he was new to the job you might say, but 1967 was probably not a hard one, it was an easy one but he was in the office most days of the week; he used to come down from Conondale to work in
AW: What, every day?
JS: Yeah, every day he’d come down, and a very, very practical, very easy man to work with, extremely fair to me; he couldn’t have been fairer as far as I was concerned. He must have taken a shine to me I think, but yeah he was great to work with, great. He had [...] he used to do funny things from time to time. I remember once we went to Sydney with him, some delegation on Kawana issues, and we finished earlier than we were scheduled to finish and we were walking down the street to catch a cab, and one of the blokes says, ‘We should get off Centrepoint.” “Yeah that’s a good idea,’ so Jack [...] that was a good idea. He looked down a bit further and he looked down and he saw [...] and he says, ‘What’s that’?” the old bloke said, ‘Centrepoint” “Oh,” he says, “I’ll just go and do such and such, you can look up Centrepoint, I’m not going.” So they grabbed him, literally grabbed him, shoved him in the elevator and up he went. So he went up to the top and he was terrified. He got out and was walking sideways like a crab, you know? And he walked right over to the edge and he looked down and he held on with both hands and then he saw some feature that he recognised, the football ground or the cricket ground or something, and inside ten minutes was pointing out to the people of Sydney the features of the city. All the fear had left him, all the fear had left him. You know Bruce (Laming?) was there that day, and he said, ‘We’d better get out of here because [...]we can’t shift him.
JS: And I said, “I’ll shift him,” and so I went over and I said, ‘What do you think of this place? [...] says, ‘No, but I’d hate to be up here in a fire.” [...]
JS: He went in the lift and down straightaway
AW. Jack had particularly good relationships with the public didn’t he?
JS: Oh yeah, anyone could go in his office.
AW: He’d talk to them anytime, yes he was.
JS: Yes and had never turn anyone away.
AW: He was particularly [...] like that.
JS: He mightn’t be able to satisfy their complaint but he wouldn’t send them away disheartened.
AW: And also, you know, he’d be very, very pleasant even if he couldn’t help you.
JS: Yeah that’s right. He was very fair to staff, very, very fair to staff, I liked him. Actually we were a bit spoilt working with old Jack.
AW: Oh I assume that you were, very!
JS: I think we were.
AW: Because who was your next mayor after Jack? Des, was it?
JS: No, the next mayor after...
AW: Jack was Des.
JS: No, there was Donald...
AW: Oh Don and then Des?
JS. Don served a term of three years..
AW: And then he went out to Barry Gray.
JS; And then he went out to the Gray...
AW: And then Des came in.
JS: That’s right, Des was good, Des was good to work with, you knew where you were with him, he was as straight as a die.
Mayors John worked under
AW: So what are the mayors you’ve worked under?
AW: Yeah, starting from the beginning.
JS: Beausang, Aictous, Dwyer...
AW: Barry Gray
JS: Gray — lets start again There was Beausang, Aldous — no.
AW: Yeah that’s right, Aldous.
JS: Gray. Dwyer, and then Aldous again, five.
AW: You didn’t work under Aldous did you? Yeah, Aldous was in before Gray. No, but yeah. But the second time around you were...
JS: The second time I was with (Aldous?), yeah.
AW: So who were some of the ones that you found easiest to work with? Jack and Des?
JS: Yes, I would agree with that, yeah.
Memories from Landsborough Shire Council Chambers
AW. All right, you were talking before about some of your amusing memories working at the Landsborough Shire Council Chambers in Landsborough, particularly the one about the toilet, what was that?
JS: Oh we had a vintage toilet there, I think it was built shortly after white settlement, but it consisted of a few slabs of corrugated iron around a urinal of types, and I felt the urge one day...
AW: This was a men’s toilet wasn’t it?
JS: Yeah a men’s toilet. I didn’t know where it was and I asked Ted, ‘Where’s the toilet?” and he pointed to this decrepit old galvanized iron shed down the back and I went in there and on the floor was the biggest brown snake I’d ever seen in all my life. And so I’d lost all the urge. I didn’t want to go to the toilet, I got out of there like a rocket and I went back to Ted and I said, there was a bloody big brown snake down the toilet and he said, yeah, I’ve noticed that, he’s been there for a few weeks. [laughter]
JS: He wasn’t remotely concerned.
AW: Now I have a memory of a beautiful big meeting room table in that shire chambers.
JS: Yeah quite—it was a beautiful table.
AW: Was that specially made by someone?
JS: It was specially made for an earlier council; I don’t know what vintage it was but it was way, way back. It was made out or absolutely first grade hoop pine, and the slabs were — oh they’d be — fifteen inches — eighteen inches wide, and it originally, when I saw it, it had a leather trim around the outside, you know, a leather trim? But they took the leather trim off and sanded it back and put a coat of some sort of varnish or estapol or something, and it was brought in — it was brought into me council chambers in Bulcock Street where it was put in the Committee Room and it served as the committee table there, They had a new V- shaped table as you might remember...
AW: Yes I do.
JS: For the general meetings, but this was the committee table, and after we went into the new multi-story building, to my memory it was taken over there and put in front of either the Beerwah Room or one of those meeting rooms there, and to the best of my knowledge it’s still there.
AW: They have to search the remainder of...
JS: It was a beautiful table, and if you got on one end of it you tried to lift it you’d really know what it was made of. Beautiful.
AW: And you worked under Ted Roberts for quite a few years. didn’t you?
JS: Oh yes.
AW: And you would have had some amusing happy memories about Ted?
JS: You’d be right, yes, he had a funny story for every occasion. Ted, and he had a marvelous memory for recitation of poetry.
AW: Oh right.
JS: He could recite poetry — CJ Dennis was his favourite, and he used to write this [...] sentimental [...] bloke, all those sorts of things, plus limericks, you name it, he could recite it and he had a story for every occasion, he had a memory like an elephant, old Ted. But sharp, he was as sharp as a razor. You’d have to be up extremely early in the morning to put anything over Ted, you know, he used to take it out on all sorts of funny people.
AW: And he stayed in Caloundra after he retired, did he?
JS: He did, he used to absolutely delight in taking the mickey out on Noel Burns, absolutely delight. If he knew that Noel Burns was coming to the office out of Landsborough he’d be typically waiting at the top step, and he’d make some seemingly innocent remark.
AW: That’d trigger...
JS: That was a bit of a [...] on Noel Burns, and [...] something fearful, and by the time he’d got to the top step Ted Roberts would be there with hands on his poker face and he said "You got me again, you bastard". And this used to happen regularly!
AW: [...] about the toilet paper, John.
JS: Oh, the toilet paper?
JS: You've heard it?
AW: No, no. no. sounds good! [laughs]
JS: Well I was told shortly after I got there, or shortly before I got to Landsborough. the health inspector always used to order a big consignment of toilet paper about [...] of November for the caravan parks and camping in the areas around Caloundra. and he intended to order a hundred dozen...
AW: This is Ted?
JS: No. Alf [Payne?] Alf intended to order a hundred dozen but he ordered a hundred gross [...] this semi-trailer came up from Brisbane full of toilet rolls, parked in front of the office at Landsborough, [outed?] Jack and said to Ted. ‘Where do you want them?” He said, ‘Take them down to Caloundra and fill up every council shed you can find but don’t come back here![ ..]!‘ So he did that, he got rid of them somehow.
AW: And he actually took the whole lot?
JS: He had to, he ordered them! And he went back and he got onto the Brisbane Telegraph I think it was, one of the media...
AW: Who’s this?
JS: The bloke from the semi-trailer.
AW: Oh the semi-trailer! [laughs]
JS: And if there’s a good story up at Landsborough we’ve got to get onto the shire clerk up there, so he rang old Ted up and made small talk for a while and he said, "I believe you’re expecting an influx of tourists to the camping area of the caravan parks over the Christmas holidays,” and Ted says, ‘You knew?’ ‘Ah yes.” he said, “We did, we have the situation pretty well covered.” and some more sort of small questions, and finally he said, “Mr Roberts, would you care to make an estimate of the number of people that you think will be booking into your camping areas of the caravan park s over Christmas?’ And he said, listen buster,’ he said, "assume that every person that goes there uses the toilet twice a day and on an educated guess of fourteen inches, divide that into a hundred gross arid you’ve got it.” Clunk! Hung up!
JS: He never rang me back! [laughter]
JS: I think later on, shortly after I came there there was a big explosion up in the regional quarry one night. That was where we used to get all the red metal for the roads in Caloundra. All the red metal they used to cart down, and there was a bloke up there who was a powder monkey, he used to do the explosions, he used to handle all the explosives, and he used to live in a caravan on site. Well one night the caravan blew up and nobody knew whether old Wally was in the caravan or not, so the ABC rang Ted up because it was an enormous explosion, [...] in Maleny, and they said, ‘Can you tall us a bit about this explosion’” Well he said, “I don’t know anything about it. All I know about it is what I heard on the news this morning.’ ‘Was anyone killed?’ ‘We don’t know, we hope not,” and he said. ‘Well look,” he said, listen, the loss of this caravan here is a substantial financial loss to the council” — it was [...] twenty bucks or something — and he said, “Oh yes,” he said, “It will,”he said, “It will set us back seriously, we don’t know what we’re going to do but we’ll face that thing tomorrow". And anyway, all this small talk went on for a while and well said, “Mr Roberts you’re not giving me much, tell my readers,” and he said, “Well what else can I say?” “Well.” he said, “if you like you can tell them that the Landsborough Shire Council is the first council I, the southern hemisphere that’s succeeded in putting a caravan on the moon, how do you like that’?” Anyway, the next day (Wally Bun?) walked in full as a foul! He'd been Newtown drinking grog.
AW: [laughter] He had a quick sense of humour didn’t he, yeah?
JS: Oh he did!
AW: Well another one you’ve been talking to me about is Bill Nemeth. He was in the work scheme for a long time, wasn’t he?
JS: Bill was the overseer.
AW: The overseer was he?
JS: He was the overseer, Bill drove that car like there was no tomorrow, he used to absolutely terrify anyone in it and while we were working at Landsborough we used to get a ride out from Caloundra to Landsborough with him of a morning and there was absolutely nothing said from the time we got In to the time we got out. Everyone was terrified. We were going out along the [...] one day and he saw a council truck coming the other way and he was trying to wave them down like this with one hand out the window and he went straight off the road down the hollow, and it landed on four wheels like [...]. A bulldozer or something pulled us out, but we were coming back from Landsborough to Caloundra one day and we were passing the cemetery there, and there was a car coming down the other way, everyone was watching it, and everyone was anticipating that Bill would wait and that would go past and then turn behind it, but Bill turned straight in front of it and this bloke hit the brakes and you could hear the scream and there was black rubber flying everywhere, you could [fit it?] and old Ted was reading the Brisbane Telegraph. he had this paper back down and he [...] and he was reading the Telegraph, and he threw it up like that and it hit the roof, and he stilt [...] and the car was going chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, chug like this [...] because he never used second gear. So we went along a bit further and he said, “Cutting it a bit bloody fine aren’t you Bill?” “No,” he says, “don’t be bloody rude, he put on his brakes too late,” [laughter]
JS: This used to happen regularly.
AW: So how long was he on the council staff?
JS: Oh Bill was there since [...]
AW: He’s still in Caloundra, isn’t he?
JS: No, Bill died some years ago.
AW: Oh did he?
JS: Frank Nemeth’s son, he was a foreman, but Frank retired a couple of years ago, and now he lives in Arthur Street.
AW: Yeah that’s [...] and I know his wife.
JS: Yeah, old Bill hated, absolutely detested commercial travellers, he would not talk to them. If he knew there was a commercial traveller he’d get in the car and go to the bush somewhere, and there were no two-way radios or any communication in those days, they just couldn’t bloody find him. It was just after we’d moved to Caloundra; he’d been in talking to Ted Roberts about something and he was walking out, and I was talking to a Hastings Deering rep at the [...]. They sell [...] dozers and that, and old Bill had just called tenders for bulldozers and he wanted to see Mr Nemeth, and he said, “Does Mr Nemeth. T and I said, “Yeah you’re lucky, that’s him walking right here,” And Bill was walking past and he looked at me [...] So anyway, I introduced Bill to this bloke and walked off, and I was only about ten yards away and listened, and this fellow said, “I’m Mr So and So from Hastings Deering and we’re very, very interested in submitting a tender to satisfy your requirements but the specification was a bit vague and I’d like to know a few things more than [...]. “Well,” he says, "do you want t to have a hydraulically-operated blade or a cable-operated blade?" And he said, “Oh, whatever you think is the best,” You know? And he said, “Now what size dozer do you want?” He said, Oh, as long as we put on them on the back of the truck that’s all we [...].” Vague bugger". He was telling him nothing at all, telling him nothing, he was that rude. [...] and he got absolutely nothing out of old Bill, the rude old bugger. And finally he said, "Look Mr Nemeth, my principal sent me up here especially today to talk to you to know what your requirements are,” but he says, "You haven’t given me very much, what am I going to tell my principal when I get home to Brisbane?” He said. “Oh,” he said, “Try to tell them to get stuffed and see what they think.” And he walked off and left him there, left him there, and I saw him that afternoon at the bowl’s dub and said "You’re an Ignorant old bugger" and he said, “I don’t like the those fellers.”
AW: [laughs] Now while we talk about personalities, Noel Burns, Mr Kawana, have you got any interesting stories about Noel besides the one you just told us about?
JS: I wouldn’t know where to start with Burns.
AW: What about the one about the chocolates?
JS: Oh he had a big stint with Max, Bill and I one afternoon which went for about an hour about some condition of development of Kawana that the council had imposed on him and he was absolutely horrified with it, arid he was going to take us to the highest court of the arid and he was going to do all sorts of things, arid he abused Hurley and told him what he thought of his [answers? ancestry?] and he repeated it on me, he swore out of the place and oh. it cut the air, it was bloody [...]. The next morning he was sitting there with a pair of khaki shorts and no shoes, no hat, no shirt, nothing, loaded with chocolates.
AW: Boxes of chocolates!
JS: Boxes of chocolates, boxes of chocolates, and we came in and he says, “Where’s that bloody Poole?” And I said, “He’s over the back,” I said, “Burns is here and he wants to talk.” He said, “Tell him if he’s going to continue where we left off yesterday afternoon I don’t want to bloody talk to him!” He said, “No. no, no,” he said, “it’s nothing to do with that, it’s another issue,’ and he said. ‘All right.” So he came over and he stared at him and [...] each mole on his face, and he said..."
AW: That's Poole or [...]?
JS: Max, Max, rubbing his mote on his face, and he said to him, "Poole?"he said, "You’re an asshole!” [laughter]
JS: And he said — he truly said to me, "I thought you told me he wasn’t going to carry on with yesterday afternoon again". He said, "I’m not, I’m here to say I’m bloody sorry" He said, "I lay awake all bloody night thinking about you two pair of bastards and at three o’clock this morning I realised that I was wrong!" And he said, “I’m here to say I’m sorry and I upset all those girls outside and I brought them some chocolates and I’m going out to give them to you now." And he went out and it was [...] and he apologised to everyone and gave them a big box of chocolates and walked out the back and went home.
AW: Oh wow [laughs].
JS: Oh dear...
Footnote: Max Poole was the consulting engineer working with the Landsborough Shire Council at that time.
End of Interview