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District Council of Mallala celebrates 75 years of Amalgamation.

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Ken Lindsay’s Speech at a Dinner marking the 75th Anniversary of the Amalgamation of the District Councils of Grace, Dublin and Port Gawler to form the District Council of Mallala.

Friday May 28th 2010

Mayor Strudwick, Councillors and Staff present and past, Distinguished guests, Ladies

Thank you for the invitation to Margaret and I to attend this special function to celebrate 75 years of Local Government as the District Council of Mallala. In the space of 12 months, we have been privileged to come back here to our home town for the significant milestones of the Centenary of the Uniting/Methodist Church, and the Centenary of the Mallala Football Club, and now this celebration. Although we left Mallala in 1962, it still has a very strong place in our affections, and we still have many life-long friends here.

Strangely enough, I do have quite a significant family connection to the Council merger of 75 years ago. My great-grandfather, Noble Johnson Weatherall Lindsay was Chairman of the District Council of Dublin for two terms 1876-77 and 1882-84. He was also Chairman of the District Council of Grace for one term 1879-1880. 

His son Charles was District Clerk of the District Council of Dublin for 19 years, retiring in 1923, the year his father passed away.

It’s a pity that Don Pitt was unable to be here for this occasion. He worked for the Mallala Council for 17 years, including 9 as District Clerk, so his reminiscing would have had a much wider scope than mine, after only 4 years. I spoke to Don a couple of weeks ago, and we did a bit of reminiscing over the phone. He gave me this advice about my speech here tonight – “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story!”

In 1958, I had been working with my dad, Gordon, in Lindsay’s chaff mill, fuel agency, and carrying business. The bulk grain which we had been carting from northern silos to Ardrossan started going by rail to the new Wallaroo terminal, and it was clear that I should be finding other employment. My good friend Don told me one day that I should get into Local Government, and it just so happened that a vacancy would shortly be occurring in the Mallala Council Office. A young lady named Rosemary Roberts was leaving to marry a handsome young farmer named Keith Jenkin. So I applied for the job and was successful, due I’m sure, to my previous experience as a Bank Clerk, bagger operator in the chaff mill, sheaf pitcher, wheat lumper and truck driver. Nothing to do with Don being one of my best mates!?

When Rosemary left, after a few months course of instruction, I was on my own, and thus started a career in Local Government which lasted almost 30 years. The most immediate necessity was to learn to type, as of course official letters were required, and all the rate notices etc went through the typewriter with carbon paper for the copies. Even after over 50 years, I still have indelibly engraved on my memory the name of one particular ratepayer from the Two Wells area, a name of 18 letters – Mr. Hryssanthakopolous. Fortunately, his initial was A. So I would type the name –then put in a new typewriter ribbon. (I may be exaggerating a little)

Local Government has always been that level of all Governments that is closest to the people, and I believe it was this aspect of the work which I enjoyed most. Daily contact with ratepayers and helping them in various ways was most rewarding. I recall one occasion when a gentleman came up from Two Wells to put in a building application for a shed. His English was not good, and as I explained the requirements for the form and the necessity for a plan of both shed and location I could see his eyes glazing over. So I stood at the counter and drew the plan for him, filled out the form, and got him to sign it. He paid the fee, thanked me and left. Five minutes later, he was back and presented me with a cabbage! I accepted it, and in discussing with Don the ethics of the situation, we agreed on two points – firstly it was not a case of bribery and corruption, just a spontaneous expression of gratitude for the help I had given him, and secondly, that we should split the cabbage!

Around this time, Don introduced me to the Local Government Act, the “Bible” for all Councils in the State. That’s when MY eyes started to glaze over! It was a huge hardcover book, about 2 inches thick. It was, at that time and still may be, the largest piece of legislation ever enacted by the State Parliament.

Memories become a little dim after such a long time, but the Councillors of the era included Bert Helps (Chairman) Les Hart, Max Marshman, Ron Jenkin and Roy Bache. The outside workforce was Bob and Les Burford, Trygve Duhring, Eric Earl, Henry Jury, Barney Crighton, and Keith Henwood at Two Wells. I’m sure I’ve missed someone.

Don was always encouraging me to make a career in Local Government, and suggested that I start studying for both the Overseer’s Certificate and the Clerk’s Certificate. So I started a correspondence course which took me a couple of years to complete. Then I sat the examination and in due course, received my Local Government Overseer’s Certificate. The Town and District Clerk’s Certificate came a couple of years later.

In 1960, the Council decided that we needed a female office assistant, and a young lady named Helen Pritchard was appointed. With Helen taking over much of the typing and clerical work, I was able to get out of the office with Don on many occasions. He instructed me in taking levels for roadworks, and I can remember going out to visit the gang on sealing work on the Nine Mile Road to Balaklava and also bitumen sealing out at the aerodrome. I’m not sure of the year, but farmers among you may recall a bumper harvest around 1960 when the silos filled and wheat was stored in hangars out at the aerodrome. When it was being trucked away, a Council loader was being used to put the grain in the hopper of an auger. I can’t recall who the normal operator was, but when he was absent one day, I found myself driving the front-end loader. No previous experience, no operator’s certificate, no union ticket and definitely no Oc. Health and Safety training.

On another occasion, I went with Don to a demonstration of a new Allis Chalmers Front-end loader in a quarry on the outskirts of Two Wells. The salesman/demonstrator was a forceful and super-confident chap who put the new machine through its paces. Then he said to our Two Wells foreman, Keith Henwood, “Well, this machine can do anything you want it to do. Anything else you want me to demonstrate?” Keith said, “Well, sometimes we have to get rid of trees – (No Native Vegetation Council in those days!) Just go over and push over that old dead tree. You won’t have any trouble because it’s full of white ants”. “No worries,” said the salesman, jumping on the loader. He drove over and put the bucket against the tree and revved the engine. Nothing happened. He tried again in a bottom gear and with full revs. Nothing. The tree wouldn’t budge. He finally stopped, got out and had a really close look at the tree. It was so old it had practically petrified. He walked back to Keith and the rest of us with a sheepish look on his face and said – “Rotten white ants!” Only he didn’t exactly say “Rotten”.

With Helen in the Office, and knowing that she had things totally under control, Don started taking me to Local Government meetings, and in particular, to quarterly meetings of the Lower North Local Government Officers Association. These I found to be most enlightening, as the Clerks from various Councils around the region discussed mutual problems and invariably someone would offer a solution. This was pretty valuable experience for me, a real beginner in the Local Government business.

Early in 1962, Don began encouraging me to apply for the position of District Clerk as there were three Councils advertising such a vacancy at that time. After being re-assured that he wasn’t just trying to get rid of me, and talking it over with Margaret, we decided that indeed the time was ripe to move on. So I obtained references, and filled out applications for all three vacancies. Then on a Sunday morning, we set off in the car with 2 year old Sandra in the back, to check out each area. We met the Chairman of each Council – at Georgetown, up to Orroroo and back down to Port Wakefield and handed in a copy of my application. By late afternoon, we’d had a big day, and got home to Mallala expecting that it had probably been a wasted exercise all round. On the following Friday, I had a call from the Port Wakefield Chairman asking me to attend for an interview with the full Council on Monday night. This I did, and after leaving the meeting briefly, was called back to say that I had the job of District Clerk and Overseer of the District Council of Port Wakefield. The day after, I was in the Mallala office when a call came in from the then District Clerk of Orroroo (who was going to Riverton). He told me I’d been appointed District Clerk of Orroroo! How embarrassing! Fortunately, I never did hear from the District Council of Georgetown!

However, we moved to Port Wakefield where I got on well with both Council and ratepayers, but got a very frosty reception from the Council foreman. He regarded me as an inexperienced mug (which of course, I was).  Then after only 15 months, we moved on to Owen Council, where we enjoyed a very happy 9 years.

Then Council amalgamations were in the air, and it was pretty clear that Owen, Port Wakefield and Balaklava Councils would combine, leaving two District Clerks without a job. I then opted for a real sea change, and was appointed as Town Clerk of Port Lincoln, a position I held for the next 14 ½ years. Margaret thought Port Lincoln was the end of the world, and reluctantly agreed to wear it for two years. At the end of that time, we had a family meeting, and she was outvoted four to one, as 3 kids and I wanted to stay. We’re still there after almost 38 years. It was a real culture shock to move from rural councils to a City. Members of the Port Lincoln Council were nearly all business men, quite a few of whom had their own agendas. But that is most definitely another story.

Ladies and Gentlemen, although we’ve been away from Mallala for so long, we have maintained contact with friends and relatives, who have kept us informed of what’s been happening in the area. We try to attend most of the Mallala re-unions to meet both them and others who, like us, have also left the district. My impression is that the District Council of Mallala is continuing to provide the same excellent standard of service to it’s residents today as it did all those years ago when I was in the office with Don Pitt. I am aware of the vastly increased areas of responsibility which the Councils of today now have to deal with, and I often think I retired at the right time.

Mayor Strudwick, I offer my sincere congratulations to you, your Councillors and your staff on reaching this most significant milestone of 75 years. Thank you again for the invitation to Margaret and I to be here tonight, and for the opportunity to make these few comments.

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