Campbelltown's mayors: The good, the bad and the ugly

old photo of Campbelltown Councillors
old photo of Campbelltown Councillors
early Campbelltown mayor Jim Kershler

early Campbelltown mayor Jim Kershler

early Campbelltown mayor Percy Marlow

early Campbelltown mayor Percy Marlow

BELIEVE it or not, our first mayor — John Ahearn — was elected because he had less to do with town life than any other councillor.

When Campbelltown Council was formed in 1882, most of its members came from old farming families with entrenched local rivalries.

So the appointment of Ahearn (from the Ousedale waterworks near Appin) meant no established faction could grab power. A noble gesture — but Ahearn only lasted a single year before the old families moved in to take control.

Indeed, until 1901, the mayoralty was treated like a revolving door, a new face — usually heavily bearded — elected almost each term.

None of them had the time to make any notable impact except for maybe William Graham (the youngest ever elected), and Alex Munro (mayor in 1884-86, but resigned to become the town clerk).

William Caldwell also held a few brief terms as mayor but, sharp-witted and intelligent as a long-serving councillor, he "raised the tone" of debate and became our first genuine elder statesman.

At the end of the 1890s, however, the council entered a nasty period of factional brawling.

Typical was mayor Tom Gamble — Protestant Ulsterman, pro-Empire loyalist and radical conservative — who publicly told one of his critics he "warranted a kicking", offering to take on the job himself.

Council came close to collapse in 1899 when mayor Ted Sedgwick quit after councillors moved a hostile censure motion.

Due to a legal hitch, Campbelltown was left without a mayor for months, becoming a laughing stock.

It was Fred Moore who stepped in as a new velvet fist, demanding an end to the "undue wrangling".

Elected in 1901, Moore — who lived at his hilltop Badgally mansion, now the site of St Gregory's College — was our first great mayor.

In two long administrations totalling 13 years he guided our town through the Federation period and into the horrors of World War I. Eloquent, wealthy and popular in local sporting, rural and militia circles, he brought stability to a mayoralty that had changed hands 16 times since 1882.

The constant tributes he received were gushing and, as the owner of the first car in Campbelltown, he would meet returning Diggers from the war at the railway and chauffer them home past cheering crowds.

But in 1919 it all went sour.

Complaints grew about the poor state of local roads and services, often neglected in the interests of "the war effort", and Moore was held to blame by a new generation of rather blunt young councillors.

Offended by their ungentlemanly comments, he resigned — a bitter end to a long, successful career.

The new mayor was peacemaker Charlie Hannaford (1919-1924), a former publican who proved quite the statesman and visionary.

Housing estates were approved, electricity was switched on, and embracing the optimistic mood of the Roaring Twenties he said only modernisation would "arise and awaken this old-world town".

The late 1920s was dominated by shopkeeper Percy Marlow (pictured), a keen photographer.

Because of his strong views he tended to polarise opinion — and as a staunch conservative he had no hesitation in joining other right-wing politicians to attack NSW Labor premier Jack Lang and his "Moscow marauders".

He was replaced in 1929 by Jim Kershler, a decorated World War I veteran. He was humane, charismatic and smart; the only quality that alluded him was good timing.

Just weeks into Kershler's first term as mayor, the poverty and misery of the Great Depression hit Australia. But his misfortune was Campbelltown's blessing.

Kershler earned the love of many families as he organised public works schemes to keep locals employed, supported food/clothing parcels for the needy, and stretched council resources to breaking point.

This newspaper strongly backed his job schemes; garbage collections started, roads were formed, water supplies built and Mawson Park was beautified.

But council's conservatives, led by Percy Marlow, slammed the mayor for all the money being spent and Kershler — exhausted, and upset by the snipping — resigned in 1936.

If Kershler was Campbelltown's "John Curtin", then Jack Westbury was our "Ben Chifley".

Honest and humble, small farmer Westbury had a determination taught in the trenches of World War I and continued Kershler's legacy.

Westbury (pictured left) was a keen reformer and advocate for the battler.

When the conservative premier of NSW cancelled local relief projects and broke funding pledges, Westbury was furious.

His attacks didn't impress council's conservative forces and, after months of destabilisation, Percy Marlow returned as mayor, ousting a shattered Westbury.

Marlow led Campbelltown through the dire days of World War II, winning praise for his work ethic.

But in 1945 he was replaced by Phil Solomon, a retailer and the son of Jewish migrants from Russia.

Although facing a measure of country town racism, Solomon's generosity, strong personality and community spirit won the day, and he enjoyed strong voter support.

He was the mayor when Campbelltown Council merged with the smaller Ingleburn Council in 1948.

Marlow returned to the mayor's chair in 1950, but was now in his seventies and was deposed in 1952 by Jack Farnsworth, a railway fettler from Menangle Park.

A proud working class man, Farnsworth brought a friendly common touch to the council and in 1956 he helped create the annual Festival of Fisher's Ghost (although it wouldn't get that official name until 1960).

On retiring in late 1956, he was succeeded by F.J. "Mate" Sedgwick, whose dairy farm stood on the hilly site now known as the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan.

It was under Sedgwick — hugely respected and well-connected — that Campbelltown's growth boom began. Major housing estates came and Blaxland Road industrial area was developed to provide jobs.

Sedgwick also harnessed a new generation of young councillors, many of them veterans of World War II. One of them, Greg Percival, became his protege.

Percival holds the title as the first Ingleburnian elected as a Campbelltown mayor. And although only in the top job from 1959-61, he went on to become our longest-serving councillor, retiring in 1987.

Next we got our first woman mayor, Kath Whitten — and that created a political storm.

It was claimed by some that she was elected "by mistake", and her one-year term provoked insults and mass walkouts by councillors.

Whitten weathered the storm with strength of character, and she enjoyed staggering voter support — winning a quarter of the total public vote at the next election!

But, in 1962, it was a man who returned to the chair — Keith Fraser.

Refusing to play factional games, he was seen as a "healing" mayor and it was in his term that the large council high-rise building opened.

In 1964, as the sixties started to swing, the "Tregear era" began.

To many, Clive Tregear was the epitome of how a mayor should look, act and sound.

Originally a Labor man, he became a staunch independent and blessed with a ramrod back and gilded tongue, he was mayor until 1972 — one of our greatest.

Under his guidance, Campbelltown was transformed from a country town to a brazen new city.

The rest of the 1970s, however, would be dominated by a new breed of young challengers including Bob Barton — and a popular pharmacist named Gordon Fetterplace.

The latter in particular has left his mark on our city. Under his first mayoralty (1976-81) Campbelltown became the fastest-growing city in Australia, but with a massive lack of government funding and broken political promises and few jobs to provide for the new residents.

Ratepayer dollars were stretched to breaking point, quality was sometimes sacrificed for quantity and he explained: "It's far better to clear 10 paddocks were children can kick a football than it is to build one expensive sporting facility."

He was replaced by Guy Thomas, a pragmatist who became the first mayor to argue against growth — calling on the state government to cease work on all housing estates until proper infrastructure was provided. He was ignored.

It was in the 1980s and 1990s, that the Labor Party stamped its hold on the Campbelltown mayorship, with a succession of decisive ALP civic leaders including Bryce Regan, Peter Primrose, Jim Kremmer and Meg Oates.

They enforced many popular policies, such as protecting the Scenic Hills, forging a sister city relationship with Koshigaya, and cutting rates, yet also criticism for turning the chamber into a mini state parliament.

The balance swung back and independents returned to the chair, probably the biggest impact coming from a local footballer-turned-councillor, Russell Matheson.

Which brings us to the names and era we more easily recognise today.

What are your memories of past Campbelltown mayors? 

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