Inner West Independent

Vale Neville Wran

Neville Wran, 1926 - 2014

OBITUARY by Darcy Byrne

This week we say goodbye to the greatest Balmain boy of all.

As a working class kid growing up in Balmain in the ’80s, the name Neville Wran meant many things to me.

For local people, especially those whose families had been there for generations, Wran personified all that was good and proud about the history and culture of our suburb.

For a community that only a decade before had been considered slum dwellers, the example set by one of their own rising to the highest office in the state was a powerful one.

Long after his political career had concluded, Wran remained a part of everyday conversation in his boyhood home. His famous catchcry, “Balmain boys don’t cry“, can still be heard on any Friday night in the pubs of our neighbourhood.

Wran’s story is in many ways the story of Australian progress. He was a poor kid who through education and ingenuity became successively a Queen’s Counsel, a politician and a premier. He didn’t just espouse egalitarianism, he lived and breathed it.

Even as a busy premier, he made time for regular fish and chip lunches with his family. He was guided by a political and social philosophy that insists you always keep in touch with your community, its concerns and its opinions, including those of your family and friends.

He never forgot where he came from and he always looked after his own.

In our current time of crisis, the Labor Party could do worse than to look back and learn from Wran’s legacy.

He was popular, at times astronomically so, but he didn’t see popularity as an end in itself. Wran earned a reputation as someone who was in touch with what people wanted, but he did not sit back and bask in the fleeting glory of the polls.

Politics is about leadership. Wran, like Gough Whitlam before him, proposed and explained new policies and ideas to the point where they became popular.

He was prepared to take risks; his homosexual law reform being the most obvious example.

Wran understood that the success of Labor governments depends on marrying the concerns of progressive middle class citizens with an unceasing commitment to improving the lives of working people.

He believed in expanding civil rights and protecting rainforests while advancing the economic conditions and the dignity of people struggling to get by.

Better yet, he got things done. Darling Harbour and the Sydney Football Stadium and the Eastern Suburbs rail line are all monuments to his know-how.

In an era in which politics can seem small-minded and uninspiring, the memory of Neville Wran should remind us that something more grand is possible.

Balmain has lost a local hero and the Labor Party has lost a legend.

I hope we see his like again.


Darcy Byrne is the Mayor of Leichhardt and a Labor pre-selection candidate in the seat of Balmain

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