Peacocke leaves a lasting legacy

GERRY Peacocke was an extraordinary man who had a huge impact on people and places.

During a long and honourable public career he served the community as an alderman, city councillor, mayor, Member of the NSW Legislative Assembly and cabinet minister.

An old-style, irascible character, Mr Peacocke smoked liked a chimney and called a spade a spade.

Highly educated, he enjoyed the simple things in life and is affectionately remembered for a campaign to have sausages put on the menu in the parliamentary dining room.

The veteran politician came into the world at Warren on June 2, 1931. His parents, Lance and Ruby, named their second son Gerald Beresford Ponsonby Peacocke.

Lance Peacocke, a valuer for the Lands Department, was based at Warren while he completed an extensive appraisal of government leasehold country between Nyngan and Dubbo.

The family later relocated to Dubbo. Mr Peacocke had fond memories of his time as a prefect and captain of Dubbo High School.

After completing his education Mr Peacocke trained as a solicitor, starting out as an articled clerk at Dubbo legal firm Booth, Brown and Samuels.

The restrictive covenants of the traineeship prevented Mr Peacocke from practicing law in Dubbo as a qualified solicitor so he moved to Bathurst where his brother, Peter, was an established legal practitioner.

During this time Mr Peacocke served as deputy mayor of Bathurst City Council.

The Peacocke brothers returned to Dubbo in 1963 to purchase a legal practice that traded for many years as Peacocke, Dickens and Price. Today the firm is known as Peacocke Solicitors.

Mr Peacocke and his wife Nancy were busy raising four sons and two daughters.

Time away from work was devoted to family, rugby union, small boat sailing and tennis.

A strong interest in the community drew Mr Peacocke to become a founding member of the Ratepayers Association of NSW.

On December 12, 1968 he returned to local government, serving on Dubbo City Council until May 24, 1976.

On September 19, 1981 Mr Peacocke was elected state Member for Dubbo, easily defeating opponents Peter Morgan (ALP) and Eric Woods (Liberal Party). It was the first time the National Party had held the seat of Dubbo since 1950.

In 1983 Mr Peacocke hit the headlines when he lifted the lid on allegations Dubbo City Council had cost the city millions of dollars in lost development.

The Member for Dubbo went public with a dossier that become known as The Peacocke Papers. His folder was full of submissions from ratepayers and businesses who claimed they had received a rough deal from council.

Mayor Harry Clegg had the daunting task of replying to the Peacocke "evidence".

On March 25, 1988 Mr Peacocke was appointed NSW Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs.

After a swearing-in ceremony at Government House new ministers and their spouses lunched in the Premier's Suite at the State Office Block in Sydney's Macquarie Street.

Reality of the work ahead set in as Mr and Mrs Peacocke flew back to Dubbo that night.

Landing at Dubbo airport, the couple was asked to remain onboard while other passengers deplaned.

"I thought it was a bit strange,'' Mr Peacocke told the Daily Liberal.

"When we reached the air terminal the place was packed with supporters.''

Armed with a bottle of champagne, compliments of Airlines of NSW, Mr and Mrs Peacocke joined 10 close associates for a Yes Minister dinner at Phillipe's Restaurant.

Mr Peacocke had immediate plans to streamline the ministry. Considered a hardliner by many, he slashed staff at the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs by one-third and simplified many small business and consumer laws.

Mr Peacocke was promoted to Minister for Local Government and Co-operatives on June 6, 1991. The appointment strengthened his position as a possible future leader of the National Party.

Mr Peacocke welcomed his new role and worked hard to institute wide ranging reform in the portfolio.

On May 24, 1993 Mr Peacocke was stunned when he was sacked as minister after Premier John Fahey reshuffled the cabinet.

Touring the Cowra-based electorate of Lachlan with National Party leader Ian Armstrong, Mr Peacocke was unaware of his dumping until it was announced by the media.

Parliamentary sources said Mr Peacocke had been asked to retire by former National Party leader Wal Murray on the basis of his age and the perceived need for new faces in cabinet.

Mr Peacocke exploded in anger and labelled Premier Fahey "a gutless little wimp . . . wide and shallow like a soup bowl''.

The ousted minister questioned the future of the Coalition and the integrity of the Premier.

"Nancy and the children heard about my sacking on the radio,'' Mr Peacocke told the Daily Liberal.

"To be dumped like that with no attempt to dignify the event was very hurtful.

"Politics has always been a sleazy game. For Fahey to say it was because I'm 62 is a cynical exercise when the government is moving legislation against age discrimination.''

Dropping to the backbench freed Mr Peacocke to speak his mind and he did not feel compelled to support government legislation if it was against the interests of the Dubbo electorate.

Political historian Paul Davey (writing in his book The Nationals The Progressive Country and National Party in NSW) said Mr Peacocke and others who fell by the political wayside became known as the Feather Duster Club, doing little to help the government overcome its problems and sometimes threatening to vote against it.

On September 11, 1999 Mr Peacocke was re-elected to Dubbo City Council. He served as mayor until September 25, 2000 and remained on council until March 26, 2004.

By that time Mr Peacocke was ready to say adios to more than 40 years of confrontation.

As voters filed into polling booths for the next council ballot Mr and Mrs Peacocke were planning to trade the cut and thrust of public life for a South American cruise.

The political being had mellowed over the years but he still delivered a killer parting shot, publicly bagging changes to the local government voting system, sticking the boot into the loss of the RAAF base and canning critics of the outgoing administration.

Then Mr Peacocke drew breath.

"The current council hasn't done such a bad job,'' he told the Daily Liberal.

"I leave public life with some regret. But it is probably time to step aside for younger people.''

On October 25, 2009 Mr Peacocke was in the headlines again when he tipped a bucket on the state government by revealing Dubbo's historic battle for a fair slice of the NSW health budget.

He told this reporter Dubbo Base Hospital had spent decades battling for money, constantly playing second fiddle to Orange.

"Dubbo doesn't get a fair go and never has,'' Mr Peacocke said.

"Our hospital has excellent staff but doesn't have enough money, people or equipment.''

In recent years ill health caused Mr Peacocke to led a quieter life out of the public eye.

But he maintained an interest in local, state and national politics and never held back on expressing an opinion.

Mr Peacocke died at John Whittle House in the Orana Gardens complex at around 3.30am yesterday.

A memorial service will be held at Holy Trinity Anglican Church at 11am on Tuesday.

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