Wayne Merton - Part 2
State MP for Carlingford (1988-91)
State MP for Baulkham Hills (1991-2011)
Interviewee: Wayne Merton, born 1943
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for The Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 12 April 2012
Transcription: Glenys Murray, May 2012
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
So what were the best points to you about being in Parliament?
The best points about being in Parliament were that I had an opportunity to try and solve the issues that concerned the local people. I mentioned that those were essentially transport and roads. There were other issues too. It was an opportunity to give the people, the forgotten people, by government some kind of say in what should happen. Baulkham Hills electorate is a great electorate. The schools are great. We worked hard to get school halls built. We worked hard to get improvement to the schools. All these items were there just waiting for it to happen. For example I had an opportunity there on the Windsor Road. Way before it was widened there were enormous traffic queues going into Parramatta. I called the Roads and Traffic Authority and we had a meeting as to what we might do. We decided that in the morning for the people going to Parramatta from The Hills that we would have a tidal lane put in. I think this was one of the first tidal lanes put in, in NSW. So we put in an extra lane with flags that were moved in the early morning and taken away at ten o’clock. So that the traffic going to Parramatta had the opportunity of having an additional lane and that moved the traffic along considerably.
There were just so many opportunities helping the people that had problems with the local council. People that had problems with driving matters and people that had problems with environmental issues that concerned them. People that had difficulties with the education system, as I say we were fortunate to have good schools but there were issues raised from time to time. We had people who had problems with the Department of Community Services. We were pleased to be able to help those people. There were just so many things that crop up in a person’s life that might appear to be fairly small. But to that person it was a whole world of problems. Quite often I was their last resort. They’d been to solicitors, been to other people and the buck stopped with me. I really tried at all times to come up with a solution. It mightn’t have been the ideal solution for them but I certainly tried to do something for them and do everything that I possibly could. In most cases I think people would be satisfied.
Caretaker Len Ward at Bella Vista Farm 1988
Let’s talk a bit about what you managed to do to save heritage properties such as Bella Vista Farm and Heritage Park at Castle Hill?
Well I’m very proud of Bella Vista Farm. I was first alerted to the problems that arose at Bella Vista Farm by the caretaker. A chap by the name of Frank Ward (actually Len Ward). Frank was a very fine English gentleman, not a young man and he was the caretaker as I have indicated. He came in and told me that the farm was going to wrack and ruin and that there were vandals and hoodlums there at night time. I was listening to him and then he started to tell me the story that he was sleeping in his caravan that he lived in on the premises. One night he woke up and heard all this noise, next thing he said “everything just seemed to spin around. I didn’t know what was happening”. What was happening was they’d pushed his caravan down the side of the hill while Frank was in bed and the thing rolled three or four times before it stopped. He was in some state of despair. This guy was probably in his seventies at this stage. So I went out there to have a look at it and obviously saw the caravan and saw what had happened. So I then spoke about this issue in Parliament. I also raised it with a number of Ministers from time to time who had the responsibility for heritage matters. I took out two or three Ministers to have a look at it. They all agreed that there was a problem.
What people have got to understand about Bella Vista Farm is that this is the place where Merino Sheep were first bred in Australia. So we finally persuaded or found a friend in former Labor Minister Craig Knowles who could see the virtues of the farm. It was on a parcel of land some fifty acres as I recall. It just had all the ingredients to be a great recreation area and reserve for The Hills, the people of NSW and the people of Australia. So Craig Knowles indicated that he would see if he could obtain a Heritage Grant. He finally bailed me up one day in the corridor of Parliament and said “Mert he said I think that it’s coming off, I’ll keep in close contact with you”. That’s exactly what he did and that’s exactly what happened. The then State Labor Government gave a grant of one million dollars which at the time was the largest single Heritage Grant that had ever been made. That got the mechanism going and also Craig Knowles suggested that a steering committee an advisory committee be set up. I was on that committee for some years. The Council has restructured it and made some changes. Then the work commenced. First of all stabilising the situation so the buildings didn’t deteriorate further, then the conservation work proceeded and it’s come a long way. It’s now open for inspections and hopefully in the not to distant future it will be available for community use. It is an outstanding venue. It is of note that the Bella Vista Farm is probably about two or three kilometres down the road from where my grandfather’s dairy farm was (in Toongabbie). Which is a bit ironic?
Bella Vista Farm homestead front view 2009Bella Vista Farm homestead front view 2009
What about the Heritage Park at Castle Hill?
The Heritage Park at Castle Hill is in the adjacent electorate of Castle Hill or The Hills as it is called. Michael Richardson is the member. It was in his electorate, I worked with him and the committee that was set up. The local Rotary Club was actively involved in that as I recall. Two or three other people that were deeply committed, deeply committed, really highly motivated people to ensure that Castle Hill Heritage Park that it deserves the respect and recognition and that it can be used as a community facility. It was after all the place where the Vinegar Hill riots emanated from. The convicts escaped and the whole idea was that they were going to march to Sydney and they were going to get a boat home. A bit simplistic but nevertheless they probably had as much trouble marching to Sydney as we would getting a train to Sydney.
(Both Bella Vista Farm and Castle Hill Heritage Park are listed as Heritage Sites in The Hills Shire. More information, including Virtual Tours, on these and other local Heritage Sites can be found HERE).
You retired from Parliament in March of 2011. What were your reasons for retirement?
I’d been there for twenty three years it was a fixed four year term, which meant that if I signed up in 2011 I’d be signed up for another four years. I don’t believe in putting the electorate at the risk of a by-election. I also lectured people about parliamentarians moving on and I just thought the time was right. On a more specific and personal nature my wife had experienced a difficulty with breast cancer at the time nominations opened and closed. Fortunately she’s recovered and she’s doing very well now. But it just seemed to me in view of my comments about parliamentarians not hanging around too long and the uncertainties of my wife’s health. That probably it was the time to go. I went with much regret and it would be a situation that if you were to ask me a question whether I’d still like to be there. I’d leave the answer to your imagination. It wouldn’t be no.
Entrance to Castle Hill Heritage Park in Heritage Park Drive Castle Hill
So how do look back at your political life after a distance of about twelve months now since you’ve left?
Look Frank you obviously miss it. There’s no doubt in the world about that. It’s not only that you miss Parliament per se. As I indicated to you earlier I started work at the age of seventeen as an articled law clerk in the Public Trust Office. I had a very disciplined work routine. Well particularly disciplined when I used to leave home at five o’clock to do the extra time at the Public Trust Office. Later when I’d be leaving home at half past seven to go to work and not getting home from the office of the solicitor until eight or nine o’clock at night. To suddenly find that, that discipline albeit self imposed but after a while you become a victim of your own discipline had gone. You’re suddenly in a different world. I’ve always been a person who liked a bit of stress, a bit of pressure. It’s a big change not to have deadlines and I think lawyers and parliamentarians live on deadlines. You do miss not having them.
So what achievements are you most proud of during your years in parliament?
There are many achievements. There are achievements at a local level and there are achievements in my parliamentary situation. I did not mention to you earlier, and I’m not giving you these achievements any list of priority. For many years I enjoyed the role of Acting Speaker which was a role that I carried out both when we were in government and also when we were in opposition. In the last parliamentary term the independent speaker Richard Torbay requested that two acting speakers be appointed from the coalition. I was one and Thomas George from the National Party was the other one as well as two other acting speakers from the Government side. I found that a very interesting and stimulating role.
But getting back to the electorate of course the work on the Windsor Road I think was a big plus. The M2 Motorway was wonderful. The M2 bus way was an outstanding idea. There are many things. At the Ministry I made a number of changes to the work release programme. Changes to the tendering by the Corrective Services industries for work so that private employers and businesses were not put at a disadvantage compared to Corrective Services obvious advantages of their situation as far as the remuneration of prisoners in concerned.
Widening Windsor Road Box Hill just south of Box Hill Inn 2005
I also made some changes as far as looking at the price of buildings within the Department of Courts Administration, trying to get better value for the dollar. I thought that the arrangement as far as the Wagga Court House was an excellent scheme. There were many things.
I think that the rail is one of the greatest achievements that we’ve been able to achieve.
Now you’ve had some involvement with The Orange Blossom Festival can you tell me a bit about that?
I was always a supporter of The Orange Blossom Festival and I used to actually participate in the parade to Castle Hill. Between 1988 and 1991 Carlingford just touched on Baulkham Hills township. After 1991 Baulkham Hills township was wholly within my new electorate. It became obvious to me that the Baulkham Hills township seemed to get little direct benefit from The Orange Blossom Festival. Sure there were plenty of activities adjacent. There were plenty in Castle Hill and plenty that people could go to. But Baulkham Hills itself did not get much of a benefit. So I decided that something should be done about this. I have an interest in old motor cars. I’ve always been interested in old motor cars. I called around a few people that I know in car clubs and said “what are the chances of putting on a classic car display”? They said “great, good idea”. I spoke to the Orange Blossom people at Council and they thought it was a great idea. We spoke to the people who owned “The Bull and Bush” and secured the grounds there. So we decided to have the Orange Blossom Classic Car Display. That was something like fifteen years ago and it’s been running ever since. First we had twenty five cars turn up and the last one that I did was in 2012 and there was something like closer to three hundred. Those cars ranged from cars built in the year 1905 up until…one guy turned up in a Rolls Royce that was six weeks old and Aston Martin a month old. Things like that. So we had a very mixed bag of fruit as far as cars were concerned. It was a community function so we had to have something that everyone was interested in. It went very well. We had regular people. People came from Bathurst, Goulburn, Central Coast, Wollongong you name it. It was probably one of the bigger events of the Orange Blossom Festival. People really appreciated it and I thought it brought a lot of good publicity for the area. We had a lot of backers there. Some of the radio people got involved in it. It was a great event.
Crowds enjoy the Orange Blossom Festival Parade 1970s
Now The Hills area is the second largest growing local government area in New South Wales. What peculiar problems does that bring with it?
The problems I’ve alluded to obviously transport and traffic big issues. The rail will make a tremendous difference. It won’t be the cure all because that would be silly. People will still need to use their cars. We can only hope that the rail will encourage and entice people not to use their cars where the rail is an alternative. But in some cases the rail won’t be an alternative because where they want to travel will not be on a direct rail link.
Why don’t they consider the possibility of building car parks right near railway stations?
That’s good I’m glad you raised that Frank. For a rail to work, for a bus to work and I think the M2 buses work very well. It’s absolutely essential that there be more car parks. I understand as far as the rail is concerned that, that is going to happen. It has happened to some extent as far as the buses are concerned. I’d have to say to you that I don’t believe that the bus transit ways have been all that successful. One of the reasons they haven’t been successful is the point that you just raised. That people had nowhere to park their car and they… what do they do if they live to far from where the transit point was? So they found it easier to just to hop in the car and drive. It’s got to be a fully integrated programme of transport involving local car parks and even the M2 bus way itself. There are problems the residents will tell you that their streets are packed with daily commuters who just park up and down the street. Some of them have found it quite difficult and they came into my office and told me so. On the other hand people have to get to work. It’s a question of balance but the rail hopefully will be the beginning of sitting down and doing something seriously about overcoming these problems.
Vi Nutt accepting her Heroes Award from Wayne Merton State MP for Baulkham Hills
Now I believe you had some interaction with seniors to try and improve their lives. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Oh well we had many visits from seniors over the years at the electoral office and they were always welcome. We became aware of the problems that they have. Many of them find it difficult. They’ve got problems with health they’ve got problems with accommodation. They have problems with amenities and activities, things that they get some kind of satisfaction from and enjoyment of doing. We tried to address the latter in Seniors Week. We decided to put on a concert. So we had a Seniors Concert and I spoke to a person that I didn’t really know that well at the time but they became a close friend. That’s Helen Zerefos who of course has been around for many, many years. She’s not a senior but she’s been around for many years. We put on a concert in the North Rocks Community Hall. We also had the Salvation Army Veterans Band. We also called for volunteers from local people who could sing or do whatever. We had a good show. As for entertainment we had the local MP’s and Councillors who came along and sang. They were the entertainment; they were the comedy part of the programme. People like to see the local member get up and make a galoot of himself or herself by singing. Mind you some of them could sing. Bronwyn Bishop is quite a good singer. The concert went very well and we did that for many, many years. Unfortunately what happened was that Seniors Week was the week before the State Election. We just couldn’t continue doing Seniors Week because of the fact that the election was right in the middle of Seniors Week. Some years ago we decided that we would give those concerts a rest for a while. We haven’t got around to setting them up again.
Now do you live in The Shire itself?
How do you evaluate the lifestyle that the citizens of The Shire lead? Is it a healthy one?
Do you mean physically healthy?
Cycling in Baulkham Hills 2011
Physically and mentally?
I think it is a wonderful area I really do. I’m not saying that because I live here. I’ve lived in that shire since 1961. I think the people are second to none. I just think it is a unique place. Where I’m sitting doing this interview with you Frank, this is a beautiful place. If I didn’t live in The Hills I might live here too.
I think The Hills Shire has got everything going for it. It represents the rural aspect of the area and Sydney too for that matter. The rural aspect of Sydney. You don’t have to go far from Baulkham Hills to find yourself amongst the gum trees and the animals. Drive out to Wisemans Ferry which is still in The Shire and the Hawkesbury River there. Out towards Windsor it’s wonderful. It wasn’t so long ago that the poultry farms and the orchards were here but they’re gone now but the memory lives on. The Showground’s got a rural atmosphere about it. We’ve got some wonderful shopping places like Castle Towers and the Baulkham Hills shops. You’re close to other amenities and it’s a wonderful place.
So how do you see the future of the Baulkham Hills Shire?
I think that the future’s very promising I really do. I just think that we’ve got to be very careful that we don’t over populate. I really mean that. I think that we’ve stretched the boundaries as far as they should be stretched as far as densities are concerned. I’d hate to see it become more like some of those other areas that have ten, twelve, fifteen story buildings. If you’re going to do something like that then it would have to be beside the rail line. Certainly not mixed amongst houses. But you’ve got to retain the balance of what the place was and also meet the demands for the anticipated population growth. But again I don’t think we should stretch the boundaries until they snap. Don’t squeeze the pip till it squeaks or something or other. We can do that and find out that we rapidly lose our identity in those circumstances.