16 May 2024

After 13 years, Lord Mayor says it's time for a life outside of Wollongong Council

| Jen White
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Man with hat standing in front of lake.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery at Thursday’s Reconciliation Walk at Koonawarra Bay. He’s announced he won’t run for mayor in the September elections. Photo: Jen White.

Gordon Bradbery says it only seems like yesterday that he was wheeled in as Wollongong’s Lord Mayor, but he’s decided it’s time to leave the job “before I get wheeled out in a coffin”.

The former Uniting Church minister has put speculation to rest about his future with the council, announcing he will not contest the job in September’s local government elections.

“I had a birthday last week – another circle around the sun as they say – turning 73 and I was reminded this is a four-year stint so that means I’d be 77 going on 78 and I have to be realistic about life,” he told Region Illawarra.

“While I’ve got the energy and the abilities, I still want to travel and do other things, so now’s the time.”

Cr Bradbery was elected mayor after the most tumultuous period in the city’s history. The council had been sacked in 2008 following an investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and an administrator appointed to run the council for three years.

As the Minister of the Church on the Mall, Cr Bradbery himself was the centre of some controversy when the church declined to extend his term in 2011, after 15 years. It created an uproar in parts of the community and not long after he ran for the position of mayor in the new council.

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He admits that 20 years ago, he never would have imagined he would one day be Wollongong’s Lord Mayor.

“I came to Wollongong in 1996 as the Minister of the Church on the Mall. Somebody said to me, ‘Gordon, you’ve buried half of Wollongong, married half of Wollongong and baptised the other half’ – I said that comes to 150 per cent, the mathematics are off, but yes.

“It was certainly a ministry where I really enjoyed reaching out to the community and supporting those who had lesser opportunities and disadvantages.”

Cr Bradbery has also been chairperson of Lifeline South Coast, a police and Rural Fire Service chaplain and a strong advocate for mental health initiatives.

He received a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1996 for his role during the 1994 Sydney bushfires and in 2018 was made a Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of his extensive community service including his service to local government.

He says he wanted to announce his decision not to run in September to “put the message out to the community that we need candidates”.

“We want people who are prepared to take the whole community into consideration,” he said.

“I don’t support activism and single issue candidates – you’re a board of directors, not a board of management, setting the strategic and policy directions of council.

“Being the Lord Mayor of Wollongong is a great honour. We’re a city that’s certainly going places economically, socially, culturally and environmentally as well.

“I don’t think people realise it but when I came into council in 2011, the place was pretty dull. Now it’s got energy, it’s got enthusiasm, it’s got a vibrancy.

“That’s not all my doing, but Wollongong Council has collaborated with other agencies and both government and non-government to bring about a revival of the city.

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“The city’s economy is now more diverse. It was very impacted by coal and steel being the drivers, but now it’s quite diverse, with education right through to the refurbishment of the blast furnace and the opportunities to use those residual lands at BlueScope.

“There’s also the increase in population around the CBD. I think people have got to get their heads around the fact that the Wollongong CBD isn’t about retail any longer. It’s about services, it’s about accommodation and hospitality, the night-time economy.

“A lot of people have focused on the centre of Wollongong as being the answer but it’s just part of the answer to the future of this city.

“I’m not saying I’ve done a perfect job but I’ve tried to steer my way through the diverse interests and tensions in the city, trying to retain what’s uniquely Wollongong but at the same time, trying to move on to a new chapter, a new approach to the local economy.”

The mayor’s next chapter includes a wish list to travel the east coast of South America.

“There’s all sorts of things possibly in store,” he says.

“It certainly has been an interesting journey, but 13 years has just gone by so fast – it only seems like yesterday that I was wheeled in and I didn’t want to be wheeled out in a coffin.”

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