Today I pay tribute to the life of Jeff Maybury, Cessnock’s longest serving councillor and one of our true rough diamonds. Jeff Maybury was first elected to council in 1981 and when he died two months ago he was still a councillor, some 34 years later. Jeff’s political career was defined by his unending focus on results over process. For Jeff, rules were there to be bent, if that is what it took to get a result for the people he represented. And he got many results. He won a lot more battles than he lost.
Stories abound of stunts, protests and events thought up by Jeff Maybury to get a point across or to get something done. My personal experience was during the huge brawl over the future of Kurri Kurri Hospital following the Garling report under the former Labor Government; John Della Bosca as health Minister was threatening to close Kurri Kurri Hospital. My predecessor, Kerry Hickey, and Jeff hatched a plan to turn the tide. Kerry convinced the health Minister to visit the hospital and Jeff organised a crowd to greet him. When the Minister arrived at Kurri Kurri Hospital, on a day when the temperature was 40-plus degrees, Jeff had managed to get 1,500 people there to gather in protest. Needless to say, the hospital still operates to this day.
One of Jeff’s finest achievements and greatest sources of pride was Peace Park at Weston. It remains one of the most popular weekend family spots in the whole of my electorate. Sprawling across both sides of the road at Chinamans Hollow, many people said it would never work. But it does. It is a place for picnics and parties and it has a warm environment in which families can relax and play. It exists in large part because of the efforts of people like Councillor Jeff Maybury and, before him, Mr Jack King. Whilst council was Jeff’s main outlet for contributing to the community, it was far from his only one. Jeff worked with the St Vincent de Paul Society, visiting struggling people at home, delivering their meals or helping them with simple little things they could not do for themselves. His daughter gave the example of Jeff buying a fridge for a woman who did not have one; he used money out of his own pocket to fulfil the vision of St Vincent de Paul.
Basic decency and kindness and looking after local people—that is what Jeff Maybury did and what he was about. He also served in the Citizen Military Forces, known as the CMF or the Reserve Forces, and he made a huge contribution over decades to the Weston RSL Sub-Branch. The secretary of the sub-branch described Jeff as “a real mover and shaker”; he was the bloke to see if you wanted to get something done. The Weston Tidy Towns Committee was another of his causes. He would be hassling politicians for grants funding one day and charging around on a ride-on lawnmower the next. At Jeff’s funeral, a donation box for the committee overflowed, giving Tidy Towns one last reason to thank him. I must declare that Jeff once came to see me about a fine he had received for not having a cover on his Tidy Towns trailer, which was full of rubbish and clippings. Unfortunately, I was unable to have that resolved with the Minister and he had to pay the fine.
Jeff was a life member of the Labor Party, achieving 40 years’ service in 2011. I was honoured to be on hand at our State conference to receive Jeff’s life membership on his behalf and to take it back to his local branch of Weston and present it to him at a luncheon. Forty years of service, regardless of whether it is in politics or community service, is something to be proud of, and Jeff covered both bases. Jeff and his wife, Pat, celebrated 50 years of marriage in March this year, just a few months before Jeff’s death. Theirs was a great partnership based on a loving bond. Pat has my sympathies and those of many others across our community, as was demonstrated at Jeff’s funeral which attracted well over 1,000 people.
As Jeff’s illness took hold, fellow councillors marvelled at his resilience and dedication. In the weeks before he passed away he kept turning up to council meetings; he still attended every council meeting, every briefing and every site inspection. On the last Wednesday of his life he attended a council meeting trying to get a street in his ward fully sealed for the benefit of the residents. A couple of things that happened in the week after he died told me everything I needed to know about the Weston community’s regard for Jeff Maybury. The first was when I wrote a short tribute to Jeff on Facebook. My phone did not stop buzzing for two days as friends mourned and people shared comments and memories on the social media platform. The second demonstration of the community’s high regard for Jeff was at his funeral when people arrived more than an hour early but could not get a seat. Jeff loved Weston and Weston loved him back. Vale Jeff Maybury, a man who simply did the right thing and did a great deal of good.