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Remembering Lynne Kosky

December 6, 2017 6:00 AM

This week three years ago, the Western Bulldogs mourned the loss of its first female Director and former number one ticket holder, Lynne Kosky. 

Kosky, a lifelong supporter of the Bulldogs, made an outstanding contribution to the life and health of the Club and to the Western Region more broadly.

She played a critical role in the fightback of 1989, which saved the Club from merger with Fitzroy.

As a local member, Lynne held a number of ministerial portfolios in the Bracks and Brumby Governments.

Below is a transcript of the eulogy delivered by Bulldogs’ President Peter Gordon on Wednesday, December 12, 2014.

 

 

I first met Lynne Kosky in the early seventies when we were teenagers. 

We played for tennis Clubs with daggy names...mine I thought should have been called West Footscray, but went by the name ‘Diggers’.  Her Club was VRI which stood for Victorian Railways Institute; a name which paid homage to the men who built, operated and maintained the public transport system which the young Lynne Kosky would one day come to be in charge of and to transform, as Minister for Transport.

 

The Sunshine VRI tennis courts were skewered between Braybrook, Tottenham and Sunshine; in those days, a tough and sometimes dangerous part of town.  And it was in these neighbourhoods of the west that we grew up. 

 

Lynne went to Footscray High.  She was a bright student.  In what was then HSC, she got 98% in politics and went sufficiently well overall to get into the social work course at Melbourne University.  There weren’t a lot of kids in those days who came from the west and got to go to Melbourne Uni.

 

There was of course in those days, no University of the west.  So we western suburbs kids who went there, all tended to know each other.  In the last year of her course, she did a placement at Sunshine High school and met a young teacher there named Jim Williamson. 

 

Her placement there was part of a research dissertation on educational outcomes at Sunshine High.  As it happens, this young fellow Jim provided an increasing focal point for Lynne’s research and himself constituted a major educational outcome for Lynne of this project.  They formed a lifelong partnership, even though, oddly, there is no chapter in her dissertation devoted to any of her key findings about Jim.

In 1982, after graduating, she was appointed a community education officer in schools in Footscray and Yarraville.  This was the period in which she and Jim also joined the North Footscray branch of the Australian Labor Party.  It was there that she met other young and like-minded people including my law partner and close friend Rob Stary, unionist Dean Mighell and Bruce Mildenhall. 

 

She was elected to Footscray Council in 1986.  There, Lynne, Bruce, and Dean formed a strong labor block on Footscray Council, honing their skills against the dastardly economic rationalist right wing think tank then known as the Footscray Rate-Payers association.

 

Lynne came to be Mayor of Footscray in 1988.  It was exquisite timing.  The bigger local issues of the times for the west were starting to emerge.  These included the environment, the storage of hazardous chemicals, the quality of life and opportunity in the west and of course, the future of our local football team, the Footscray Bulldogs.

 

Lynne’s role and her leadership in the fights over all these issues was part for us of some of the greatest days of our lives.  As councillors, labor supporters, activists and lawyers, we were young, idealistic and we were committed, and we believed we could re-shape the west through activism.

 

Many was the meeting we had at Lynne and Jim’s house in Footscray about one cause or another; or at the Slater & Gordon office; or in the council chambers of the town hall, or at the Cockatoo cafe, itself a symbol of Footscray’s then changing times.

 

Lynne had first sprung to Statewide prominence by taking a public stand against government indifference to a hazardous chemicals fire at Butlers Transport.  Derided by some as being alarmist, she publicly posed the prescient question....’what would happen if there was a similar fire at Coode island?’  It was a question the whole State subsequently had to come to grips with about 16 months later when the Coode Island disaster actually happened. 

 

While many voiced outrage, it was Lynne who got things done; getting appointed to the Coode Island task force and the Government taskforce into hazardous chemicals which demanded and got stricter environmental controls to support our quality of life.

 

At about this same time, the attacks began to mount from the bigger Clubs and from the VFL, on the Footscray Football Club, and it was threatened first with relocation and then extinction through merger in the late 1980s. 

 

A cartoon by the Footscray poet Michael Leunig poignantly captured the prevailing mood.  It was of a man and his son sitting by the banks of a foetid smoking Maribyrnong River.  They were looking out over Coode Island and the man was holding a newspaper which spoke of the death of the Bulldogs.  His words were, ‘don’t worry son, we can always follow the chemical fires’.

 

Lynne never accepted the inevitability of the vision portrayed in that cartoon, and she never doubted her capacity or her resolve to change that vision.  Lynne fought for the Club as she had fought for the environment.  On October 8, 1989, she stood with me and a few other diehards before 20,000 people at Western Oval after the VFL had acted to destroy us and declared ourselves a rebel board.  We named a new coach, welcomed back the players, raised $2 million in three weeks and recovered lost sponsorships.  Lynne of course also battled the sexism of these times.  I well remember on the night in October 1989 we met the VFL Commission to negotiate the re-admission of the team, Lynne arguing points to an aging VFL Commissioner who had never before had to argue the toss with an articulate young woman. 

 

The best response he could muster was to wink and blow kisses at her as she spoke.  We won agreement for Footscray to be re-admitted to the competition at about 11.30pm that night and by 1am, Lynne, Jim and I were doing impersonations of Albert at the only place in town that would still let us in - a hamburger joint at the top of Bourke Street called Fast Eddy’s....the three of us struggling to come to terms with the enormity of the deal we had just done.

 

She then served as a director of the Club for four years.  Her innate sense of justice led her to understand that no free kick was ever awarded fairly against our team.  We re-built the grandstand, we made the preliminary final in 1992, only to be beaten, unfairly of course, by 73 points by Geelong.

 

On the day Lynne died, the Maribyrnong Council had coincidentally fixtured a celebration of the 2014 Footscray VFL premiership win.  It was held in a hall room of the Council that I had not set foot in for 25 years.  And as I took the podium to speak that night, I was overcome by the memory of standing on that very spot for three very public meetings; one at the end of 1988 with Lynne as Mayor on the stage, as we held the first protest over plans to move the Bulldogs to the other side of town; one just over a year later as we triumphantly passed the resolutions, at the end of the famous Footscray fightback, for the bulldogs to be re-admitted to the VFL and for us to be officially appointed directors of the Club; and another lesser known meeting...a meeting which I was gangpressed by Lynne and Jim to chair…a meeting to put forward their vision that the western suburbs should have its own University...a concept then so outlandish that only the two of them dared to dream it.

 

I said that she never doubted her capacity nor flinched in her resolve to bring about change. 

With a strong presence from the University of the West, Victoria University, that she and Jim dreamt of, with a strong, sad but grateful contingent from the Western Bulldogs (a growing team in the national competition), a club she played a vital role in saving, in a western region whose toxic industries are today reduced to a fraction of the danger they posed in the 1980s and where new projects and new infra-structure abound; and with a Labor party - her Labor party - newly restored to power in Spring Street, we say thanks to Lynne and to Jim...for Lynne.

 

We mourn but we also celebrate the life of the girl who played for Victorian Railways Institute and went on to run the Transport Ministry, of the young woman who started her professional career as a community education officer in Yarraville and went on to be the Education Minister; of a young women who stood up for her gender and, I know she would want me to say this; who forms one of a team of women politicians that the western region of Melbourne, our region,  in this period of history, has proudly contributed to our national life in roles including Prime Minister, Victorian premier, Federal Health Minister and Attorney-General, and all the Ministerial roles that Lynne herself has fulfilled.

 

In the ranks of the people who run the Victoria University, the Western Bulldogs and the new Victorian Government, especially the women ministers, I know she would be confident that what she planned and worked for and dreamed of for her community, will be honoured and will be continued.  Because together, we are her legacy.

 

I know she would take pride in the family she and Jim have raised; Jackson and Hana, in the new part of Williamston which in our youth was simply known as the rifle range.  She was a great mum, a great wife for Jim, a great friend, a great comrade, and a true daughter of this western region.