Debate on council mergers revives memories

Same old story: John Graham, an engineering officer with St George County Coucil for 37 years remembers how council staff and residents fought against council amalgamation in the late 1970s. Picture John Veage
Same old story: John Graham, an engineering officer with St George County Coucil for 37 years remembers how council staff and residents fought against council amalgamation in the late 1970s. Picture John Veage
Seat of power: The old St George County Council building in Montgomery Street, Kogarah.

Seat of power: The old St George County Council building in Montgomery Street, Kogarah.

RECENT debate on council amalgamations is a case of history repeating for one St George resident.

John Graham worked as an engineering officer for 36 years at the former St George County Council and was one of the many staff members who fought moves in the late 1970s by the then Wran Labor government to force through amalgamation of the city's county councils.

At the time, various county councils in metropolitan Sydney had control over the electricity supply for their own local government areas.

St George was the first county council in NSW and was constituted in 1920 to arrange and control the distribution of electricity within the municipalities of Bexley, Hurstville, Kogarah and Rockdale.

They joined together and formed St George County Council as an electricity co-operative, with the council getting its supply from the local railway substations.

The state government decided to merge all the county councils in the metropolitan areas to be incorporated under the control of Sydney City Council and Prospect and McKellar county councils.

The move was opposed vigorously, particularly in St George.

As a junior council staff member at the time, John Graham was one of the many foot-soldiers who joined in the fight to save St George County Council.

"We took up a petition collecting 80,000 signatures — almost every house in St George — protesting against the amalgamation," Mr Graham said.

"We shut the council down and delivered brochures to every household, all in one day. "All the council staff got involved, indoor and outdoor staff, engineers, customer service."

The brochure printed by St George County Council urged residents to call their local MP and voice their protest.

"We almost got sued because we published the brochure with all the home phone numbers of all the state politicians," Mr Graham said.

The unified action of the staff reflected the family attitude at St George County Council.

"Everyone looked after the customer," Mr Graham said.

"We even had a desk where customers could bring in their electrical appliances to be repaired for free."

The government was successful in its amalgamation push: the three St George municipal councils were stripped of their control over electricity supply.

Do you think the amalgamation of local councils would be a good thing? 

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