Bob Walshe, OAM, who has died at 94, has been described as an “icon” of Sutherland Shire for his tireless work for the environment and contribution in other ways to the community.
Mr Walshe is the only person to have received the Sutherland Shire Citizen of the Year award twice – in 1995 for his work on the environment and in 2001 for his writing and support for people staying healthy in mind, body and spirit as they age.
A former teacher, he was a prolific writer, and continued with a passion even as his health deteriorated in recent years.
Following a fall, he died in hospital on Tuesday night as the The Man From Snowy River was read to him.
Mr Walshe, who lived at Jannali, was the foundation chair of Sutherland Shire Environment Centre in 1991, holding the position for 10 years.
A quiet man with a warm personality and enormous energy, he was just as eager to help school students who contacted the centre looking for help with an assignment as he was to lead protest marches.
Mr Walshe was at the forefront in many big battles, including the protection of Towra Point from a proposed airport, nuclear waste at Lucas Heights and the “mega tip” campaign in the 1990s, sandmining, the desalination plant and overdevelopment.
In 1972, he joined with others, including Milo Dunphy, is establishing the Total Environment Centre, which he named.
In recent years, he was a leader of the First National Park movement, campaigning for World Heritage listing of Royal National Park.
Executive officer and former chair of the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre Jenni Gormley said, “We are all a bit shell shocked”.
“Bob was such an icon in Sutherland Shire – it’s hard to imagine the shire without him,” she said.
“Bob was involved in so many things and made a contribution in many ways.”
The environment centre said in a Facebook post: “Last night our much admired founder and patron Robert Daniel Walshe passed away. Bob's nephew David and David’s partner Flora were with him at the end and told us: ‘We talked to him about good friends and comrades, happy times, worthy causes and noble battles fought and won. We held his hand, stroked his hair, read to him and finally at around 8:15pm… I think somewhere in the last few stanzas of 'The Man from Snowy River'… he quietly left us, calm and pain-free.’
“Bob will be missed so much by so many, especially here in Sutherland Shire where he has been so well known and respected.
“A memorial service will be held and details provided as they are available.”
Mr Walshe and his wife Pat settled in the shire in 1946 after his discharge from the AIF at the end of the war.
They built a timber and fibro house at Como, and were active in Como Progress Association.
Pat Walshe died many years ago. The couple did not have children.
Mr Walshe was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 1998 for “services to education and the environment”.
The Sutherland Shire Environment Centre wrote in 2015:
“In a long career in education, as R.D. Walshe, he was widely known as an author and editor of many books and articles.
“Early in his teaching career, at Sutherland High School in the mid-1950s, he had written a play for local schools acclaiming Sutherland Shire's good fortune in being chosen as the site – at Lucas Heights – of Australia's nuclear reactor. ('We were all so pie-eyed then about "peaceful uses of the atom",' he says.)
“In later life, anxiety about the environment changed his mind and his direction.”
Mr Walshe was described as “an outstanding Australan” in a speech in Parliament by Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon in 2013.
“His work has brought great benefit to many people and he has done outstanding work on the environment,” she said.
Senator Rhiannon said Mr Walshe had the opportunity to go to university in a generation and at a time when it was much harder to achieve that.
“From that time he was politically active, organising meetings, drafting motions, carrying out extensive lobbying and speaking at public rallies — I hear he was a fantastic public speaker.
“He was a beneficiary of Chifley's Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme and he gained entry to university and then went on to do honours in history at Sydney University.
“He continued with his studies and had a great passion for education and encouraging young people to develop their skills in a range of areas.
“At this time his interest in the environment grew and he began to make some really important contributions that need to be on the record.
“He brought together about a dozen colleagues, including Milo Dunphy, in the early 1970s when we really had what many have called the first stage of the environment movement.
“This led to the establishment in 1972 of the Total Environment Centre, a centre that continues to do some excellent work to this day.
“It was actually Bob's idea to have the name Total Environment Centre.”
Senator Rhiannon said, “with his incredible energy and the way he inspires people and organisations he has got involved with, he has found the way to ensure that they are able to prosper and expand their activities”.