Pluck, that quality of standing up and calling something out. Are people born with it or do they become like that? Norma Morgan, one of Hill End’s personalities, has what might be called genteel pluck and she has put that quality to good use throughout her 95 years.

Norma and her husband Bill, who passed away last year, were best mates. Once they retired from Sydney, the spirit of adventure they shared took them to Mission Beach for a good 20 years of their retirement. There they built their waterfront house and several boats, and settled in to enjoy the North Queensland lifestyle especially exploring the islands and fishing.

Back in their Newcastle days, Bill had followed the craze inspired by the 1950’s screenings of Jacques Cousteau’s underwater films and developed a very early piece of scuba gear…a hot water bottle with suitable straps and pipes – to spear fish. It worked.

Norma and Bill Morgan Bill at the WECH’s Awards 2013 – The ‘Do Good Here’ Day for volunteers

National Park action

There was a bit more however, to their fishing and adventuring in Mission Beach. The 1980s saw a swag of plans for more than 20 resort developments along the Queensland coast. There were no protective zonings for World Heritage areas or marine parks, nor were there adequate national parks. Wet Tropics planning did not exist then.

Norma and Bill stepped up. They became key players in the protection of their beloved Mission Beach coastline, an area of tropical coastal significance in Queensland and home to the Southern Cassowary.  Courtesy of their dogged good-naturedness and vision they became the drivers behind community efforts to reclassify the Kennedy Reserve as a National Park. This reclassification rose directly from Bill and Norma’s big project – the construction of the Edmund Kennedy Bay Memorial Walking Track.

Speaking up for Hill End

When Norma and Bill moved to their Brisbane home in Hill End in the early 2000s, the community here on Kurilpa Peninsula were grappling with their own challenges. Land prices were sky-rocketing as developers went buying up lots in the industrial areas and the Council was printing draft after draft of Local Plans to that would eventually mean a quadrupling of the population of the area.

At the Convention Centre’s kitchen 2013; Norma with West End Community House friends taking cooking classes generously offered by BCAC

Norma took on a couple of these challenges. She participated in every political event and protest in her area including support for continuation of Peter Hackworth’s market in Davies Park, and opposition to a proposed redevelopment of Davies Park and loss of park for the new West End ferry terminal, and all protests that opposed to excessive development along the river.

Norma with Helen Abrahams

As the then local Councillor Helen Abrahams recalls:

“In the early 2000s, Norma was Hill End’s most renowned voice on ABC radio telling the Lord Mayor how he must listen to her and her neighbours and protect their community. In her slow measured tone, she would explain how her insights mattered as her community mattered and it could not be ignored. It was a delight to hear her chase our leaders notionally around the kitchen table, and always finishing her chat with humour and her love for Hill End.”

Riverside Drive

Riverside Drive which ran the length of the river from the William Jolly Bridge down to the Sailing Club near her was a designated park but with a functioning road right through the middle. It was a parking lot for much of the day. To top it off it was a great surface for drag races at night! It was not the park her community needed. Norma would talk to everyone about how the cars must go. In two years, the community mood shifted and in 2006 the road was closed and the riverside park is the great green edge of Kurilpa Peninsula.

Walking School Bus

In 2006, Norma was an active member of the transport working group of West End Community Association (WECA) where she met Vikki Uhlmann.

Vikki remembers:

“…walking together most days on the Walking School Bus (WSB). The WSB walked children to school – getting them out of cars, familiarising them with their neighbourhood and building their road safety skills. Norma helped achieve agreement from West End State School to advertise it in the school newsletter, and all this became the precursor to Brisbane City Council’s Active School Travel Program.”

Norma walked the Boundary Street route with the children and their parents. To the children she was their ‘grannie’ on the walk.

2011 Floods: Norma with young Sonny, her Australian blue cattle dog. Norma had her whole living area flooded yet she still met the flood volunteers from West End Community House with a smile.

Dog park doggedness

People have not always agreed with Norma’s stance on things but she can be relied on to have a view.

She does not like dogs on leads. With the support of her neighbours she decided Hill End must have a dog off-leash area (DOLA). This was difficult as no-one wanted to see a fenced off area in the open space of Orleigh Park. But with dogged determination, Norma organised a campaign. She compiled petitions, lobbied her local politicians repeatedly, convinced the doubters and talked Council officers into the semi-fenced off-leash area close to the Sailing Cub. Why semi-fenced? The dogs had to have access to the river for a swim. The last achievement was huge as the officers were strongly opposed to a DOLA in Orleigh Park.

Puppy Park Mob

Though it was out of sight (it was not the best site), Norma was pragmatic. Better a DOLA than dog owners continuing to get fines for having their dogs off leashes.

As Councillor Abrahams recalls:

“Norma was well known to the dog enforcement officers – when they were issuing fines she would tell them to stop coming around and go and find more meaningful work.”

Norma is a life member of the Australian Labor Party. Until recently she’s been a loyal foot soldier, regularly attending the local branch meetings and letter boxing. She still attends campaign launches giving her support.

She has no hesitation approaching people in high places. Throughout her many campaigns she was on a first name basis, firstly with Environment Minister and Molly Robson following their campaigning in Mission Beach, and then with Premier Anna Bligh and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during campaigns for better inner-city development in West End.

Her West End Community House days – ‘a community has to look after its own’.

That’s what Norma always says and she has spent her life seeking out ways to do that. She has been a volunteer at West End Community House, our thirty-plus year old community centre located in Norfolk Street. Since 1983 it has been a hub for people living with disadvantage of all sorts on the Kurilpa peninsula. For more than a decade Norma managed to combine her volunteering at St Vincent de Paul’s with being up at dawn on Thursday mornings to serve and more importantly to chat, at the Breakfasts for the socially isolated in the 4101 area. She then came back on Friday mornings to spend time with, and serve morning tea for, the Art Group.

Norma became the poster person for the House’s big fundraiser – Pledge a Plank – to pay for renovating the Croquet Club Hall in Musgrave Park. This is a great asset and now it’s been secured and renovated for general community use.

Pledge a Plank for the Croquet Club

She was a substantial donor to the House’s operations during the period of deep cuts to its budget under the Newman Government. Considerable funds were raised by, you guessed it, approaching members of the Hill End Puppy Club, her beloved off leash dog area owners.

“Whether it was volunteering, bringing other volunteers along or donating, you could always count on Norma,” Mary Maher, Chair of WECH 2010-14

Where Bill was a builder of practical things, Norma also has building skills, building connections between people and causes, extracting in the gentlest way, commitments from people to make good things happen. She’s the one in the crowd who seizes the opportunity to promote a good cause, either by donating herself or by getting people to join up. She has built many people into things they would not have become involved with otherwise…she saw the value of their contribution and she didn’t hesitate to commandeer them. 

Norma is one example of someone with pluck. Bill died in 2019 but down at Hill End she’s always under the house or on the chairs on the footpath, happily chatting with those walking by. Her much-loved Australian blue cattle dog Sonny is never far away.

Norma at WECH’s AGM 2008, talking with Darren Godwell, president West End Community Association

Story by Mary Maher, with Helen Abrahams and Vikki Uhlmann

Cover image by Jan Bowman, all other images supplied.

NOTE

Norma and Bill Morgan’s Mission Beach work is recorded in this research paper (no author listed): https://www.wettropicsplan.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Protecting-Kennedy-Bay-25-years-on.pdf

‘The eight kilometre track construction project took a full two years, and could not have been completed without the assistance of the Aboriginal workers. Bill Morgan, who was an electrician by trade, provided trade training along with organising the activities of the young workers.

As it was built, so people walked it until finally on the 29th May 1988 there was an opening of a track and literally thousands of people walked into Kennedy Bay that day. Renowned environmental activist Margaret Thorsborne had created a native plant nursery at her home in Meunga Creek, donating thousands of trees to the Wildlife Society, a nursery which she later transferred to Bill and Norma Morgan’s property in South Mission Beach.

Much was achieved in saving Kennedy Bay from development, much was achieved in building the Edmund Kennedy Memorial Walking Track, and much was achieved in the reclassification of the Kennedy Reserve as a National Park. This was all made possible by the courage and determination of people who would not flinch in the face of opposition, and whose success established the community symbols, which still carry forward conservation in the area today.

 

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