Who was Tom Farrell?
Upon his death in July 1996, Mr R.E. (Tom) Farrell (1904 - 1996) was described as an "extraordinary powerhouse of a man" who used his considerable energy and inspiration to make the Hunter Region a much more wonderful place to live in. Could we imagine Newcastle and the Hunter without a University? Or perhaps imagine Newcastle and the Hunter without our public nature reserves such as Blackbutt, Barrington Tops and Mt Sugarloaf? If we can appreciate these things, then we also need to thank people like Tom Farrell who through their courage, persistence and actions helped make these public places a reality.
Tom Farrell was born in Brisbane in 1904 and came to Newcastle as a child, attending Cook's Hill Junior High School. He started work at R. Brickenridge Timber Merchants, which was located on the site of the present Civic Park, and left in 1920 to work as a Junior Clerk at the State Dockyards on Walsh Island. He left the Dockyards in 1921 to accept an appointment at the Newcastle Abattoirs, where he remained for the rest of his working life. He remained an officer of the Newcastle Abattoir for 47 years, a qualified meat inspector and accountant, and was appointed General Manager in February 1966. He retired in November 1968.
Tom was an astute businessman, being a Director of the Greater Newcastle Building Society for many years.He was also a keen surfer and footballer, being an active member of the Cook's Hill Surf Club from 1920 to 1932, and representing Western Suburbs and Central Clubs as a life member of the Newcastle Rugby League. In 1942 he enlisted and served with the R.A.A.F. until 1946, where, upon discharge he held the Rank of Flight Lieutenant.
Tom Farrell may also be regarded as one of the "founding fathers" of the University of Newcastle, using his considerable influence among business and civic leaders to exert pressure on the NSW Government to establish a University College in Newcastle in 1951. Later, he was instrumental in having the State Government acquire land at Shortland, thus opening the way for the University to move from the overcrowed site at Tighes Hill to the campus at Shortland. In 1988 the University granted him an Honorary Master of Arts.
He was one of Newcastle's early environmentalists. When a branch of the National Parks Movement was formed in Sydney during the early 1920s, he joined it, and was for many years the only member that lived outside of Sydney. He was an active member of theNorthern Parks and Playgrounds Movement, serving as Vice President, and was closely associated with Hunter Valley National Parks Association. He was reponsible for bringing the Movement to Newcastle in 1952, where it continues to work at safeguarding the environmental heritage of the region.
During the 1930s, he and Joe Richley successfully lobbied New Lambton Council to have the area known as Blackbutt Reserve set aside as public recreation space. Later, in the 1960s and early 1970s, he was prominent in the campaign which was successful in preventing a highway being built though Blackbutt Reserve. He remained a member of the Blackbutt Reserve Committee, and for many years spent much time and energy ensuring that the bushland reserve was protected. As his obituary in the Newcastle Herald (ref. 29th July 1996 p.10) stated:
"Many of the major parks and reserves that are taken for granted today by the people of the Hunter might never have come into existence were it not for Mr Farrell and those whom he inspired with his indomitable energy. Blackbutt Reserve, Mt Sugarloaf, Barrington Tops and Myall Lakes - all of these were wrestled against great odds from reluctant authorities with the help of Tom Farrell's relentless insistence. Newcastle has borne many fine children, Tom Farrell was one of its finest."
The Papers of Mr Tom Farrell were deposited with the Archives, Rare Books and Special Collections Unit (now the Cultural Collections Unit) by his daughter, Bev Hincks in January 1996. They were later accessioned by Mr Gregg Heathcote and Mrs Josie Stevenson and completed in August 2000.
Ross Edmonds and Gionni di Gravio
19th September 2001
Link to Mr Tom Farrell Papers
Purchase your copy of the biography written by Christopher Mooney "A Powerhouse of a Man Tom Farrell (1904-1996) A Community Champion" and continue to read all about the wonderful and tireless work that Tom Farrell put into our community.