25 February 2024

Country Labor honours one of their own

| John Thistleton
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Gaye and Michael McManus, after he accepted the Bluey Roswell award in Nowra recently at the Country Labor Conference. Photo: Ursula Stephens.

To get around and meet rural people in the NSW seat of Burrinjuck in 1999 as the Labor candidate, Michael McManus borrowed a couple of horses from a mate, who was a horse trainer.

Riding a horse proved a convenient if not unconventional means of meeting more landholders on small blocks around Yass. Today he can only speculate on whether it earned him any political mileage.

“I think people were very interested in the horse,” he said. “Apprentice politicians have to get out there and meet as many people as they possibly can. If it helped, I was very happy to do it.”

He went within a whisker of winning the election, the second he had contested and one of three he ended up losing. The first was lost to the Liberals’ Alby Schultz who ended Billy Sheahan and his son Terry’s hold on the seat from 1941 to 1988, and the two other polls to the Nationals’ Katrina Hodgkinson.

Nevertheless, the Labor Party holds Michael, who was on Yass Valley Council for 26 years, in high regard.

READ ALSO Yass community pays tribute to a local stalwart Brian O’Connor

He was left shocked, humbled and happy at the recent Labor Party Country Conference when honoured with the prestigious Bluey Roswell Award, a shield named after a great Labor stalwart, shearer and unionist who spent his life fighting for rural workers.

Michael is making a similar contribution. On the hustings at age 11, he was letterboxing for Terry Sheahan, then Member for Burrinjuck. When teenage boys usually snuck into movie theatres or football games, he and his brother Gerard, 12 and 14 at the time, caught a bus from Yass to Canberra to watch Question Time at Parliament House.

“I got to watch the debates about the Khemlani affair, loans affair and Gough Whitlam in full flight,” he said.

Michael reckons Canberra infected him with politics, but it’s more likely his family did. His father Bill McManus came from Sydney to Yass when a major electricity substation was established there about 1959. A member of the Labor Party, he was on the shire council for 17 years and always up to his ears in community affairs.

Michael’s time on the council coincided with Yass becoming one of the fastest growing shires in NSW. A wave of Canberra arrivals forced the council to freeze development until they secured their water supply with a $13 million project to raise the Yass Dam wall three metres. That project and building cycling and walking paths and sporting facilities are among his local government highlights.

With the party’s NSW luminaries Johno Johnson, Terry Sheahan, Rodney Cavalier and Bernie Riordan as his mentors, he began his battle to win hearts and minds in Burrinjuck knocking on every door in Tumut, Cootamunda, Gundagai and Yass and every one he could walk to in Goulburn.

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“I enjoyed door knocking,” he said. “Most people were happy I had bothered to come and say hello. To walk to someone’s door, knock on the door, introduce yourself gives people an opportunity to have their say.”

He felt welcome everywhere, even among conservative voters. “We did upset some people at Taralga. We went through there with the loudspeakers in 1995; we had dogs chasing us up the road, people yelling at us that we were making too much noise,” he said.

Looking back now makes him grateful. “I’ve been very fortunate. Through the Labor Party, although never a Labor councillor, I was certainly well known as the Labor man on Yass council. Twenty-six years on the council, 25 years on the executive council of my union (Electrical Trades Union), surrounded by wonderful people in the Labor Party, I’ve had a wonderful ride even without the success that I sought.”

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Congratulations Michael, and what a great local member you would have been.

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