In 1999, Denzil Sturgiss put himself up for a council position on a whim and was voted in with 60 per cent of the primary vote for Mulwaree Council.
“I thought it was a bloody good start,” he said.
That pre-merged Mulwaree Council represented less than 6000 people. Now exiting public office after 22 successive years in the role, he represents almost 30,000 people of Goulburn Mulwaree Council.
After attending the end-of-term dinner last week, the outgoing councillor described a mixed array of emotions as he was thanked for his service to the community.
Mr Sturgiss mentioned a highlight of his role being his work alongside Paul Stevenson to ensure Mulwaree was represented in the Goulburn-Mulwaree Council merger in 2004, despite Goulburn having the far larger population.
“He [Mr Stevenson] said, ‘I think we’ve got to do something about that,’ so we got together and ended up with six councillors from the Mulwaree side and only three from Goulburn,” he said.
Another important moment was throughout the drought when council opted to construct a pipeline and purchase water off Wingecarribee Shire Council.
“Every other councillor objected to it and didn’t want it to go through,” said Mr Sturgiss. “They reckoned it was a waste of time, but it really got us through the drought.”
Among other points of pride include fixing many of the region’s bridges; the new river walkway; upgrades to Victoria Park and Goulburn Aquatic and Leisure Centre; and representing the rural people of Goulburn Mulwaree.
“I tried to stand for all the rural work and made sure the rural people got a say rather than just being city-centric,” said Mr Sturgiss. “I think that worked fairly well.”
With fellow councillors Alfie Walker and Sam Rowland also leaving Goulburn Mulwaree Council, Mr Sturgiss stressed the importance of Mayor Bob Kirk staying in his position for the next term.
“Mayor Bob Kirk must be elected again to keep the continuity up between the mayor and general manager [Warwick Bennett],” he said. “If they can stay together for the next term, it’s just going to be magic.”
Mr Sturgiss is a Tarago local, a town where the community faces the prospect of construction of a waste-to-energy facility. He said while it is important that council affirms its support for the community in their fight to prevent the project going ahead, there’s only so much council can do.
As for how the councillor role itself has changed, Mr Sturgiss said originally it might have involved one meeting a month and a few phone calls. But he described the workload for the average councillor now as “enormous” and more than what the mayor would do in the early 2000s.
He offered advice to people in the community who are hoping to be elected in the local government election on 4 December.
“You want to be keen and interested, not for yourself but you’ve got to be there for the interests of the community,” said Mr Sturgiss. “It doesn’t matter if you miss out as long as the community gains and you stand up for what you believe in.”
A widely renowned truffle farmer, Mr Sturgiss is content with escaping public life and putting most of his attention into his farm.
“That’s where I intend to exist for as long as I possibly can,” he said. “I really love working in the trees.”
Mr Sturgiss was originally planning on leaving council in 2020 before his term was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In that time he has suffered from ill health.