With the sudden passing of The Beagle publisher Lei Parker on 13 October, the Eurobodalla community has lost a powerful voice who championed for his neighbours and did his best to ‘keep the bastards honest’.
A towering man known for his quick wit and honest, fair reporting, Lei lived at Tuross Head for 37 years and had served on the committees of both the Tuross Head Progress Association and Business Association where he was a passionate advocate for his community.
Keen to provide the community with an independent voice, he launched the Tuross Giant newspaper in 1999 and established the Tuross Head Facebook page in August 2008, before finally starting The Beagle in November 2016, providing free online news for the Eurobodalla shire.
There has been an outpouring of tributes from across the region following Lei’s death.
Tuross Head Progress Association president Cathy Milliken had known Lei for more than 30 years and said his passing would be a great loss to the community.
“He was passionate and a good bloke that tried to do the right thing by everybody,” she said.
“It’s just a great shame this has happened. He was doing such a good job and this is very sad indeed.”
The One New Eurobodalla Hospital group described Lei as “a legend of our community”, “a voice for the misrepresented and disadvantaged” and “a powerful voice for rural health for our region”.
“All social and community advocates in the Far South Coast, not least ONE New Eurobodalla L4 Regional Hospital Group, learnt to appreciate and acknowledge the incalculable value and impact in having The Beagle’s frank and fearless support for their initiatives,” ONE spokesperson Fitzroy Boulting added.
“We will all miss Lei’s sense of natural justice and his work as a defender of our community, touched by whimsical irony. A gentle giant. Vale Lei.”
A Eurobodalla Shire Council spokesperson said Lei published “without fear or favour” and was “crucial glue in good times and bad”, while Mayor Mathew Hatcher said his death was a sad day for the Eurobodalla.
“The founder of The Beagle Weekly and a constant ‘watcher’ of all things council, Lei was a great advocate for journalism, fairness and transparency. He truly will be missed. My thoughts are with his wife Jenny,” Cr Hatcher added.
Before The Beagle and the Giant, Lei committed to 13 years as a presenter and committee member of local community radio station 2EARFM where he kicked off the blues radio program Mojos and Jellyrolls back in the 1980s.
He enjoyed overseas travel and many foreign aid assignments, and worked at Eurobodalla Shire Council in the surveying and engineering sections for 21 years before retiring in 2006.
During his time with council Lei was the recipient of several industry awards for his work in asset management and the development of groundbreaking facility data systems.
Lei committed himself to his Tuross Head community since moving to the village in 1985, establishing a community website to promote the area and also to present the community’s history and diversity.
Wanting to ensure the community had solid, reliable communications in case of accident, flood or fire, Lei established the Tuross Head Facebook page in August 2008. The page now has more 7000 followers and played a vital role in community communications during the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires.
In November 2017 Lei launched the South Coast Travel Guide website, covering 110 km of Eurobodalla coastline, from South Durras to Tilba.
Having grown up in Papua New Guinea, Lei moved to Australia in 1974.
He travelled extensively and had a passion for India where he ventured often, travelling the length and breadth of the continent, savouring its differences of culture and cuisine.
Lei co-wrote Nomad – Ples Balus with Winston Brown, a tale of PNG’s aviation history, and also penned the biography and anthology of Patricia Erickson which celebrated the Costa Rica artist’s reflection of spirit and lives of the many local communities she called home over 25 years.
Member for Bega Dr Michael Holland acknowledged Lei’s dedication to his community and the voyage of The Beagle in State Parliament.
“Sadly, Lei passed from this world without hearing my acknowledgment of his contribution to the Tuross Head and Eurobodalla community. He is a great loss to our lives,” he said.
Dr Holland said The Beagle was born from the philosophy that a community needs to be informed, included and encouraged.
“I thank Lei Parker for his guardianship of the public interest and the activities of his community and government,” he said.
“I thank The Beagle for our close association during my years of advocating for improved local health services and commitment to a new Eurobodalla regional hospital.
“The Beagle kept me and many other political candidates honest during election campaigns and supported the participatory democracy of the Tuross Head Progress Association’s Meet the Candidates forums for local, state and federal government elections.”
A private funeral was held for Lei.