The early morning rain cleared just in time to encourage Glebe residents to gather in large numbers at Foley Park on Sunday 1 May, to remember and celebrate the contributions to our community made by the late Robyn Kemmis, former Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney. As a long term resident and active member of the Glebe community Robyn was known, respected and admired by all with whom she came into contact. This was made evident by the number and diversity of people who rose to speak about her impact on them and their corner of Glebe, and to offer their condolences to Lynne, her partner.

As people gathered and spread their picnics to share they were entertained by joyful music provided by Daniel and Angus from Edama Rua. This set the tone for our celebration, and after the Acknowledgement of Country given by Kade Dawson (Maree White’s grandson) everyone who wished to took the opportunity to publicly share their stories and memories of Robyn.

MCs Kate Brennan from Glebe’s Treehouse and Nick Hespe, manager of the City of Sydney’s Glebe Neighbourhood Service Centre, reminded us of Robyn’s connections with Glebe, her home for 35 years, and how as a city councillor she had used her connections to support Glebe and respond to the needs of citizens in our local area. Rose Wiss from the Glebe Estate recalled Robyn’s respect and support of public housing tenants, Marla Priest attested to Robyn’s ubiquitous appearances at so many public meetings and events while Vicki Pogulis, the Glebe Public School principal, recognised her amazing support of both the school and Centipede, the before and after school care service which, along with the Glebe Youth Service, was one of her particular interests.

Other speakers recounted Robyn’s impact on their patch of Glebe, but the overwhelming message was the respect she gave and received; especially how she empowered people to take action to right the wrongs they perceived. Well-known local, Eva Cox observed that, while acknowledging that she and Robyn did not always agree on how social problems should be addressed, they were united in their view that we all have a responsibility to act when we are confronted by a need to address a community concern. Public representatives such as our Federal Parliamentary member Tanya Plibersek, State Parliament member Jamie Parker and City of Sydney’s Cr Linda Scott all attested to the fact that Robyn did just that.

Aunty Kath Farrawell speaking at the Glebe tribute to Robyn Kemmis. Behind her is Fiona Smith, immediate past chair of Glebe NAIDOC committee (Photo: Phil Young)
Aunty Kath Farrawell speaking at the Glebe tribute to Robyn Kemmis. Behind her is Fiona Smith, immediate past chair of Glebe NAIDOC committee (Photo: Phil Young)

Ted McKeown, President of the Glebe Society, spoke of the move to have a public park (such as the popularly-named ‘Elephant Park’ renamed in Robyn’s honour. Verity Firth, in acknowledging Robyn’s ongoing support for education, informed the gathering of the progress of the project to create a scholarship in Robyn’s name; to be awarded annually to a young Aboriginal woman to study at UTS where Robyn’s work as Vice Chancellor, Administration was so valued. See p.3 for further information; including how people can donate to this scholarship fund.

Other speakers included Kris Spann, President of the Glebe Chamber of Commerce, Aunty Kath Farrawell, Glebe Elder, Fiona Smith, chairperson of the Glebe NAIDOC committee, Mary Mortimer representing the Pyrmont community, Mariana Ivantsoff, former PA to Robyn, Wendy Long, Robin Lawrence, John Gray, Mairéad Brown and Gay Maley. Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who counted Robyn as a personal friend as well as political ally and colleague was the final speaker. It is obvious that Robyn will not be easily replaced at Town Hall. In recognising this, Clover reminded us of the widely acknowledged and overwhelming strength of the Glebe community to which Robyn had contributed significantly.

Finally, in acknowledging the work of the committee in organising this public tribute I would like to thank Police Commander Paul Pisano and Inspector Gary Coffey for their support, the City of Sydney for financial assistance, and to make particular mention of the considerable efforts of Jan Wilson, Ray Dehon and Maree White in making it a successful tribute to someone who touched us all.

We’ll miss you Robyn.