Warrnambool ALP candidate not one to stand by | Photos

A LEISURELY game of Sunday cricket appears as far removed as you can get from the hurly-burly of political debate.

But Shirley Reekie believes it was the first indication her teenage son Roy was destined for a life of campaigning.

The small-town dispute was over alterations to Warrnambool’s cricket fixture — administrators were looking at Sunday games. Roy’s team St John’s was opposed to the idea, given it would likely clash with church services.

“There were plenty of letters to the editor. It was a pretty big deal for a young bloke,” Mr Reekie said.

After several weeks of debate a compromise was reached. Most of the other teams in the association would play either day on the weekend except St John’s, which would continue to bat and field on Saturdays only.

That simple struggle was possibly the genesis of Mr Reekie’s life-long commitment to various causes. It would lead him to take on world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Robert Muldoon and later to four election campaigns.

The 50-year-old returned to the campaign limelight in August, announcing he would run as the Labor candidate for South West Coast. 

Initially, he was reluctant to contest the safe Coalition electorate held by Premier Denis Napthine. The Liberal Party’s hold on the seat had grown substantially since Mr Reekie last stood eight years ago.

“It was the federal budget that changed things for me,” he said. “There was little reward in just complaining about how unfair and unjust it was. I felt it was time to stand up and fight.”

Fighting spirit is something he inherited from both parents, but in different ways. His late father Tom was originally from the coalfields town of Cowdenbeath, a Scottish city roughly the same size as Victoria’s Portland.

A painter by trade, young Tom Reekie completed his national service in the UK then decided to emigrate to Australia, first setting foot in Victoria on Melbourne Cup day 1952.

Mrs Reekie said both her late husband and father were staunch Labor supporters so it was unsurprising her son would follow in their footsteps.

“Tom was very proud of Roy at his first election campaign (in 1999) and always offered a few words of encouragement,” the 81-year-old said.

The elder Reekie was active in his role as unofficial campaign manager, memorably confronting Jeff Kennett while the former premier was on the hustings in Warrnambool.

“Kennett couldn’t say much because the television cameras were on him,” Mr Reekie said. “Dad told him in no uncertain terms how he felt.”

A photograph of father and son is one of the treasured snapshots on Mrs Reekie’s kitchen table.

Another image is of a 17-year-old Roy receiving his Queen’s Scout Award from state governor Sir Henry Winneke in 1981. The studious Warrnambool lad set his sights on a career in law and enrolled at Monash University. 

Mr Reekie recalled an Australian tour by late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher when he laid down on the road in front of the Iron Lady’s motorcade.

Another incident involved Roy slipping on a dinner jacket and heckling late New Zealand leader Robert Muldoon at a black-tie soiree. 

Protests aside, the young Mr Reekie wasn’t afraid of hard work. From daybreak as a foreshore groundskeeper to late nights as a bouncer at the Lady Bay Hotel, he worked long hours over summer to pay for his day-to-day living at university.

“I used to feel sorry for him. He was a hard worker,” Mrs Reekie said.

After graduating Mr Reekie returned to Warrnambool in the mid-1980s and took part in the region’s first forays into community radio. Building his credentials as a young solicitor, he and wife Deb started a family and he became involved in community work.

The 1999 state election was his first political stand but he was best remembered for the following poll, when he came within a few hundred votes of winning the newly-formed South West Coast for Labor.

Portland MP Dr Napthine had served as opposition leader but was deposed by Robert Doyle only weeks before the election. Then-premier Steve Bracks was at the height of his powers in 2002 and on election night regional seats fell like dominoes.

“(Labor supporters) were all gathered at the Christ Church Hall and the atmosphere was euphoric. People thought Labor had won (in the south-west) for the first time in 40 years,” Mr Reekie said. 

The knife-edge result willed Mr Reekie to try again at the subsequent election four years later, when he lost by a far larger margin.

His father’s homeland beckoned and Mr Reekie went to live in Scotland in 2007, following on from an earlier stint between 2003 and 2006.

While his Caledonian connections remain strong, the birth of their first grandchild was incentive enough for Mr Reekie and his wife to return to Australia four years ago.

Shirley is obviously pleased her son is back but a different emotion sweeps over her when discussing his latest political tilt. “I’m very proud,” she said. “He’s a very sincere person and I think it’s great that he just keeps at it.”