Top honour for one of our finest
Tuesday, 10th June, 2014
By Michael Murphy
A casual get-together 40 years ago sparked a long and selfless career of serving the community for Fran McKinnon, who was yesterday awarded the Order of Australia Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Mrs McKinnon was relaxing with family and friends in 1974 when the conversation turned to Broken Hill, and everyone was complaining about the state of it.
“There had been a lot of rain, and the streets were covered with weeds and a group of us were sitting around talking about it,” Mrs McKinnon said.
“I said there’s a council election coming up, let’s see if we can change things,” she said, adding that her friends egged her on, offering support if she stood for election.
Funnily enough, it was her biggest supporter over the years, her husband Colin, who initially played devil’s advocate.
“He said, ‘You silly b***h, you’ll make a fool of yourself’,” Mrs McKinnon recalls with a smile.
And so began a 30-year career in local government, every one of those years complemented by Mrs McKinnon’s determination and stand-up-and-be-counted attitude.
“I have always put my shoulder to the wheel,” she said. “I couldn’t see any point in being a seat-warmer. I’ve always done my share.
“I’m a fairly quiet person, but if I get riled up I’ll soon have my say.”
Perhaps it was the work ethic of her father that instilled that determination in Mrs McKinnon. Born in Red Cliffs, Victoria, Mrs McKinnon’s family moved to the district when she was five after her father got work digging dams for property owners.
They lived out of a caravan for a while, before the family could afford to buy a house in Broken Hill, and her father then “commuted” to the outback for work.
Mrs McKinnon married Colin and had two boys, Donald and Greg. She said her sense of family also spurred her on to make a difference in the community, especially when her sons reached their teenage years and began to look for work.
“I got a tremendous amount of support from my family,” Mrs McKinnon said. “As a woman, you cannot do it without the support of your family.
“Colin turned out to be a very good cook.
“I was working in those days too and he was home before me cooking, or picking up the kids from school.
“I know some women who’ve pulled out because they didn’t have that support.”
Mrs McKinnon counts her role in getting more women involved in local government as one achievement she looks back on fondly. She has been a member of Australian Local Government Women’s Association (NSW) since 1975; a national board delegate; vice-chairman, secretary, life member and was state president for two years.
“In those days we were desperately trying to get women interested in council,” she said. “We had a certain amount of success but it was a lot of hard work.”
Perhaps what Mrs McKinnon is best known for is her outstanding achievements in helping preserve the city’s heritage. Apart from her work as a city councillor, she has been Chair of the Broken Hill and District National Trust since 1988 and was a Foundation Member and served on the Broken Hill Migrant Heritage Committee for 13 years.
“When I first got on council in 1974, then-Mayor Noel Hicks urged me to come on to the tourism committee ... it was struggling at that time,” Mrs McKinnon said.
“I quickly realised there was a very real link to tourism and heritage ... there was a real value to the community that they work together.”
Mrs McKinnon is optimistic about the future of the Silver City.
“I think we are going pretty well, even though the whole of the country is down at the moment, we have got a lot to be optimistic about.
“Mining prospects are enormous, especially uranium mining.
“I think with proper controls it would benefit the city.”
Mrs McKinnon said “there are all sort of things happening around us”, and that she intended living out her life in Broken Hill.
“I’ve been all over the world. There are lots of nice places to look at, but no better place to live.”