I've pondered for many weeks, if not months, on what might be my last written words to the councils of Queensland, whom I’ve had the pleasure of both working for and serving for over 40 years and in various capacities in Brisbane City, Canberra, Esk Shire, Townsville City and the LGAQ.
I didn’t want to be trite, indulgent, or attempt to be faux intellectual. In a lifetime of down-home experience – at university, reading broadly and in the workforce – your mind is totally overloaded by a million and one thoughts. But one passage resonates with me – always has, always will. It’s a 1910 exhortation to French Republic by US President Theodore Roosevelt, known variously as ‘Citizenship in the Republic’ or ‘The Man in the Arena’.
I do want to preface it with Roosevelt’s own preamble, which so eloquently sets the scene.
“The poorest way to face life is with a sneer. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities – all these are marks not… of superiority, but of weakness.”
For me, it is timeless and – more than a century on – remains redolent of the times we now live in. Despite the cacophony and dystopia of social media, the sideline cynics and armchair critics, there is a nobility in community service, in putting yourself forward to serve your community, and then doing the hard yards that follow as a Mayor or councillor. It is not for the faint-hearted, and Roosevelt acknowledges that.
I have specifically altered his passage to be gender neutral and believe it loses nothing in translation.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the one who points out how the strong person stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends themself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if they fail, at least fails while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I add my own contemporary contribution to that credo by sharing this version of R.E.M. performing ‘Everybody Hurts’ at the Glastonbury Musical Festival over 15 years ago. As the song says, “take comfort in your friends”, and I include it because this is no easy gig – it does and will hurt. But, with the camaraderie of the local government family, and the strength and support of your peak body, you are never alone in striving to build a better world for your fellow citizens.
Finally, thank you to everyone in local government since the late 1970s, especially my staff. It has been both a pleasure and a privilege to work alongside you and to serve you.
Gesta non verba. (Deeds not words.)
Peace be with you.