City Futures Blog

News and research in housing and urban policy, from Australia’s leading urban policy research centre.

City Futures Blog random header image

Vale Patrick Troy

Posted by on August 24th, 2018 · Guest appearance

Image: Fairfax.

By Frank Stilwell. Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Patrick Troy was a passionate advocate for better Australian cities. This was the continuous thread through his activities as an engineer, town planner, urban studies academic, senior federal public servant, author and activist.

The pinnacle of his influence was during the Whitlam government period in the 1970s. Pat left his job at the Australian National University to become deputy secretary of the newly established Department of Urban and Regional Development, with Tom Uren as its minister. Pat recruited and led the team that created policies for urban improvement and more balanced regional development. The intention was to make the cities more efficient, equitable and sustainable.

Emphasis was put on developing new growth centres, including Bathurst-Orange and Albury-Wodonga. Land commissions were established, mandated to release more public land to make housing more affordable. Big parts of Glebe and Woolloomooloo were bought for upgraded public housing so that working class people could still live in the inner city. The western suburbs were connected to the main sewer system, becoming fully flushed for the first time.

There was much more in the pipeline, too. The flurry of activity brought the federal government into urban policy areas previously neglected by the states. Nothing quite like it has been seen since. Pat Troy’s guiding hand was on all of it.

Not all the plans came to fruition. Cities and regions aren’t easily transformed. It takes 20 years or more, and requires cross-party collaboration that is rarely seen in Australian politics. When Malcolm Fraser’s Coalition government replaced Whitlam’s government in 1975, DURD was abolished and business as usual resumed.

Although deeply disappointed, Pat didn’t give up after DURD’s demise. He put his energies into making the ANU’s Urban Research Unit into the premier place for urban policy studies in Australia. He wrote and edited numerous books and reports, organised research projects and conferences, was active in the media and advised governments and whoever would listen.

Pat Troy was born in Geraldton, WA, the son of Hilda and Paddy Troy, and then grew up in Fremantle. His dad Paddy was a waterside worker and the best-known Communist unionist in Western Australia. Paddy spent three months in jail for a minor political infringement. The Fremantle house where the family lived was a meeting place for activists and refuge for people needing help. To hear Pat talk about it, there was seldom a dull moment.

After qualifying as an engineer, Pat was sponsored by the Federation of British Industry to undertake further study and work in the UK. On arrival in London, his sponsors interrogated him closely because Australian security authorities had told them that he was a potential trouble-maker. True to form, ASIO had made a simple error, confusing Pat with his dad.

After returning Down Under, Pat worked for the NSW State Planning Authority and studied highway engineering at the University of NSW. He moved to Canberra to join the Urban Studies Unit at the ANU in 1966 and was already well-established there, with strong personal Labor Party links, when the opportunity to work with the Whitlam government arose.

Both before and after his stint with Whitlam and Uren, he and his colleagues made the urban research program at the ANU a seedbed for talent. Many of its young researchers later became senior professionals and professors in their chosen fields. Pat also mentored PhD students from all around Australia who attended his residential workshops. He initiated a series of annual conferences on Australian cities for urban researchers and practitioners.

Pat’s contributions were officially recognised by his election to the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and his being  made an officer in the Order of Australia.

However, the fad for managerial restructuring started to infect universities in the1980s and put his Urban Research Program under threat. The academic bureaucrats, in their ‘‘wisdom’’, eventually closed it in the 1990s. Pat never forgave them for what he considered to be an act of sheer bastardry.

Still, he maintained his academic connection with the ANU, becoming an emeritus fellow in the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies. He also had honorary positions at Western Sydney University and the University of NSW where he continued to foster excellence in research. His life was that of a prominent public intellectual. Together with Hugh Stretton, author of Ideas for Australian Cities, he was Australia’s greatest champion for seeking social justice through planning for better cities.

It was not all hard work. His home in Canberra with Sandy was a place of renowned hospitality, with fine food and plentiful good wines to be shared. Pat was a renowned raconteur. Some thought him increasingly grumpy in his later years but then there was a lot to be grumpy about.

What had happened to cities since the DURD era was a source of much chagrin. He thought that the fashion for urban consolidation was creating cites that are too dense, inequitable and unsustainable. The scourge of ‘‘economic rationalism’’ in public policy and its over-reliance on markets to ‘‘solve’’ social problems was a yet more general source of dismay.

But Pat never gave up hope of making a difference, even after his diagnosis with cancer more than a decade ago. Until his quite sudden end, he was actively researching, writing and lobbying. He maintained his strong physical presence.

Pat leaves his partner Sandy, brothers and sisters, many children and grandchildren.

All who care about the quality of urban life have much to thank him for.

Patrick Troy: 1936-2018

No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment