MORE than 40 years ago a group of people described as Canberra’s first community “activists” and Weston Creek’s unofficial council met in the old homestead in Chapman.
“In those early years our main, on-the-ground, activity was the issue and distribution of a newsletter to garner support and keep the community informed,” says Maurice Sexton, who’s been part of the Weston Creek Community Association in various roles since it began in 1972. These days he’s its president.
With no official council until 25 years after the Weston Creek Community Association was formed, Maurice says their other main activity was to lobby the government for a community centre.
Maurice, 83, moved to Duffy from Melbourne in 1972 with his wife Mary and their two daughters at a time when, he says, more than 20,000 people were dumped into Weston Creek and into a group of new suburbs that had virtually no sense of community and support services.
Not long after moving he heard about a group of locals who were trying to set up an organisation for the community, so he joined.
“Many of the prime movers were associated with local churches and embryonic school and sporting groups,” he says.
In 1977 the Weston Creek Community Association became the first community group in the region to get a centre, with Maurice turning the building’s first sod that same year.
“We lobbied the government for a community centre and they weren’t very interested,” he says.
“In the old days we didn’t even have local government, we had to go to the Federal minister of the Territory.
“The breakthrough came when the relevant authorities were considering developing a shopping centre in Weston Creek.”
During this time Maurice, a public servant, and other members were in contact with the then Minister for the Capital Territory Gordon Bryant, who made it conditional for the successful tenderer for Cooleman Court to build the centre.
The centre opened its doors 40 years ago, in April, 1978, and Maurice says he’s since seen decades of community spirit.
But one event that stands out the most was during the 2003 bushfires where the centre offered its squash-court showers to the community.
“We’re not funded at all by the government,” Maurice says.
“Initially squash was our main income source but now we rent out function rooms.”
In the earlier days Maurice says the association was more of a “seeding” organisation because it was closely involved in establishing social, youth and counselling services in the area.
Some of the association’s tenants now support other parts of the community such as Communities@Work and Maurice even remembers giving a helping hand so the Raiders could get started.
But, he says, the association couldn’t have done it all without its tireless manager, Yung Tran, who has been part of it for about 30 years.
Describing him as the “heart and soul” of the place, Yung, 60, of Melba, came to Canberra as a refugee from Vietnam. He was working in the public service and decided to take the job at the community centre because he felt an attraction to the place.
“The appreciation and the acknowledgment of the people you help is overwhelming,” Yung says.
“I’m here to work for the community [because] we’re the voice of the people.”
More information at westoncccentre.org.au