After 13 years as mayor, Queanbeyan’s Tim Overall is satisfied he’s done all he promised to do and tells reporter BELINDA STRAHORN it’s time to hang up the mayoral chains…
TIM OVERALL opens the briefcase that contains the mayoral chains, he picks them up and hangs them around his neck, like he has done many times during his 13 years as the mayor of Queanbeyan and then Queanbeyan-Palerang, after they merged four years ago.
“They have a bit of weight in them,” he says, handling the ceremonial chains that bear gold links engraved with the names of the 24 mayors before him.
The chains are heavy, today more so than most days, for Tim Overall is feeling the weight of responsibility as he reflects on his time as mayor.
Photos of former Queanbeyan mayors line the wall of the council chambers. Cr Overall’s is there; elected mayor of Queanbeyan City Council in 2008, re-elected in 2012 and elected again in 2017 as the first mayor of the amalgamated Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC).
There isn’t an end date appearing next to Cr Overall’s name on the mayoral honour board, however he has decided it will be “2021”. He will not be seeking re-election at December’s local government elections.
“In public office it’s not about longevity, it’s about achievements and laying foundations for the future,” Cr Overall says.
“Having delivered on virtually every single promise I made, it’s time to move on.”
Cr Overall didn’t need much encouragement to enter local politics, but the step was made easier when it was suggested by others.
It was 2004, and a friend approached him about running for council.
“I could see so much potential in Queanbeyan and thought there was no point in sitting back, so I ran and was elected,” Cr Overall says.
Having grown up in a family immersed in “town-planning”, Cr Overall didn’t have to look far for inspiration in seeking to serve the community.
His father, Sir John Overall, was the perfect role model, as the commissioner of the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) and instrumental in Canberra’s planning.
Perhaps sharing the same visionary characteristics that his father enjoyed, Cr Overall’s first initiative as a councillor was identifying the need for a 25-year CBD master plan.
Dismissed by some as “pie in the sky”, the master plan – a first in Queanbeyan’s history – was adopted and has become: “The blueprint for everything we have done and are about to achieve”.
With work beginning on Queanbeyan’s $74 million civic and cultural precinct and a $16 million refurbishment of Monaro Street to start thereafter, Cr Overall is putting away the mayoral chains at a time when the city is well placed to capitalise on a bright future and a greater sense of identity.
“Many people, particularly from Canberra, say to me that Queanbeyan has changed, it’s a great place and I feel very humbled to hear that. It’s all been part of the reason I stood for council in the first place,” Cr Overall says.
Perhaps because, for a long time, Queanbeyan gained an unfair reputation as a poor cousin of Canberra, often suffering under the “Struggle Town” persona.
But Cr Overall confidently asserts: “We have left that behind”.
His list of achievements during his 17-year council career, including three times being elected mayor, are long and impressive.
But he identifies some of the things he’s most proud of as; the refurbishment of Crawford Street, upgrades to the river precinct, the creation of the multi-award winning QEII park and the $86 million Ellerton Drive Extension (EDE) – the largest individual infrastructure project in the region – delivered after 40 years as only a “talked about line on a map”.
Despite vocal community opposition to the EDE at the time, Cr Overall says he “hears very little criticism since it’s been built”.
His time on council also saw him take on the role as administrator during the council’s forced amalgamation in 2016.
Overcoming the community’s initial resistance to the merger it’s now seen as a “success”, and the bestowing upon council of the prestigious AR Bluett Award, last year, was testament to the council’s ability to adapt to a changing environment.
“It’s rewarding to be part of a council that works closely with the executive team and with the capable council staff who work together on an agreed strategic plan to achieve,” he says.
Cr Overall has always absorbed himself in the life of Queanbeyan, but he wasn’t a native of the city; he was born in Adelaide as one of four boys in the family.
His father’s work brought the family to the region, and despite attending school and university in Canberra, he has fond memories of Queanbeyan in the 1960s.
“In those days, Queanbeyan was a retail hub for Canberra, the city had two cinemas and it was the place to be,” Cr Overall says.
“But over the next 20-30 years, Queanbeyan became diminished. There was very little vision for the place. Canberra was rapidly growing and Queanbeyan was being left behind.”
Cr Overall’s tertiary studies at the Australian National University were interrupted by his call-up for national service during the Vietnam War.
Over the subsequent years he worked in national security, managed an international shipping company, and headed the NSW Ambulance Service in Sydney.
Through those jobs he gained valuable skills that one day he could apply to a public life.
Taking up a position with the ACT Red Cross in 1996 brought Tim Overall back to the region, although he never lost his affection for Queanbeyan and its people.
“They are friendly, absolutely terrific people, who are proud of their city and passionate about it,” Cr Overall says.
Cr Overall has forged his own independent path through the politics of local government, preferring to act outside the party political system.
Although a member of the Liberal Party for a short time, he says he has “always stood on the platform that local government is about working with the community. It’s not about party politics”.
“However, the reality is that there is party politics and we are seeing more of a trend in this area of political parties being a part of recent and future elections.”
His one disappointment upon leaving office is that Queanbeyan is still without a cinema, despite his best attempts to bring one.
He also regrets that the position of mayor is no longer the choice of the citizens of Queanbeyan, but is placed in the hands of councillors who decide amongst themselves, every two years, who wears the mayoral chains.
Unfortunately, Cr Overall says that decision is often based on jockeying with a “it’s-my-turn-next” mentality.
“The negative side of councillors making such a decision is that instead of relying on a community mandate, a my-turn-next mentality can take the focus off effective leadership and has the potential to generate instability,” Cr Overall says.
Despite taking the job seriously, Mayor Overall is not beyond poking fun at himself if it means protecting the city’s reputation.
In 2015, when hip-hop duo Coda Conduct released a song describing Queanbeyan as a “wannabe” Canberra and made fun of the town’s oversupply of takeaway joints, Tim Overall was quick to respond with his own rap refuting the attack.
“Quang City” poked fun at Canberra’s Skywhale, light rail plans and laughed off the “Struggle Town” label.
“I dressed up in the mayoral robes and chains and joined with a local hip-hop group Macho Duck and we recorded the song, which got a fair bit of airplay,” he says.
It is also a wish to spend more time with wife Nichole, and their family, that has prompted his retirement from politics. Tim says he’s also looking forward to maintaining an active involvement with the wider community in other capacities.
“I still want to contribute in various ways and I’ll seek to do that, but it’s an opportunity to take a break and relax,” Cr Overall says.
In pride of place on the wall of the mayoral office is a painting of a rural landscape with rolling hills.
He explains that it won a prize at an annual Queanbeyan City Council art exhibition some years ago.
Perhaps the painting is representative of his journey in public office. His learning curve over the years has been as steep as those hills, “tough” at times and sometimes with “critics”, he says, but also one of his “greatest honours”.
Cr Overall would like his time on council to be remembered by the 61,832 residents he has represented as: “Someone who has significantly achieved what was promised and someone that helped lay the foundation for a progression into the next 10 years.”
Taking off the mayoral chains and placing them back in the briefcase, he says: “It’s been a privilege”.
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