Ipswich pays tribute to ‘straight shooter’ former mayor
A STRAIGHT-SHOOTING and hardworking former Ipswich mayor who left school at the age of 13 is being remembered for his strong leadership of the city for more than a decade.
Labor party stalwart Des Freeman served as Ipswich’s 46th mayor for 12 years after working in coal mines and on his family’s dairy farm.
He remained active in local politics long after he retired from the top job in 1991.
Des passed away on Monday at the age of 95 and is survived by his beloved wife Colleen, herself an important figure in the local Labor movement.
Son Phil Freeman said his father left school at the age of 13 to work on his parent’s dairy farm at Tallegalla.
“When that went bust, he ended up in the coal mines,” he said.
“He worked in the mines for about 40 years.
“That’s where he got his opportunity to display his ability as a union rep. He represented the union members fighting for better working conditions for the miners.
“Then he basically realised that to get any real change you had to get involved in politics. He joined the Labor party and got involved.”
Des was first elected as an Ipswich councillor in 1973 and he became the finance chair three years later before being elevated to mayor in 1979.
Phil said his father was proud of the progress he oversaw and he didn’t want to live anywhere else once he hung up his hat.
As a family they unwinded with fishing trips along the coast, setting up anywhere between Yamba and Hervey Bay, for weeks at a time.
“Dad was an intelligent, decent, hardworking man with little formal education but great ability,” he said.
“When dad entered council, parts of Ipswich were not sewered, particularly around the Goodna area.
“During this period the thing he was most proud of was the infrastructure that was built during the 1980s as it really set up Ipswich to become the residential place that it is today.
“He was certainly a great father and a great mentor.”
When he retired as mayor, he continued on as the chairman of the West Moreton Regional Health Authority and was awarded an Order of Australia in 1987 for service to local government and his community.
Blair MP Shayne Neumann said Des was the first person he ever voted for.
Growing up, he lived just around the corner from the Freemans in East Ipswich.
“He’s one of my heroes,” he said.
“Colleen was a beloved mayoress.
“He would always tell it straight. He was utterly honest and completely trustworthy and really decent and honourable.”
Mr Neumann said it was a time of “enormous transition” when Des became mayor in 1979.
“It was a very difficult time in Ipswich when he was mayor,” he said.
“It was on the back of (the) Box Flat (mine disaster).
“The economy was struggling. There was drought back in the early 1980s and late 1970s.
“You had the Reids (Department Store) fire in the mid-1980s.
“Joh Bjelke-Petersen was Premier for most of his time as mayor. Imagine how difficult that would have been.
“Under his council, Ipswich was sewered.”
He oversaw the opening of the Ipswich mall in 1987 with Des famously saying at the time that developer Kern Corporation had been holding “a gun at our heads”.
Des was made a life member of the Labor party in 2000 and clocked up more than 50 years of service.
He would meet up with other members of the ‘true believers’ of the ALP once a month at the former Banjo’s Bar and Restaurant in Bell St to discuss policy and local matters.
“He was old school Labor,” Mr Neumann said.
“He completely believed strongly in the strength of the union movement.
“He dealt with the worker in the same way he dealt with the boss.
“Even in his retirement her was a leader among men and women.”
Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.