[Legislative Council] Condolence Motion - Death of Sir Nicholas Michael Shehadie, AC OBE





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Published on Feb 16, 2018

15 February 2018
Legislative Council, NSW Parliament
Condolence Motion - Death of Sir Nicholas Michael Shehadie, AC OBE

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE ( 11:22 ): I participate in debate to associate the Labor members of this Chamber with this motion of condolence. When a great Australian passes, we all lose. So it is with the death of Sir Nicholas Shehadie—one of the truly great citizens of this State and of this nation. The mourning is genuine and widespread among the many thousands of people who met him over his lifetime in community, public and sporting lives. In our lives, some of us are lucky enough to be witnesses to history. Nicholas Shehadie was more than that; he was part of it, he helped to create it and to drive it. By so doing, he changed the way in which Australians lived and worked. His influence truly was extremely widespread.

I did not know Sir Nicholas very well, but over the years when I did encounter him and was privileged to speak with him at public functions, I was always struck by how down to earth, optimistic, cheerful and pragmatic he was about life. He had learned. He had led. He was happy to share with people what he knew. Nicholas Shehadie seemed to make the most of every day on his long life journey. His vision, his leadership and his strength came from a remarkable background. His grandfather, also named Nicholas, was sent to Australia from Lebanon in 1913 to assess the state of the Antioch Orthodox faith. But when the World War I broke out he could not go home. Instead, he built the church here in the 10 long years he waited to be reunited with his family. Then his son, Michael, also became a priest and pastoral leader in the growing Lebanese community in Sydney. When his grandson, Sir Nicholas, grew up, it was in and around the church in the Coogee and Redfern, where there is now a cathedral.

Sir Nicholas attended school at Cleveland Street Public and at Crown Street Commercial. A keen surfer, he soon became like so many in Coogee in those days, a rugby player. He played a first grade game when he was only 15—the first of 175 appearances for Randwick. That was part of a lifelong love affair with the game, which included representing Australia on 114 occasions, including 30 Tests, three as the Wallabies captain. He was one of the all-time great prop forwards. He was President of the Australian Rugby Union for seven years and instrumental in rule changes to improve safety for schoolboys. There are several things on which his sporting legacy is built. The biggest may be that he was one of the key architects of the game's World Cup, despite initial resistance from the Home Nations unions. His immense role was recognised when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame here and into the International Rugby Board's Hall of Fame.

Nicholas Shehadie's skill on the sporting field was matched by his eye for business. When his football career ended, he started a business supplying vinyl tiles for hotels and bars. He was the first in the country to recognise that the growing information technology departments of corporate Australia needed antistatic floors in their computer rooms. His contribution to public life is also hard to measure. He was the Lord Mayor of Sydney when the Queen opened the Opera House, in 1973. In 1971 he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his service to local government and appointed a Knight Bachelor in 1976 for his services as Sydney's Lord Mayor between 1973 and 1975. He was also Chairman of the Board of Technical and Further Education—as it was known in those days—and Chairman of the New South Wales Migrant Employment and Qualifications Board.

Nicholas Shehadie also was an instrumental figure in the creation of the Special Broadcasting Service [SBS]. During his chairmanship from 1981 to 1999, he oversaw pivotal improvements, including the introduction of the Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991 and expansion of the SBS's in-language services. In 1990 he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for his services to sport, media and the community. He had been a member of the Sydney Cricket Ground [SCG] for 29 years when he was invited to become a trustee. He later served as chairman of the trust for 11 years. He was also involved during the time when the lights were installed at the SCG and when the Sydney Football Stadium was built. A stand there has been named in his honour. As has been mentioned, he stood down from that role only when his beloved wife, Dame Marie, became the State's first female Governor.

Today we pay tribute to the passing of a titan—a man whose soft-spoken grace swept aside partisan barriers, an extraordinary man who deserves the enormous respect in which he is held and of course the sadness that accompanies his passing. Our thoughts are with his widow, Dame Marie Bashir, and his three children, Michael, Alex and Susan. May he rest in peace.


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