THE last big personal link to the Albury-Wodonga decentralisation project has been lost with the death yesterday of former federal government minister Tom Uren.
The World War II prisoner, who died in Sydney yesterday aged 93, fostered the growth of the twin cities as urban and regional development minister under Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam in the 1970s.
The author of Making a City in the Country: The Albury-Wodonga National Growth Centre Project 1973–2003, Bruce Pennay, said Mr Uren was a passionate backer of a scheme abandoned by later governments.
“He was a real champion of Albury-Wodonga,” Dr Pennay said.
“After Whitlam was displaced by Malcolm Fraser he came back under Bob Hawke as local government minister. He couldn’t do much then — the growth centre was not flavour of the month, but staff at the development corporation told me he had tears in his eyes as he told them it was his favourite project.
“That’s a story I really warmed to, it showed the emotional tie he had.”
Dr Pennay said Mr Uren and Mr Whitlam’s drive for decentralisation had come from being raised in western Sydney without services such as sewerage.
“They wanted to make cities livable and one of the good ways to do that was to create a city in the country,” Dr Pennay said.
Former Border Liberal MP Lou Lieberman, who was on a consultative council for the growth centre, lauded Mr Uren.
“He was a great Australian — his laidback, engaging style was so typical of Australia,” Mr Lieberman said.
“His record as a Changi prisoner of war is well known. The way he show- ed a positive attitude after coming through that was fantastic.
“He had a great passion and vision for Albury-Wodonga along with his boss Gough Whitlam.
“He was an advocate for decentralisation in the true sense of the word.”
Mr Lieberman said Mr Uren was well-regarded across political lines, noting former prime minister John Howard had held his former Labor rival in high regard.
“Everyone knew where they stood with Tom and he was much admired by many of different political persuasions,” Mr Lieberman said.
Albury Labor councillor Darren Cameron met Mr Uren several times and discussed World War II with him.
“He was deeply respected, not just for his unwavering commitment to his principles and things he believed in, but for his war service and ability to come out of his time as a prisoner of war without carrying hatred in his heart,” Cr Cameron said.
“He was impressive, physically and mentally.”