Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Davidson, Mr Francis Michael, OBE

7:38 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Assistant Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to pay tribute to a remarkable and wonderful Australian, Francis Michael Davidson OBE of Little Yarran in Young. Michael, as he was better known, passed away on 7 August. He was a truly remarkable individual from my home district. He leaves behind his wife, Pammie, his children, Victoria, Susan, David and Edwina, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Michael was born in 1928 and had a lifelong commitment to his community and to rural Australia. He was one of the founding fathers of the NSW Farmers Association and the National Farmers' Federation. In the 1970s, as president of the Graziers' Association of New South Wales, he saw the need for one voice for agriculture in New South Wales. With the United Farmers' and Woolgrowers' Association—the other association at the time—he worked tirelessly with others to pull that into one organisation. It was an extraordinary feat. In 1978 the Livestock and Grain Producers' Association of New South Wales was born. Michael was president of that association from 1979 to 1981. That association became the NSW Farmers Association in 1987.

That New South Wales agreement prompted change at a federal level, and eventually the National Farmers' Federation was formed. Michael was president of the National Farmers' Federation from 1981 to 1984. Former NSW Farmers Association chief executive Peter Comensoli said in an article written by Robyn Ainsworth on 14 August that he had:

… sought advice from Mr Davidson.

“Of all the people I associated with at NSW Farmers, Michael was the most clear in his view that a single, federal body must emerge, and he was a thorough gentleman in all his dealings …

That is a theme that emerges constantly about Michael, that he was such a gentleman. He was on many boards. His acumen and his ability to reach outcomes and work with people was well known and much commented on. He had the ear of prime ministers. He had the ability to change the way rural Australia was heading. He was a truly amazing individual.

He was a member of the National Party—we are very proud of that—for around 50 years. I remember a couple of years ago presenting him with a long-service medal in my office. We were so terribly proud that for so long, for so many decades, Michael had been part of the National Party. He was involved in a local branch. He was a trustee. He was always there to give advice and wise counsel. He would come to Christmas drinks that I host in my office. I remember one of the very first occasions and being pretty new on the block. I was having Christmas drinks and it was a very social occasion, as they are, in my office. Michael sidled up to me and said, 'Are you going to say a few words?' It just prompted me to remember the right procedure and the right protocol. Even though it was just an informal evening, the right thing to d

o was to say a few words. It was a small thing but of course something Michael would think of.

He came to see me in my office a couple of years ago to talk about some issues that were concerning him. It struck me then that he had this amazing lifelong experience but was still able to look at issues in the modern moment, in the day, and apply all that experience to what we actually needed in the here and now. I thank him very much for the advice and was counsel he gave to me over the years.

His was a very close family. I will quote from a book, Every Tree, Rock and Gully: a memoir of pioneering families. It is a very recent book. In the book, Michael said: 'Frank and Heather, my parents, gave me a stable, affectionate and secure upbringing. They were very good at it because that is what they were. They enjoyed life with their four children and, as was typical of those times, the enjoyment was often on the property, with picnics, tennis parties, the occasional evening party and visits to friends in the district.' He adored his wife, Pammie. Again from the book: '1954 was the greatest year of my life, when Pamela Alsop and I were married. At 26 my life began to have real meaning. For nearly 60 years, Pammie has been remarkable, loving, caring and supportive.' I think they are such beautiful words from a wonderful man about his beautiful wife.

He was so proud of his family. They were so important to him, and at the same time he gave so much of himself to rural Australia—so much of his time and of himself. He was charming, wise and a thoroughly decent gentleman, with at great intellect. He was a visionary and he was constantly working to improve the circumstances of rural Australia. He had such a strong ethic of believing in the responsibility to contribute to community. He was an absolute giver and had this extraordinary belief that you should make a contribution—that it was important to make a contribution. I learnt so much from his view of rural Australia. What we are doing here in this place reflects the thoughts that Michael Davidson had about how important it was to be prepared to make a contribution.

There was a memorial service for Michael last Tuesday at the home of his son, David, and daughter-in-law, Belinda. What a beautiful service it was. There were hundreds of people there. It was such a fitting tribute to a man who was so well respected and so recognised by so many in rural communities. His children and grandchildren made wonderful contributions, as did his beautiful and very gracious wife, Pammy. I do not think anybody will forget three of his grandchildren singing at one point. It was quite a moving and extraordinary moment.

At the service his son, David, made a beautiful contribution, and at the end of that contribution he made the comment that often with memorial services there will see butterflies let out of a jar or pigeons will be let go to fly. He thought it was much more fitting to do something else entirely. He had penned up a mob of ewes at the back of the marquis where the memorial service was being held. His two sons, Sam and Charlie, went out and let the sheep go. It was lovely. I think Michael would be terribly proud of them. He will be terribly missed by many people. Rural Australia is a better place for having been blessed with and to have had the life of Francis Michael Davidson.