COUNCILLOR Eva Campbell was once jokingly referred to as Camden’s Don Chipp, the founder of the Australian Democrats who coined the famous political phrase about keeping the bastards honest.
She simply responded with her trademark good humour: ‘‘I would that I could.’’
This year marks Mrs Campbell’s 20 years of service to the community as a Camden councillor, a role she’s both proud of and humbled by.
‘‘It is a massive responsibility,’’ she said. ‘‘I heave my heart into my mouth regularly on the big decisions we make.’’
The milestone has stirred up emotion in Cr Campbell who, with a tear in her eye, said: ‘‘The last 20 years have been the most amazing privilege. I have learnt so many things and developed as a person through the people I have met who are amazing and but for being elected I never would have had the opportunity to meet.’’
That vulnerability is almost in contrast to her tough-as-nails image which was probably what led one resident to suggest that she stand for council.
‘‘I fell about the place laughing,’’ she said. So too did her husband Robert after he discovered that she had taken the friend’s advice to ‘‘put up or shut up’.
Years earlier she had discovered a tenacious streak that would serve her well as she entered the often hard-nosed world of politics.
‘‘By sheer misfortune I found myself the victim of a workplace bully. Of the people that were targeted – and there were a string of them — I’m the only one that appears to have escaped unscathed,’’ she said tearfully.
‘‘It took me a lot of years to realise that I had survived.’’ And with conviction in her voice, she added: ‘‘No one has the right to physically or emotionally manipulate or damage another human being.
‘‘Nominating (for council) might have been me looking for another direction in my life.’’
Cr Campbell’s introduction to politics was an almost baptism of fire.
Within months she received the first of what would be many threats, from a developer whose attempt at intimidation was aimed at making her vote in favour of his development.
‘‘The first term was horrific. It was a massive, steep learning curve,’’ she said.
To cope, Cr Campbell said she researched widely and read incessantly, including a mundane report on the Australian and New Zealand guidelines for potentially contaminated sites.
The dull read came in handy when an application concerning Camden High School’s John Street site later came before the council.
Cr Campbell asked whether she could be assured that the site had been tested to the proper standards. She was shocked when the response came that the site hadn’t been tested at all.
‘‘I was accused of doing the wrong thing and causing disruption and trouble because in the end the staff and students were moved out,’’ she said.
‘‘My comment was that if no one was damaged by it, it was more good luck than good management.’’
Cr Campbell has also been at the centre of controversy. Like the time when as mayor she was accused of voting on a matter that she was said to have a pecuniary interest in. She was later cleared, but not before an investigation that took 10 months and saw her temporarily step aside.
‘‘I don’t know who levelled the accusation against me, it is kept confidential and I understand why but there is nothing in the legislation that considers that accusations might be vexatious.’’
Cr Campbell said she hadn’t ruled out another term on council but if she were to bow out before the 2016 election, she was pleased with the achievements she had made, in particular helping to establish the Camden Bicentennial Equestrian Park.
‘‘At the end of the day, when I’m no longer on the council either by my own choice or by the community’s choice, if I don’t come out respecting myself then I don’t deserve to be there.
‘‘My father used to say you never measure a person by who they think they are. You measure a person by the contribution they have made.’’
Eva Campbell on:
How council has changed in 20 years: ‘‘It is becoming increasingly about self interest, self promotion and sadly like the secret squirrel club. The balance is disappearing. In no way should local government have party politics. When you have a political council, it votes on opportunistic political lines and the primary consideration isn’t the community.’’
Badgerys Creek airport: ‘‘The development is ill considered. We run the risk of ruining the air quality of the Sydney basin.’’
The Camden town centre works: ‘‘They’re glittering up the deck chairs of what will be the Titanic.’’
The best advice received: ‘‘It was from a metropolitan mayor who told me the way to be really successful as a councillor was to get other people to believe that the ideas that make up your vision are theirs.’’