Freo’s champion for social justice

A CHAMPION of social justice and a key architect of Fremantle’s community services, former Fremantle council director Ken Posney died on Wednesday morning following a long illness.

Mr Posney headed up the council’s community development department for nearly three decades until his retirement in 2009, serving under five mayors.

Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt paid tribute to Mr Posney at Wednesday’s full council meeting, saying he had made an extraordinary contribution to the port city.

“Ken was a real pioneer and had a strong sense of social justice, and he was really good at innovating to fill the gaps that were being left by the state and federal governments,” Dr Pettitt said.

“He was responsible for an extraordinary range of firsts, some of which are now considered mainstream.”

Former mayor Peter Tagliaferri said he’d first met Mr Posney in the early 1980s when both were helping establish the Fremantle Migrant Resource Centre.

• Ken Posney

Confidante

Mr Tagliaferri said at first he was wary of Mr Posney’s Detroit accent, wondering “who is this American telling us how to live our lives”.

But over the next 30 years Mr Posney would became a trusted confidante who he’d turn to to help resolve issues about various committees and councils as mayor.

“There are way too many issues or social services that Ken spearheaded for Fremantle and indeed Western Australia that it would fill your edition from front cover to the back section,” Mr Tagliaferri said.

“It is not lost on me the fact that he passed away in palliative care in the Aegis centre in his beloved Hilton.

“The fact is, when we had to close Stan Reilly we had an option to sell the 38-bed licence to an aged car provider for $4 million and an item was prepared for council.

“We were a cash-strapped council at the time, but Ken came down to my office and argued ‘would it not be better those beds remained in Fremantle and not be sold’.

“The short story is I was convinced as was council and the beds remained in Fremantle under a contract to Aegis (then known as Southern Cross Care).

“Ken Posney was a man right for his time: America’s greatest export because our greatest social service provider and above all a great friend.”

• Ken Posney with former admin officer Jill Davies doing what he did best – looking out for others.

Mr Posney had been a small market stall-holder in Detroit selling Maltese crosses and other trinkets, but following bloody race riots during the “long, hot summer of 1967” his business was ruined and he decided to change career.

He became involved in campaigning for welfare rights, but disillusioned with the life in America, migrated to Western Australia in 1969 and became a parole officer.

His first contact with Fremantle council was in 1977 while setting up Harvest, a drug rehabilitation centre in North Fremantle, and not long after he was appointed the council’s social worker in charge of its youth, children, aged, refuge and legal services, which were growing thanks to the Whitlam government, which had eased up restrictions on funding social services.

Some of the myriad of services that blossomed under his guidance included Fremantle’s precinct system, its women’s refuge, legal advice centre, the council’s reconciliation policy, Nyoongar Patrol, night-time taxi ranks, the NightRider service, Fremantle First and more.

Mr Posney’s wife Francesca said he was her soul mate and rock.

“Who would have ever dreamt that Ken and I were destined to meet in Fremantle,” Ms Posney said.

“He had arrived in Australia in 1969 from Detroit and I from Rome in 1990 with four kids in tow. It was obviously just meant to be.

“There has never been a day that I haven’t felt blessed to have this wonderful man in my life and although our paths will now part for a while, memories abound in this great city of Fremantle we call home.

“I know there are people who will want to attend Ken’s farewell and celebrate, together with us, a life well lived.”

• Before Freo’s mayor made the city famous for cycling, there was Ken Posney.

Local markets guru Kylie Wheatley says she was introduced to Mr Posney by Mr Tagliaferri, who as mayor wanted to bring a bit more life to Kings Square. After a five minute discussion, she had a desk at the council and funding.

“He inspired me every day and I loved going to work and sitting in his crazy office full of papers, radio going and discussing my and his ideas, finding money to support projects,” Ms Wheatley said of Mr Posney.

“He would happily see artists and creatives that walked in … his door was always open, just like his mind and his heart.

“I miss our coffee meetings, laughs and ‘we can’ attitude.”

Mr Posney’s funeral will be held at 2pm on Friday, December 7 at the West Chapel of Fremantle Cemetery.

by STEVE GRANT

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