‘Authentic, caring, passionate’ – Vale Irene Doutney
Sydney’s public housing community has lost a great activist and a great friend. Irene Doutney’s death on June 11 followed a three-year battle with illness and her passing represents a significant loss, not only for her many friends but for many local community groups and organisations.
A 78er, Irene participated in the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and was a long-time advocate for LGBTIQ rights.
Following a life of personal battles, a somewhat shy and reluctant Irene found her voice, and with the support of The Factory’s HCP Community Development Program and Inner Sydney Voice’s Tenant Support Service, she became an active member of the local Factory Community Centre and many other community groups.
She initially was involved with the historic local resident-run RedWater News magazine and helped establish a local “PhotoVoice” project. As her confidence grew she joined the Redfern Neighbourhood Advisory Board to represent her precinct, and was employed by The Factory to help establish the inaugural 2007 Open House Project funded by the Balnaves Foundation, which gave public housing residents access to low-cost performances at Sydney’s Opera House. She became a board member of The Factory, where she remained.
Irene joined the local REDWatch group in 2007 and served on its coordination group from 2007-2015 as it worked to give the local community a voice in the development proposals for the area. She was especially involved when proposals for the redevelopment of the public housing estates were raised in 2011-12, trying to get a decent outcome for tenants. She was involved in a number of local campaigns, from trying to save Gordon Syron’s Keeping Place art collection, getting shutters lifted on Redfern shops, and the Lift Redfern Station campaign.
In 2006, she joined the NSW Greens and in 2008 Irene’s resilience shone for all to see when she was elected a councillor to the City of Sydney. Eight years later, in 2016, Irene became Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney. Her vision for Sydney was of a sustainable, diverse and inclusive city. As a public housing tenant and low-income earner, her aim when running for Council was to give a voice to the voiceless and to be an advocate for the views of the ordinary person.
The issues with which Irene engaged were legion: she spoke against the Northern Territory intervention, campaigned for the greening of Sydney, opposed the sell-off of public housing, campaigned against council amalgamations, questioned the state government’s plans to remake Redfern and Waterloo, and led the successful push for the City of Sydney to divest from fossil fuels.
Her achievements on Council included establishing the City of Sydney as a fair-trade town, creating the first ecology officer on Council, introducing protocols for the protection of urban wildlife, introducing a new drop-off e-waste system, and helping ensure strong public access to the new park at Barangaroo. She was deputy chair of the Council’s Environment and Heritage Committee and co-chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel. She represented the City of Sydney by presenting the City’s biodiversity strategy to the UN Convention in Nagoya, Japan. She was particularly proud of her work to deliver the $7-million upgrade to the Joanna O’Dea public housing complex in Forest Lodge.
Mike Shreenan, CEO of Counterpoint Community Services (aka the Factory Community Centre), said: “I have never worked with a more authentic, caring and passionate individual. Irene’s integrity was beyond reproach. Her achievements and gentle leadership are a lasting inspiration to us all.”
A community memorial for Irene was held at the Redfern Town Hall on Friday June 29. Hosted by the City of Sydney and the NSW Greens, the event included an acknowledgement of country from Aunty Millie Ingram and presentations by the Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Jane and David Doutney, Sylvia Hale, Darelle Duncan, Rachel Evans, Jenny Leong MP, Gillian Pick, Michael Shreenan and Charmaine Jones who read a poem in tribute to Irene. Al Turnbull led a moving rendition of “Bread and Roses”, Hans Bos and the Red Frogs performed a spirited set of pop and rock classics.