Enid Cook Morning Tea

(11.30am, Tuesday 15 October 2013, Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre)

Thank you, Katherine, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this commemoration of the life of Enid Cook. I'd like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of 200 nations who live in our City.

I would like to acknowledge Alex Greenwich MP, Member for Sydney, Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Kemmis and Councillor Scott.

I would also like to acknowledge Enid's family particularly sister Norma, twin siblings Peter and Shirley, sister in law Fay and Enid's many nieces and nephews, close friends and neighbours.

Today we have the opportunity to pay tribute to a quite remarkable woman we all remember with respect and great affection.

In July, I put a Lord Mayoral Minute to Council, offering condolences and a minute's silence on Enid's death and asking that the community meeting room on Level One of our Surry Hills Library and Community Centre be named in her honour. It was carried unanimously.

Enid Elizabeth Cook - to give her her full name - was a Surry Hills resident for many, many years and it was actually some of her students at Sydney Girls' High, where she was a demonstration art teacher, who suggested she move into the area.

By 1970, when she bought her home in Bourke Street, the tough old neighbourhood was in transition, thanks to the post-war immigration program which began the transformation of Sydney and Australia.

Indeed, according to Christopher Keating's history of Surry Hills, by 1970 about 70 per cent of the children at Bourke Street Public School were either first or second generation migrants.

But it was still a neighbourhood under suspicion and it distressed and angered Enid to realise that many of her students felt they needed to give a false address when they were looking for a job.

She began to work with kindred spirits in the neighbourhood to provide resources for local schoolchildren.

They lobbied for traffic lights on South Dowling Street so the children had a safe crossing to Moore Park for play. They established programs to help young ones with their English and reading and Enid travelled to Canberra to lobby the Whitlam government for funding.

Enid approached the then-head librarian for the City, Sarah Walters, who understood the needs Enid saw. She arranged for library staff to visit local schools, who then sent their students to the library which gave them the sort of reading materials that would engage them.

They organised other activities as well and Enid continued to help "her children" through high school to complete their HSC.

She also saw the need for childcare, as more families with young children moved into the area.

When she looked for suitable premises and was rebuffed by the local church, she secured the use of the Ivan Dougherty Hall at the back of the old Surry Hills Library.

The Hall became the home of the Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre. And no one was more delighted than Enid with the new Surry Hills Library and Neighbourhood Centre. So it is very fitting that this community space be named for her.

As I told Council in July, Enid was so effective at least in part because of her willingness to work with people of all political persuasions to get things done.

In 1984, she stood for Council on Brian McGahen's ticket and although she was not elected, her activism continued through her close involvement with the Neighbourhood centre, and with other local groups, including the Surry Hills Justice Coalition.

She made a remarkable contribution to her community and influenced we can't know how many lives she enriched, how many careers she enabled.

My husband, Peter, says it was hardly possible to make a local shopping trip without being buttonholed in the supermarket aisle by Enid, offering her thoughts on what needed to be done in Surry Hills, or how we could improve town planning.

It would be wonderful if we could find an Enid Cook in every community. Thank you for coming here today to honour her achievements and her memory.

The Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre is delighted to be able to accept this important work on behalf of the Surry Hills Community. The Neighbourhood Centre pledges to care for and display the painting for the enjoyment of all. This picture will be a constant and delightful memory of Enid and her outstanding contribution to the Surry Hills Community.