Teacher Tells Story of Local Legend

When asked to write a biography of Rolf Everist (Tom) Farrell, teacher Christopher Mooney said, “I can honestly say I hadn’t heard of him.” Once he began to research, however, his ignorance turned to admiration for a man who helped to transform the face of Newcastle and beyond.

Chris Mooney has been a history teacher at St Mary’s Campus, All Saints College, Maitland, for almost 12 years. Chris is also a Conjoint Fellow in the Faculty of Education and Arts (School of Humanities and Social Science) at the University of Newcastle. He lives at Stockton, where he was born and raised.

Tom and Kath Farrell had five children, all of whom were involved in the biography project. Chris adds, “All five children wanted their parents’, in particular their father’s, history placed on the record.” The outcome of Chris’ enormous efforts, A Powerhouse of a Man, Tom Farrell (1904 -1996): A Community Champion was recently launched at the University of Newcastle. It was a work commissioned by the university's Tom Farrell Institute.

It was no coincidence that Chris was chosen to write the book. He had previously completed his PhD under the supervision of Professor John Ramsland at the university. Chris says, “He’s been my mentor for the last 20-plus years.” Chris had already coauthored and published a book with John Ramsland, Remembering Aboriginal Heroes (2006).

This was his first solo effort. When Chris was approached to write Tom’s biography in 2011, he had a difficulty. “I would have to fit it in. Being a full-time school teacher, my main focus was teaching. Being at a senior high school, the priority is preparing the students for the HSC.”

The working party at the university accepted his obligation to his pupils. Chris spent most of the ensuing holidays, weekends and many late nights working on the book. “I set myself a deadline of July 2014, and fortunately I was able to submit the text eight months early.”

Chris admits that he enjoys research. “What made this an easier task was that, with the exception of a few archival records in Sydney, the bulk of the material was at the University of Newcastle.” Chris found Tom to be an admirable man. “Tom and his great mate, Joe Richley, had an almost spiritual commitment to the environment. They wouldn’t have been comfortable with the label of ‘greenie’. Tom understood that everyone deserved the right of access to green areas; it led to harmony within a community.”

In his biography of Tom Farrell, Chris outlines five decades of activity and struggle. Tom was firstly a devoted family man but also a successful businessman, involved in sport, financial and community activities and committed to the establishment of the University of Newcastle. Tom assisted in the founding of the Northern Parks and Playgrounds Association, which in turn gave citizens Blackbutt Reserve and significant green belt areas in and around Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.

Chris believes Tom was a man before his time. “There’s no doubt he was a visionary. He was an ordinary gentleman who achieved extraordinary things.” Chris was impressed with Tom’s resilience and strong community dedication.

At the completion of the biography, Chris was embarrassed by his earlier ignorance of Tom Farrell. “He is no doubt one of the leading figures in the history of Newcastle in the 20th century.” Chris Mooney is a teacher, but his prodigious efforts in writing this biography suggest that eventually, in his retirement, we can look forward to another remarkable life story or two.

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