ANOTHER leading figure in the Hunter labour movement, Denis Nichols, died on Monday, aged 73, after a long period with the blood cancer, multiple myeloma.
A long-time union organiser with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (the AMWU or the metalworkers), Mr Nichols was also the longest serving president with Newcastle Trades Hall Council (now known as Hunter Workers), occupying the position from 1983 to 1997.
NSW opposition leader Jodi McKay said on Tuesday that Mr Nichols was a dedicated advocate and above all "a modest man who was never one to brag about his life of service to the public".
In a joint statement with Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp she said Mr Nichols believed there was "no higher calling than to work for betterment of the community".
"The whole NSW Labor family's hearts go out to Denis's family and to all those who knew him and worked with him to make Newcastle a better place," Ms McKay said.
Mr Crakanthorp said Mr Nichols was "a fighter for his community, and Newcastle to his core".
"He may have been a quiet achiever, but his work around the city will benefit generations to come," Mr Crakanthorp said.
Mr Nichols was a tough rugby league player who won a premiership with North Newcastle in 1967 and played in Newcastle representative teams from 1968. A tribute from his old footballing mates appears below.
Mr Nichols became a full-time organiser with the metalworkers union after working as a fitter at BHP.
He was elected to Newcastle City Council in 1986 and served until 1995, including a period as deputy lord mayor from 1987 to 1989.
He chaired Hunter Water, Shortland County Council and Hunter TAFE Foundation and helped establish the region's Labour Co-operative in 1986. He was also on the Royal Newcastle Hospital board.
Daniel Wallace, secretary of Hunter Workers (formerly Newcastle Trades Hall Council), said Mr Nichols was the organisation's longest-serving president, from 1983 to 1997.
"I first met Denis in 2003, at the age of 23, as a young AMWU delegate," Mr Wallace said.
"Denis was an encouraging and remarkable leader, mentor and comrade to myself personally just like he was with so many others.
"He was well respected throughout the region and his contribution to our local economy affords him a 'social billionaire' status, his contribution was that much."
After years or loyal service to the labour movement, what should have been the high point of his career evaporated in 1988, when he stood as Labor candidate to replace veteran MP Arthur Wade in the state seat of Newcastle.
That election, unfortunately for Labor, was a landslide defeat that ushered in the Greiner Coalition government, with Labor losing Newcastle to Independent George Keegan, and Lake Macquarie to another Independent, Ivan Welsh.
Mr Keegan would hold Newcastle for one term before the ALP regained it through Mr Gaudry, who would hold it from 1991 until 2007 when he was shunted aside by Labor head-office in a cross-factional deal that began the political career of Ms McKay.
The NSW opposition leader said Mr Nichols was also an active environmentalist and helped begin the work to clean up the heavily polluted Throsby Creek and Newcastle harbour. He also worked to beautify the Newcastle foreshore and park, and to restore the historic Newcastle Tram Sheds in the Foreshore park.
Newcastle City Council paid tribute to Mr Nichols at Tuesday night's meeting, with Cr Nuatali Nelmes presenting a Lord Mayoral minute that captured the major points of the quietly influential former councillor's public life. The full text of the minute is published below, along with the three photographs that formed part of it.
Mr Nichols lived at Stockton. He is survived by his wife, Iris, and family.
COVID-19 regulations mean his funeral on Monday will be private, with a memorial gathering to be held when restrictions lift.
That City of Newcastle:
1. Notes with sadness the passing of former City of Newcastle Alderman and Councillor, Deputy Lord Mayor and union leader, Denis Nichols;
2. Recognises his enormous contribution to the betterment of the lives of working people, and all Novocastrians, through his roles as an Official for the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (1981-2001); President, Newcastle Trades Hall Council (1983-1997), City of Newcastle Councillor (1986-1995) and Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Newcastle (1987-1989). Mr Nichols was also a Director of the Labour Co-operative Group from 2002 and a Director of the Hunter TAFE Foundation from 2000 until his passing and a member of the BHP Steelworks Transition Steering Team;
3. Notes that Mr Nichols was also a Newcastle Rugby League legend, playing 110 first grade matches for North Newcastle and Central Charlestown, winning a First Grade Premiership with the Bluebags in 1967, and making his Newcastle Representative debut in 1968;
4. Sends our condolences to Mr Nichols' family, his loving wife Iris, his friends, comrades and former teammates.
Former City of Newcastle Alderman and Councillor (1986-1995) and Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Newcastle 1987-1989 has sadly passed away.
Mr Nichols was a very well-respected union leader, first elected as an Official for the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union in 1981, serving as the President of Newcastle Trades Hall Council from 1983 to 1997 and as a workers representative on the BHP Steelworks Transition Steering Team.
Even in retirement, Mr Nichols continued to make a contribution to Newcastle, serving as a Director of the Labour Co-operative Group from 2002 and a Director of the Hunter TAFE Foundation from 2000 until his passing.
Mr Nichols was very well respected by all sides of politics, as a great bloke, a true gentleman, and a fighter for the working class.
From the North Newcastle Rugby League Football Club:
With sadness we would like to advise all of the passing this morning of former Northern Suburbs, Newcastle Representative front rower and club Life Member Denis Nichols this morning after a long illness.
A few notes on Denis's fantastic career at North's 1965-1973
Our condolences go out to Denis' family, friends and former teammates. Rest In Peace Denis
- Northern Suburbs Junior
- 1965 3rd Grade debut
- 1965 Reserve Grade debut (after only one 3rd grade game)
- 1965 First Grade debut against Central Newcastle at Newcastle No1 Sportsground on Saturday 3rd July 1965
- 1967 Northern Suburbs Premiership win
- 1968 Newcastle Representative debut
- Denis went on to play over 110 first grade games
- 1971 elected Life Member of the Northern Suburbs Football Club
- 1974-75 played out his career with Central Charlestown
Our condolences go out to Denis' family, friends and former teammates.
Rest In Peace Denis
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here
IN THE NEWS:
- Body modifier Howard Rollins found not guilty of assisting in botched Newcastle West labia removal
- Ex-Bronco Andrew McCullough set to be rested for Penrith clash with Chris Randall poised to be handed his debut
- Newcastle and Hunter buffeted but NSW SES busiest at Gosford
- Hunter ratepayers fork out an extra $100,000 to clean-up illegal dump sites
- Two new COVID-19 cases in NSW, as minister says school closures to become normal
- Midcoast Council confirms $18 million project on ice due to coronavirus risk