Norm Dixon, poet, gardener, dynamic community leader and communist, passed away on May 11. He was 90 years old.
His funeral and memorial on May 25 attracted more than 200 people and, true to Norm’s life’s work, it became an organising space against the corporatisation of the Woronora Caravan Park.
From the age of six, Norm lived in the Woronora Valley. He joined the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) in his early 20s where he learned his organising skills.
Norm started work in Glebe as an apprentice woodwork machinist. After becoming an active unionist, he was black listed from a number of jobs.
He worked a variety of jobs, eventually opting for self-employment in the Woronora Valley where he built his own home.
Norm led the local residents group for 40 years and was involved in stopping a destructive road project and a project to dredge the creek. He He campaigned against expansion of the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor and initiated precinct committees in council.
He was active in the Nuclear Disarmament Party, the NSW Greens and in his later years joined the Socialist Alliance.
Norm was active in the Woronora Life Saving and River Patrol Club for 83 years. He served as a volunteer in the Woronora Bushfire Brigade and was involved in bush regeneration care at Forbes Creek, east of Canberra and Crescent Creek, south of Sydney.
Norm’s son, Roy, listed Norm’s qualities. “Poems: Norm loved poetry and could receive Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson. Every campaign had a poem: the Road, Nuclear waste, sand mining, Holsworthy airport, mega tip. As each of his grandchildren was born, he had a poem ready for them too.
“Political: In Norm’s formative years Australia was emerging from the Great Depression. Woronora was a poor, working-class area, a hotbed of political ideas. There were communists, socialists, unionists, environmentalists and internationalists. His commitment to working class ideas continued till the end. The first thing he wanted in hospital was his Green Left.
“Protests: Norm loved a good protest and, since the 1960s, there have been many causes. Anti-war Vietnam and Iraq, peace rallies on Palm Sunday, nuclear disarmament, Franklin River, forest logging, Aboriginal rights and May Day. He took us kids. It was good for the numbers!”
Genevieve Kelly, a former Sutherland Shire councillor and mayor, worked with Norm in the Valley.
“Lucas Heights nuclear reactor used to put radioactive waste into the waterways and there were massive demonstrations against this. We won, but they [ended up] putting it out near Cronulla.
“Norm’s politics anchored him in what was right, what was wrong and what the capitalists were up to. He was an inspiration to the community.
“Stopping the road was a huge fight,” Kelly said. “Lots of people were in favour of the road, but our side prevailed. It was eventually designated bushland to protect the wildlife corridor.”
Kelly said they worked closely with the local First Nations peoples. Together with Norm’s daughter Marelle, who was married to Woiworrung and Yorta Yorta man Burnum Burnum, they forced a change to the sign at the site of Captain Cook’s invasion.
Norm’s memorial on Woronora River was ringed by anti-corporate caravan park signs. It heard from a range of speakers including: Uncle Max Djarla Dulumunmun Harrison, an elder of the Yuin Nation and Norm’s son-in- law; Steve Simpson, Mayor of Sutherland Shire and councillor Peter Scaybrook; and Lisa Monahan, Bruce Whiting, Greg Skinner and Robert Maher from the Woronora Valley Residents Association.
Cathy Reynolds from the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre spoke about Norm’s environment campaigning. Roz Grey from Royal Life Saving Society reflected on his work and friends Jane Costello, Yasmin Tillet and Christine Dale also spoke.
While self-effacing, Norm was nonetheless given many awards: the Hughes community award and the NSW community service award in 2002; an Order of Australia Medal for community work and an honourable mention for his conservation work in the Sutherland Shire in 2003; life membership to the Royal Life Saving Society Australia in 2008; and a NSW Community Service award in 2020.
As Norm was known for reciting the popular Latin America chant, “A community united shall never be defeated”, it was repeated by many friends at the memorial.
Norm’s community campaign has helped Woronora become the empowered community it is today. The dynamic leader, affectionately known as the unofficial “Mayor” of Woronora, is survived by his wife Betty, six children and 21 grandchildren.
[Show your support for Norm's work by contacting the Save Woronora Facebook page.]