Tom Farrell – a powerhouse of a man

A book to be released this month explores in detail the extraordinary the life of Rolf Everist (Tom) Farrell, who worked tirelessly for the benefit of the Hunter for over five decades. His extraordinary work helped shaped the destiny of many people living in Newcastle and the Hunter region.

A Powerhouse of a Man, Tom Farrell: a community champion, by Christopher Mooney, details Farrell’s work in the foundation of the University of Newcastle and contribution to the success of other key institutions, such as the Newcastle District Abattoir and the Greater Building Society. Farrell also advanced the protection of significant green areas in and around Newcastle, including Blackbutt, Green Point and Mount Sugarloaf.

Early in his life Farrell worked prodigiously with a cooperative of non-profits to help people from low income families own their own homes. This body of 33 societies, allowed for the absence of the requirement for a sizeable deposit and the allotment of loans by ballot to make home-ownership a reality for many who otherwise would never have a hope with the conventional banking system. Farrrell was so committed by the movement of innovative home ownership funding practices that he even provided venture capital from his own funds. The society grew, in part under Farrell’s stewardship, to become the Greater Newcastle Permanent Building Society and Farrell continued board responsibilities right up to his retirement in the early 1990s.

Farrell understood the community need for a regional tertiary education facility in the Hunter. Students aspiring to graduate studies had to relocate to another city or travel to Sydney, incurring expense from the hip pocket and time.  In early 1950, Farrell, alongside a group of others (that included his sister and brother-in-law, Mabel and George Whiley) developed a proposal for a Newcastle University College and began exerting pressure on the NSW government for its establishment.

A formal committee was established however Farrell declined an invitation to be part of the executive so that he could be free to engage with anyone outside the group to assist in getting the proposal adopted without allegiances to any one group or those with special interests. This was a strategic move that meant much of Farrell’s contribution was not recorded, however Mooney presents official involvements in a way that recognised the ‘invisible’ contributions Farrell made to advancing the cause.

The Minister for Education, Mr Bob Heffron, initially rejected the idea, unconvinced the Newcastle region would attract significant numbers. However, the idea of a university college grew more popular with the Hunter community and under pressure in the lead up to the 1953 state election, Heffron announced that the Government would inaugurate university courses in Arts and Economics at the Newcastle University College at the beginning of 1954. The courses would be taught by staff from the University of Technology in Sydney with the University of New England providing the syllabus.

While it was far from the Farrell’s dream of an autonomous university for Newcastle, he felt this provided a suitable starting point to the establishment of the region’s own university. In 1965 Farrell finally realised his dream when the University of Newcastle was established as an autonomous institution.

Throughout A Powerhouse of a Man, Tom Farrell are examples of Farrell’s modest disposition where he acknowledges the contributions of many community supporters and his family. Like many great leaders, Farrell is likened to the conductor of an orchestra, guiding projects that helped create an enhanced life for many people of the Hunter.

Meet the author, Christopher Mooney, at the book launch of A Powerhouse of a Man, Tom Farrell hosted by the Tom Farrell Institute.

Where: The Atrium, IDC Building, University of Newcastle, Callaghan (see map)
When:  Thursday 30 July
Hours: 6pm for 6:30-8pm
RSVP: by 17 July to Naomi Keenan e: or 4921 8699

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