The former New South Wales politician Ted Mack, who worked for much of his career as an architect but is best known for his trailblazing role as an independent at local, state and federal levels of government, has died at 84.
Often referred to as the “father of the independents,” Mack was an outsized figure in politics and public life, holding office more-or-less constantly from 1974 to 1996. In 1997, he became one of the National Trust’s 100 “national living treasures” following a public vote.
His family said in a statement that he passed away peacefully on 6 November, after being diagnosed with cancer in 2016. He suffered from a stroke in the week before his death.
Architect and City of Sydney councillor Philip Thalis, part of Clover Moore’s Independent Team, paid tribute to Mack, noting his work as an architect and praising his “extraordinary career of public service and exemplary ethical conduct.”
Mack graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of New South Wales in 1958. He worked on public housing and hospitals until 1974 and in private practice until 1980. After supervising the construction of the Port Kembla district hospital (1961–63), he was appointed as architect-in-charge of hospital design and construction at the NSW Public Works Department in 1966. In 1972 he was appointed as assistant chief architect at the NSW Housing Commission, and he would go on to advise on Aboriginal housing in remote parts of Australia.
The architect of the Sirius social housing project Tao Gofers praised his work in the public housing space. “Ted Mack started me on my journey to Sirius,” he told ArchitectureAU. “As the assistant chief architect for the NSW Housing Commission he recognized me as a kindred spirit and employed me as a design architect.”
Mack would carry his interest in housing and urban design through his political career, contributing to a sizeable works program at the local government level, and continuously advocating for better public transport and urban planning.
In his Walter Burley Griffin address in 1990, he discussed the intersection of architecture and politics. “In my view, the way a city looks and develops should be a function of its residents and their activities,” he stated. “That means the urban environment as a whole should reflect all the ugliness and nastiness, the altruism and nobility, the conflict and spontaneity that is the normal condition.”
Elizabeth Farrelly spoke about his commitment to the urban realm at North Sydney Council’s Ted Mack Oration in March 2017. “Ted Mack proposed a Jane Jacobs take on city planning – he wanted respect for the old, the slow the intricate and the organic, as well as all the other stuff,” she said. “He argued persistently and consistently for genuine public participation as being the only way of producing cities people would actually like, use and feel at home in.”
Mack was inspired to enter politics when the North Sydney Council approved the construction of a high-rise office building near his home and he was elected to that council in 1974. Mack went on become mayor in 1980, before entering state politics in 1981, unseating then-leader of the opposition Bruce McDonald in the blue-ribbon Liberal seat of North Shore.
After comfortably holding that seat in the 1984 and 1988 elections he was elected to federal parliament in 1990 as the member for North Sydney, another Liberal stronghold. He retired before the 1996 election.
Among those who have offered tributes to Mack are the independent mayor of Sydney Clover Moore, the former independent MP Tony Windsor, former treasurer Joe Hockey, who succeeded him in the seat of North Sydney, and the prime minister Scott Morrison.
Ted Mack’s family is inviting the architectural community and wider public to attend a public memorial service to celebrate his life at Luna Park’s Grand Ballroom in Sydney on Friday 30 November from 9.30 am to 11 am.
Mack’s daughter, Jenni Mack, said, “As tributes poured in, one thing stood out: comments from young people who in this era of desultory leadership have been inspired learning about Ted’s integrity in public life and practice of participatory democracy.
“Ted believed the public collectively would make better decisions than small elite groups and we would like to celebrate his life with the wider community who Ted gave voice to.”
Speakers at the public service will be James Weirick, director of the Master of Urban Development and Design program at the University of New South Wales; Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore; former independent NSW state government representative John Hatton; former independent federal MP Phil Cleary; and David Muir, chair of the Real Republic, the organization Mack directed during the Australian republic referendum.
Jenni Mack will give an overview of his life – personally and professionally.
To RSVP, head to the North Sydney Council website.