Honouring the legacy of Mandy Press



Mandy Press (1947-2013)


On Sunday 13th October, we will remember the life and passion of the indefatigable and incandescent Mandy Press.


Mandy died in her sleep on 1 October 2013 at home at Yarambat, Victoria.


Mandy’s husband, Gerry Morris, provided this obituary.


Mandy was born in on 7 December 1947 in Brighton, and apart from three years working in New York, lived in Melbourne all of her life.


After training as a Social Worker at Melbourne University where she was inspired by the lectures on urban history and renewal (from Professor Renate Howe) she worked with disadvantaged people at the Clarendon clinic, and then at a centre for disturbed children in New York. She was a founding staff member of the Brotherhood of St Laurence’s experimental Family Centre Project under Connie Benn.  She then became a lecturer for the new Social Work degree course at the Phillip Institute (now RMIT) for 8 years — working with Viv McCutcheon and Wendy Weeks.   Each of these women demonstrated their vision and commitment to human justice through advocacy in the demanding of society equity and justice and introducing women’s studies.


Mandy’s focus then switched to policy, planning and community development through action research in local government.  She was foundation Director, Community and Cultural Services (1984-94) at Eltham Shire, including a brief period when she swapped roles with the Chief Engineer to create new approaches to resident issues.


Mandy then moved to the City of Port Phillip as a Senior Manager specialising in the `wicked’ problems which confound policy makers. “Sex, drugs and  parking” was her description of one part of her role.


Mandy managed the Port Phillip council’s community housing program for eight years and was involved in establishing 120 community housing units through four different projects, all of which were hotly contested. She wrote her Master’s thesis: Planning contested ground: place, voice and governance in local government planning – based on this experience (Melbourne University, 2009).


Professor Carolyn Whitzman (Urban Planning Melbourne University) remembers her thus:


When I first met Mandy Press, soon after my arrival in Australia in 2003, she was already sick with the cancer that would take her life. She was presenting at a conference on community safety, and her story of the transformation of Talbot Reserve was an immediate inspiration to me. Talbot Reserve is a small park, cialis generique adjacent to the National Theatre in St. Kilda. As Manager of Neighbourhood Development for the City of Port Philip, Mandy could have responded to concerns of some residents about alcohol use and prostitution in the park by bringing in police, increasing lighting, installing CCTV, or some other simplistic and ultimately ineffective approach.


Instead, and with the help of Andrea Cook of Red Road Consulting, she took the difficult option of treating everyone as having a legitimate voice. Together, the representatives of the `parkie’ and sex worker residents, along with other residents, worked out a partnership approach that sought to decrease anti-social behaviour while improving social inclusion. Today, Talbot Reserve is not without problems, but it is a much more used and loved public place. That was typical Mandy.


Mandy left full-time work in November 2005 to pursue a more relaxed lifestyle on 5 acres of bush — part of the Plenty Gorge Park at Yarrambat. This included writing her thesis, being a custodian of the flora and fauna on her (temporary) land, further research and writing, constant activism on local issues and singing in the local Hurstbridge community choir – the Chocolate Lilies – for which she always arrived late.


Mandy was co convenor of the Nillumbik Women’s Network, a local advocacy group which aims to further the interests of women through local action and working against violence to women.   One much loved project was the documentation and publishing of the stories and achievements of hundreds of local women.


Mandy was awarded the Selena Sutherland International Women’s Day award on 13th March 2013.


Mandy was honest about her struggles with cancer, but always maintained she was not a victim and was not “fighting it”.   At the onset of her third bout she said: “Well, I’m definitely dying this time, but the good news is, I’m not depressed about it”. Like Dorothy’s companions in Oz, she sometimes doubted her possession of a sharp mind, a big heart, and the courage of a lion. But she did possess that remarkable trifecta, and that is what made her an effective advocate for people’s rights to justice, consideration, housing and public space.


Mandy is survived by Gerry (Kevin) Morris, her loving and loved husband of 42 years, siblings Jeremy and Georgina, children Morgan, Magnus and Tilly, grandchildren Zoe, Atlas, Imogen and Phoenix, in-laws Brian and Renate Howe, best friends, including Gay Bilson, Tracey Naughton, Viv McCutcheon and Susie Forbes, and her beloved multi-doodle, Miffy.


Mandy was a strong-willed and determined person. She was still planning projects and research even as her body collapsed. She will be missed by the many friends, colleagues and organisations to whom she was a constant inspiration.



I have my own recollections of Mandy.


My first encounter with Mandy Press was in the late 1980s, working together (with the late Kevin Taylor) to develop a new plan of for Eltham Town Centre. She was a gorgeous, red-haired, dynamo with a strong “alternative” streak and flowing, silky clothes. She became my client again at the City of Port Phillip, as Kelvin Walsh and I co-designed with her a manual of community engagement processes. I had never met such a passionate and collaborative manager! I know that the Kennett years almost broke her heart. She told me it nearly killed her to have to ask her librarians to tender for their jobs. And she felt that one cause of her cancer might have been her anguish at having to do things — as a manager — that she did not believe in.



I reconnected with Mandy and spent a number of memorable evenings with her – and Gerry – in Melbourne, hearing about her creative exploits and marveling at her ability to “soldier on”.


Mandy’s approach to her illness was to keep it from getting in the way of her life – or her friends’ and family’s relationships with her.


So she danced the last steps of her remarkable life to the fullest – savouring the last drop of her life.


And we all delighted in dancing with her.



A memorial gathering for Mandy will be held at the Eltham Community Centre, 801 Main Road, Eltham at 2 pm, Sunday 13th October.  


All her friends and colleagues are welcome.


Let’s give our “darling girl”, our beautiful Mandy, the send-off she deserves!





What’s best practice in community engagement?

July 9, 2009 at 12:45 pm


Braybrook stories Andi facil sandbox 6crop

The other day I went to a local community workshop in my small rural village. The topic is not important for my purposes and it’s not my intention to embarrass anyone.


Rather I want to make a point: there’s more to community workshops than a conversation at tables, participants scribbling down a few ideas and facilitators writing down a few points on some large sheets of paper.





Going over old ground


In our local workshop, a group of community members and some professional advisors sat around for three hours going over old ground.


I thought: what if the consultants had summarised all that “old ground” (previous plans and policies) and given us an updated summary to work from.


“Nobody else complained”


Subsequent conversations with one of the facilitators yielded the comment that “nobody else complained.” Omigod! How often do we hear that in community engagement? Yet we well know that “not complaining” does not equate with “satisfaction”.


That conversation reminded me of another local conversation a couple of months ago, this time with a municipal officer in my own local council, who said that their “peer review” of their draft community engagement policy had confirmed that “children and young people are not our customers.”


I had smoke coming out of my ears after THAT conversation.


(re)visioning Footscray


That got me thinking about my friend, co-author and colleague, Andrea Cook of Red Road Consulting in Melbourne (see: www.redroad.com.au). Andrea went over old ground, all right, for the (re)visioning of Footscray in Maribyrnong, Melbourne in 2004.


See: https://www.maribyrnong.vic.gov.au/Files/Final_Executive_Summary_Revisioning_Footscray.pdf


We called the Footscray planning and community engagement process “(re)visioning” for a particular reason.


The participants at the Footscray stakeholders’ workshop in 2004 were gobsmacked by the amount of tedious and thorough background work Andrea had done before she met with them.


“We are not going over old ground,” she exclaimed. With a hundred local people, I sat patiently through a good hour of detailed PowerPoint summary of over a dozen planning publications.


Everyone was completely satisfied that the consultants were up-to-date.


Then we moved on. With everyone satisfied that their earlier contributions had been acknowledged.


Here’s the PowerPoint presentation Andrea used in the workshop: Footscray Vision Consolidation Presentation 27-08-04


So many ways”¦


I am not proposing a “one-size-fits-all” solution to this borning workshop problem. There are so many ways to run an effective workshop, even a small, humble one. It need not be complex.


Prioritise your issues!


At one point, we were asked in the workshop to “prioritise our issues”. We had lists – each of us – that were jumbles of issues, concerns, policies, initiatives”¦ and we were asked to collectively prioritise them.


How hard was that?


Actually, quite hard. We had no tools, no props, no help”¦ Our attempts were unsystematic, apples sorted with pears, hierarchies ignored”¦ a real mess”¦ No weighting, no real content analysis was possible”¦


A sticky wall or some sticky dots would get us out of this sticky situation


I kept thinking that a few sticky dots – or better still, some Post-its and a sticky wall – would have made the whole thing a dream. They are not an expensive option. You can buy sticky walls as a kit online from leading Australian community engagement consultants.


See: www.twyfords.com.au/twyfords/Twyfords-our-store.html


Using some props would have made it much more fun, less frustrating, less boring, and much easier for the consultants to analyse the outcomes. And to analyse them using our community weightings and categories – without the intervening bias of the researchers.


Why don’t we use these simple tools?


Why don’t we use these simple tools, these practical props? They are not expensive, they require no “equipment” (or not much, anyway) and they are so much more fun that endless, formless, unsophisticated brainstorming and discussion sessions.


I’d be interested to hear your responses.


Visioning or brainstorming?


My other concern with my local workshop was that we were supposed to be “visioning” but hardly a “visionary” or creative word was heard.


I’ve written two chapters on community visioning in my forthcoming book, Creative Community Planning (with Dianna Hurford and Christine Wenman). It was helpful (if dispiriting) to be reminded that this sort of non-visionary “visioning” still occurs. This is a big topic on which I will write more later.


So I need to ask, where are our “facilitators” getting their training? Who is helping them learn about what’s available?


Asking two simple questions:


I’d ask: Can these practitioners be encouraged to act out of real care for communities? Real care might be asking two simple questions:

“What’s the very best we can do here in this community?”



How can we give something back to this community?”


There’s so much help out there to guide facilitators. So many hundreds of published and online manuals of methods and techniques. So many simple and creative tools that communities love.


“Oh dear, here come the butcher’s paper and the felt pens.”


It used to be said, “Uh, oh, here come the plans!” about community engagement.


Now, it’s, “Oh dear, here come the butcher’s paper and the felt pens.”


There has got to be more to community engagement – and visioning – than that!



  1. Hassan
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:33 pm |

    Please send me a power point presentation of this wonderful material on best practices in community engagement skills

  2. Posted April 16, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Dear Hassan:
    Let me know exactly what you are after and I can send it to you.
    Kind regards,