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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Patrick Nicol (Pat) Troy (1936–2018)

by Patrick Cornish

from West Australian

Canberra can be a tough gig for newcomers. It’s worthy, even venerable, and the autumn leaves are handsome, but it’s not known for fun. Unless you knew Pat Troy.

West Australians such as him have seen assignments in the city as “capital punishment,” especially in winter, but Pat’s exuberance could thaw any occasion. Having grown up in Fremantle and Perth, he settled in Canberra and was to spend 46 years at the Australian National University. “Emeritus Professor . . . one of the nation's great researchers and a true giant of this university. Engineer, planner of towns and transport, public servant ” is how he is being officially remembered. But so is the fun guy.

Colleague Jane Marceau has never been picked up and swung around quite so vigorously by anyone else. Pat dipped into the My Fair Lady songbook to adapt “Wouldn’t it be Loverly (sic)” for cheeky renditions such as, “All I want is a Chair somewhere, Sydney, Melbourne, I don’t care.” Legendary stuff, says Marceau. “He was a great tease, famously introducing me to all and sundry simply as the Pommy Professor.”

It’s possible that this indefatigable humour, not to mention irreverence towards authority, came from a boyhood clouded by lingering hardships of the Depression and by the wartime jailing, with hard labour, of his communist father for giving a fellow worker a copy of the party newspaper.

Patrick Nicol Troy was born on 22 January 1936 in Geraldton, first of five children of Mabel (nee Nielsen) and Patrick Troy, always known as Paddy. The couple lived in a frame roofed by hessian, at Youanmi, 120km south-east of the Mt Magnet gold mine where Paddy worked as a rigger. The residence was humble but the Troys were happy, surrounded by friends who “all helped each other,” as their first daughter, Hazel Butorac, recalled in her own memoir in 2015. However, his defiant stand on work safety, and organisation of a strike, after a rock collapse killed a co-worker, cost him his job.

By the time Pat started school the family had moved to East Fremantle. He and Hazel, attending the local primary, endured the wrath of students whose parents tolerated the Labor Party but took not at all kindly to children of a communist. Pat suffered verbal and physical abuse from fellow pupils at Fremantle Boys High. No wonder that wherever and whatever he went on to study in life, formally speaking, it was social equity that fuelled him forward. Nothing those classmates said or did hampered his progress. For the last two years of secondary education he won a place at Perth Modern School, after which he completed a degree in civil engineering at the University of Western Australia.

It was now time for horizons beyond Australia. In London, during further studies, he met Myra Stinchcombe, who became his wife. His work focussed on urban planning.

Historian and biographer Stuart Macintyre, who met Pat in Canberra in 1979 through becoming interested in Paddy Troy, says Pat aimed to plan cities to “integrate housing, transport, employment and social facilities in order to promote efficiency and fairness.” This was seven years after the election of Gough Whitlam’s ALP government had encouraged Pat to return to an Australia much more congenial to someone of his political persuasion. Settling in Canberra for the rest of his life, a new personal chapter eventually opened when his marriage ended and he became the partner of Sandy Mackenzie for 30 years.

Pat advised Whitlam on urban matters, wrote speeches for him and designed the Department of Urban and Regional Development. Pat’s Minister, Tom Uren, was among the speakers at the launch of Macintyre’s biography, Militant: The Life and Times of Paddy Troy. Pat, enjoying the occasion thoroughly, carried his father’s baton, showing constructive agitators that in the rough-house of life the combat is worth the candle. 

Pat wrote 15 books and many papers on cities, energy and water consumption. Most recently he was Visiting Fellow at the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, Adjunct Professor at Griffith University, Queensland, and Visiting Professor, City Futures Research Centre, Faculty of Built Environment at the University of NSW. An Order of Australia was among accolades.

Over the decades he made frequent return trips from the east to the State which had given him, but not his parents, the privilege of launchpad for an education. Sometimes he was in Perth for work. Sometimes it was to reconnect with family and roots traced back to a hessian-and-wood hut in the Murchison.

Pat Troy died on July 24. He is survived by Sandy, his daughter Sally and son Patrick, and three grandchildren; by sisters, Hazel Butorac and Barbara Watt, and brothers Laurie and John, a former MLA for Fremantle. 

There has been no shortage of people coming forward to slap the back of an unflinching believer. Pat’s friend of 67 years, Dr Max Kamien, recalls working alongside him, at 17, digging holes for pylons in the new Bunbury powerhouse. “He taught me about danger money . . . and about the concept of ‘the worker is worth his hire’. It was another 20 years until I earned as much as I was paid on that job.”

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Citation details

Patrick Cornish, 'Troy, Patrick Nicol (Pat) (1936–2018)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 May 2024.

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