FORMER Liberal Party leader and local mayor Alan Brown has been in public life since the age of 18.
And when he got the call to say he would be awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) with the Queen’s Birthday Honours announcements on Monday, he was “pretty chuffed”.
It’s for significant service to the vocational training and education sector, to philanthropy, and to the people and Parliament of Victoria.
“When I received the advice from the office of the Governor-General I was staggered,” Mr Brown said, adding that it was quite an emotional moment.
“It is certainly a great honour and I am truly humbled to receive this award.”
At age 18, he was appointed as the youth representative to the Wonthaggi Police and Citizens Youth Club. In the same year, he also started the Wonthaggi Car Club.
In 1970, Mr Brown was elected a councillor for the Borough of Wonthaggi. At age 23, he was the youngest councillor to stand in the region – a record that still stands today.
Many thought after the closing of the State Coal Mine, Wonthaggi would die. But Mr Brown, an enthusiastic young councillor, disagreed.
“I had great confidence that the town had a good future and if you give leadership, it can instil confidence in the community,” the former mayor of the Borough of Wonthaggi said.
“The lesson today, when we look back, is that of course this town was not going to die – it had a wonderful future which we’re seeing today.”
Mr Brown was born and bred in Wonthaggi, with both his father and grandfather coal miners in the town.
His proudest moment locally was including the area north of White Road, Wonthaggi, into the Borough of Wonthaggi.
“All of North Wonthaggi was in a neighbouring municipality. The Borough of Wonthaggi was supplying services like the library, swimming pool; a range of services which our neighbours were using but not contributing rates towards.
“I initiated a process to annex that northern part of the town of Wonthaggi. It was a very big issue in its day and our application to the State Government was successful.
“That created the wonderful town Wonthaggi now is; it was all in one municipality 20 years before amalgamations,” he said of the 1994 shire amalgamations, which saw the abolishing of the Borough of Wonthaggi and other councils, to create the Bass Coast Shire.
He spent 19 years in Parliament, including time as a local MP, leader of the Victoria Liberal Party, and portfolios in transport, housing, Aboriginal affairs and correctional services.
Mr Brown has since devoted much of his time on an honorary basis to charitable and philanthropic causes, which was one of the areas recognised in his award this week.
He was the founding chairman of the Bass Coast Community Foundation and Inner Northern Group Training, and is the chair of Apprenticeships Group Australia.
In the past, he’s chaired the Wonthaggi and District Co-operative Housing Society, and the Community Consultative Committee – Black Saturday Bushfire Appeal Fund, alongside a long list of other community roles.
His main driving passion in the past 17 years has been the employment and training of apprentices and trainees.
In 2001, he took on the role of chair of a small, Melbourne based not-for-profit company operating in this field.
Now known as IntoWork Australia, the company trains more than 60,000 apprentices or trainees nation-wide.
In fact, Mr Brown started his working life as an apprentice in Wonthaggi.
“I wish to provide to as many young people as I can, the opportunity to have the start to their working life that I had.
“All these young people need is a start and that is something which continues to drive me daily.”
Mr Brown says his wife Paula has always supported him.
“For her it has been a long journey, particularly when I was in Parliament and away for days on end.
“Paula almost raised our four children on her own and my family made many sacrifices along the way.
“I could not have achieved what I did without the support of my family for which I am most grateful. The same goes for many friends and supporters over more than 50 years in public life.
“My only regret is that my mother and father did not live to see this day. They would have been so proud.”
Two of Mr Brown’s sons are now heavily involved in community service locally. Julian Brown is a councillor with the Bass Coast Shire Council, and Aaron Brown is a councillor and deputy mayor with the South Gippsland Shire Council.