Running for Manly
James Griffin jumped onto my radar when I saw his social media post about upgrades to Brookvale Oval. Working hard to secure $33.1million to transform Fortress Lotto into a world class sports facility is great news for the Beaches, but what really grabbed my attention was when he was handed a footy in the middle of the hallowed turf and in full suit and tie, slotted a drop goal from 30m out.
With his current extra-curricular endeavour, completing a 96km virtual Kokoda Trail over 30 days to raise funds for Bravery Trek, I reached out to see if he wouldn’t mind me tagging along while he chalks up the km’s and we could have a tête-à-tête in between puffs and pavement pounding. “Sounds great, let’s do it.”
Check out their great work for veterans here: www.braverytrek.com.au
We set off from his office near the harbour, making our way past the throngs of Yummy Mummies and Dreamboat Dads picking up their progeny from Manly Village Public School. “I got into politics in a pretty bizarre way actually. During the celebrations for the closing ceremony of Sydney Olympics, back in 2000, I got pretty roughed up right here at Manly Beach and I thought no, security and safety here is a joke! I’m going to do something about this.” With a black eye and dogged determination, 17-year old Griffin went to the next Council meeting to give an impassioned speech about lax Manly safety. He impressed Council members with his strategic, common sense approach. Following that incident, he got deeply involved in local community groups. A few years later, it was one man in particular, Mike Baird, who told the then young James that if he wanted to make a difference, to keep fighting (politically, of course.) Keep fighting is what he did, helping pave the way to enhanced coordination and collaboration between local pubs, turning Manly Beach from one of Sydney’s most dangerous after dark places to the far safer location it is now.
Not originally from Manly, James’ parents both have military backgrounds. “It was a nomadic childhood, my parents being posted to army bases all over, but funnily enough, and I remember this vividly, in 1997 we caught the Manly ferry over one day and my parents said this is it, we’re going to live here.”
It’s precisely this issue, the ongoing status of our iconic Manly ferries, that’s seen James copping plenty of heat lately. “I love the ferries. Everyone loves the ferries. But a detailed study was done using Opal card data, and this is pre-Covid, which shows that despite the ferry’s 1,100 capacity, often times there may be less than 30 people on board. The thinking is to utilise Emerald-class ferries at those low-demand times and deploy the iconic Manly ferries in busier times of day and during the chaotic holiday periods. The Manly ferry isn’t going anywhere on my watch.”
As we make our way to the lookout atop Shelly Beach, what James says makes perfect sense, but it’s hardly the narrative that played out on talkback radio and social media. The story essentially taking shape that Manly ferries were going out to pasture ASAP. “I’m very lucky that my parents have different political perspectives to me. My mother is a passionate environmentalist. Politics is always up for discussion in our family. I rely on them to tell me honestly what storylines are cutting through in terms of the media they’re exposed to. And yeah, the fear of losing our ferries, that was made clear to me how the community was interpreting what had been said. It’ll take time to unravel that fear and showcase the plan.”
This raises the hot topic, an area that inspires even fiercer sentimentality and fear than losing the Manly ferries…koala killings. “No politician stands a chance against the claim they’re a koala killer. Those headlines will always fire people up. But the fact is, we’ve added over 270,000 hectares to NSW national park estate, well ahead of our target to increase that footprint by 200,000 hectares by 2021, allowing us to revise our goal upwards to add 400,000 hectares in total national park footprint by the end of 2022.”
We’re almost back to his office, lungs burning, calves aching, when James brings up an idea that I hope we can work together to bring to fruition. “I spend a lot of time with pensioners and veterans, incredible people, resilient, and something a lot of them are looking to do is create video content, make movies!” Are you kidding me? The prospect of creating a film festival to showcase screen stories told by seniors and veterans sounds irresistible, and I encourage every Tawny reader in that demographic to get writing scripts, practising shooting films on their phones or whatever, and perfecting their thespian skills. Let’s make this happen!
Our run is over and it's time to say goodbye. James leaves me with the kind, parting words any new magazine publisher would love to hear, “I’m pumped to get my copy of The Tawny Frogmouth mate! Can’t wait.”