21 September 2022

Vale Peter Knox - champion of the underdog

| Oliver Jacques
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Bob Hawke and Peter Knox.

Peter Knox with his idol, former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke. Photo: Supplied.

Much is written about today’s breed of political class, who morph from student politics to parliamentary staffer jobs without ever being exposed to the real world.

Peter Knox, a 50-year Labor Party member and former Riverina election candidate, was the polar opposite. He spent decades working as a labourer and painter, fought for worker safety on the frontline of the union movement, before devoting his retirement to championing causes for the most disadvantaged groups in the Riverina.

Mr Knox sadly passed away on Wednesday, 14 September 2022, aged 82, following a long battle with vascular and heart problems. All are welcome to attend his funeral at Griffith Exies Main Club at 10 am on Friday, 23 September. His family imagine that on Saturday their patriarch will be sitting in heaven alongside his idols Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam, watching his beloved Sydney Swans in the AFL grand final.

Region spoke to Mr Knox in August, when he was excited Labor’s newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was about to become the first sitting head of government to visit Griffith in the town’s 106-year history. Although illness prevented him from meeting the PM in person, Albo made special mention of the local Labor stalwart at the Bush Summit he addressed, thanking him for all his hard work for the party over many years.

READ MORE Albanese to be first sitting PM to visit Griffith

“No Liberal prime minister has ever come to Griffith,” Mr Knox told Region. “But I do remember seeing Gough Whitlam at the Yoogali Club in 1972 [when Mr Whitlam was campaigning to become prime minister]. Gough was so inspirational. That event was the reason I decided to join the Labor Party.”

Peter Knox

Peter Knox loved the Sydney Swans. Photo: Supplied.

Peter Knox was a graduate of the school of hard knocks. Born in Sydney in 1940 during World War II, he remembered being at his auntie’s place at Bondi when sirens went off for people to take shelter because Japanese submarines had entered the harbour. He grew up in the small Riverina town of Ardlethan as part of a Knox/Hoggard family, who have now lived in the Griffith area for five generations. At age 16, he got his first job at Webster’s Cordial Factory. He also carted wood, sowed wheat bags and picked fruit in his youth, before becoming a qualified painter and decorator.

“Dad went away to work when he was young, but would always send money home to his mum,” daughter Virginia Diaz said.

In the 1960s and 1970s, blue collar workers had few rights. Mr Knox would see his colleagues get injured and be left to fend for themselves, a situation he was determined to change. He soon took up the role of Municipal Employees Union representative, becoming one of the first voices in Australia to lobby for proper occupational health and safety laws.

He remained a strong force in the labour movement for the next few decades, the high point of which was his role as Labor’s election candidate for the seat of Riverina in 2007, when he was part of the Kevin [Rudd] 07 wave that swept Labor into power after 11 years in opposition. Although he didn’t win the staunchly conservative seat, he was proud of achieving a 5 per cent swing against the National Party incumbent.

Peter Knox with Labor supporters.

Peter Knox and his Kevin 07 crew. Photo: Supplied.

“He made my school friends and I all wear Kevin 07 T-shirts,” granddaughter Katie Luck said.

“All his life he just wanted to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.”

In retirement, Mr Knox championed a series of underdog causes. He campaigned for air-conditioning in public housing after noticing tenants struggle in Griffith’s sweltering summers. He pushed for increases in pension payments, more emergency accommodation for the homeless and better health services at Griffith Base Hospital. In 2018, Mr Knox celebrated a huge victory when a petition he launched resulted in a new weekly train service between Griffith and Sydney.

READ ALSO Griffith’s oldest resident Berta Johnstone celebrates her 106th birthday

“He was also really devoted to his family, he loved his grandchildren … Katie remembers when he took them to see the Sydney Olympics,” Ms Diaz said.

“Everyone around town will tell you that he has always been an absolute gentleman.”

Mr Knox is mourned by his only child Virginia Diaz and her husband Hugo, his grandchildren Katie Luck and Hugo Diaz, his great-grandchildren Violet and Camila Diaz and his siblings Mary Ann Corner, Stephen Knox and Kathy Hillsley.

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