Mr Paul Couvret

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SpeakersO'Dea Mr Jonathan
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      Mr JONATHAN O'DEA (Davidson) [5.06 p.m.]: I speak in honour of Mr Paul Couvret of Belrose in the electorate of Davidson. Recently Paul was honoured by the Manly Daily as one of the 100 top contributors over the past 100 years in his local area, along with the local Federal member of Parliament, Bronwyn Bishop. Paul Couvret was a member of the Dutch Navy when he was taken prisoner of war in the Indian Ocean on 8 March 1942 at age 20. He was subsequently transported to Nagasaki in October 1942. On 9 August 1945 Paul Couvret was working in the docks when an atom bomb exploded some six kilometres away. He dived under the ship and was protected from the flying debris.

      He was then moved to Okinawa for a week before being transported, weighing only 44 kilograms, to Manila, where he spent three months. He was then repatriated to Holland after 18 months whilst serving in the Dutch Navy. At the end of 1945 he returned to Australia for six months to assist with the evacuation of prisoners of war from the East. The wharfies in Melbourne and Sydney black-banned the Dutch ships and he was detailed to load ships in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. The wharfies then lifted the ban on loading Dutch ships and he returned to Holland.

      Paul Couvret's mother and father were killed during the war and he applied to live in Australia. He spoke four languages and in February 1949 arrived at the Cowra Migrant Centre, where he met his Hilja, who was to become his wife. They were both teachers and they taught the new migrants. They married in 1951 and had four sons. Paul taught at Cowra High School before moving to Lithgow and then to Sydney where he bought a house in Frenchs Forest in 1966. Paul then taught at Balgowlah Boys High School before being promoted to the role of deputy principal at Blackfriars Correspondence School, which had 400 teachers and about 40 clerical staff.

      Whilst in Cowra, Paul was a member of Apex and he joined the Apex organisation in Sydney and became a district governor. He then joined Frenchs Forest Rotary and was the founding member of Belrose Rotary Club. He was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship and later a Sapphire Paul Harris Fellowship. Paul became a Warringah shire councillor in 1973, served until he retired in 1995, and was the shire president from 1979 to 1984. During his term as a councillor he oversaw long-term planning, which was very much an innovation in those days.

      In 1998 Paul was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for services to local government, community and the services. He is also on the Order of Australia Medal Committee. Paul received the Centenary Medal in 2001. He is also the President of the Dutch Australia Association. This is of special interest to me as Holland was the birthplace of my mother. Recently Paul and Hilja were invited as special guests to have lunch with the Dutch Prime Minister and Prime Minister John Howard in Canberra. Paul is a fellow of the Australian Council of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and has assisted in the provision of facilities for various sports in Warringah. He was on the executive of the Local Government Association and was also its vice-president. He was a member of the Airport Consultative Committee, which recommended Badgerys Creek as the second Sydney airport and he was also on the committee that recommended the third runway to be built at Sydney airport.
      Paul spent a great deal of time and energy on the Northern Area Health People's Committee that recommended the building of a new hospital at Frenchs Forest, which we look forward to being built as promised. Paul has also been president of Wakehurst Public School and Davidson High School parents and citizens committees, and president of the Forestville Youth Club, all in the local area. Paul is extremely busy every week speaking about Nagasaki and promoting peace and the abolishment of nuclear weapons. Paul has dedicated his life to the community, by way of teaching and community service, and the interests of Dutch returned soldiers. People in the Warringah council area and in the electorate of Davidson are truly grateful to have such a distinguished and dedicated person as Paul Couvret as a member of their community. I congratulate Paul on a lifelong achievement of true community service to his neighbours. I am delighted to call Paul a constituent of Davidson.