Thirroul teacher loses her cancer fight

 Cate Wilson was a spokeswoman for those opposed to the Sandon Point development.
Cate Wilson was a spokeswoman for those opposed to the Sandon Point development.

Every door was open for Cate Wilson; the daughter of two doctors, born to privilege and a more-than-proper education.

She might never have saddled herself with much, but instead she sought out the overburdened, knew their plight, and for decades shared their load.

Ms Wilson, a community activist and long-time advocate for the deaf, died on Saturday at her Thirroul home. She was 64 and had succumbed to metastatic breast cancer.

She and husband Eric Alexander moved to Thirroul in 1980 and, from within the Thirroul Action Group, helped change the zoning that might have otherwise turned parts of the seaside village into a miniature Gold Coast.

She was a skilled orator and one of the key members of the community who took Stockland to the Land and Environment Court over its development plans for Sandon Point.

She helped to man the community picket, lobbied councillors and government, attended meetings, painted thousands of signs, and acted as spokeswoman for those opposed to the development.

The newspaper-reading general public saw only her serious side - reports of her activism and her stern, expertly reasoned letters to the editor.

"While I certainly understand that councillors can't be everywhere, I think it is a pity that ALP councillors couldn't have sent a representative," she wrote in December 2000, about a public meeting at Sandon Point.

"They would have heard the stunning revelation made by Aboriginal Heritage Officer Roy Kennedy, about the significance of the 6000-year-old Aboriginal burial site, one of only three such sites in Australia. They would have felt, as we all did, what a responsibility we all have to protect and acknowledge this place."

But she was also warm, well travelled and good company; had a quick wit and could become especially amused by things pompous and absurd, her husband said.

"She was just really quick to see anything ludicrous and ridiculous and it would crack her up for ages," Mr Alexander said.

"We'd giggle until the tears were streaming down our faces."

Ms Wilson was born and raised in Launceston and studied English literature at university.

She had a brief teaching appointment at PLC Pymble, but later taught at Berkeley High School, Smith's Hill High School and Kanahooka High School.

She became a mother to son Nicholas when she was 38. It was when pregnant with her second son Stephen, that she made the transition to deaf education at Wollongong TAFE.

She got her masters in deaf education, learned sign language, and came to know well her students, often mature, intelligent women who had never been given the chance of a decent education.

Funding for the program was always under threat and the work demanded lobbying, out-of-hours advocacy, passion and deep involvement.

The granddaughter of famed architectural artist William Hardy, she might have made a living painting.

She loved France and would borrow the techniques favoured by Cezanne, Picasso and Monet. She was forever painting the Illawarra coastline.

Relatives and friends will farewell Ms Wilson at a funeral service at C3 Church in Thirroul on Friday, from 2pm.


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