“Change frightens most people, people are scared of change”.

Mr Hilton Grugeon, the Member of the Order of Australia (AM), sits across from me in his boardroom at Hunter Land in Thornton, NSW.

“To me change is like the waves coming on to the shore. Sometimes they come in little ripples, scarcely discernible, other times they come in thumping big breakers and storms, but it’s all change. The only thing that’s certain is that it won’t stop”.

An oil painting

The building is modern, the furniture is practical. The boardroom table is made of laminated pine. On the wall hangs two paintings. One of Mr Grugeon, the second of Hunter Land CEO Graham Burns. The paintings were a gift from friends in the area. Grugeon chuckles. “They gave me that one (he points to his portrait), but they charged us for the painting of Graham”.

A portrait of Mr Hilton Grugeon. Photo by @longandco iPhone.

A portrait of Mr Hilton Grugeon. Photo by @longandco iPhone.

He continues affectionately; “No, it’s alright”, he waves his hand signalling he is happy with that arrangement. “The only thing that bothers me with my painting is they made the AM medals too large. You’re meant to wear your miniature medals with your dinner wear”. His eyes twinkle mischievously.

Mr Grugeon (“please call me Hilton, Mr Grugeon was my dad”) is a person most would describe as powerful. He has found himself close to significant events. From the first ever federal grant donated to a medical research building in Australia, to the nomination of local MP Jodi MacKay and the many re-elections of MP for Paterson, Bob Baldwin. He is called a friend by former Prime Minister John Howard.

A bleak view of Newcastle

I ask if Mr Grugeon is optimistic about the future of Newcastle. “I was”. He refers to the time when Liberal MP Tim Owen and Lord Mayor Jeff McCloy were the political leaders of Newcastle. “I’m not anymore”. I counter that this seems a pessimistic view considering the considerable change occurring in Newcastle at the moment. I use the University CBD campus as an example. I shouldn’t have.

“Oh yes” Mr Grugeon smiles. “I’m not sure how the university professors are going to feel about fighting for the 6 car spaces adjoining the new university building in town”. He goes on to describe how the university stipulated their requirements for the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) building during construction some five years ago.

Mr Hilton Grugeon. Photo @alexandramcintyre.

“The university people were involved in the building requirements for the new medical research building. You have to sit there with a straight face, you know. They would state: ‘A professor from the university has an office suite, a senior lecturer will have an office but no front desk’. We ignoramuses who were not from the university looked at them and would say ‘Sorry, we have a problem. This is a modern building, it will be open plan’”. He chuckles.

“Guess what? We got the professors to sit in open plan and it works so much better. It has broken down hierarchical structures and now you have a junior researcher able to approach a professor with a question”.  He rounds it off; “When people want to spend silly money like the bureaucrats do, you need to attempt to stop them”.

Coming back to the new university CBD building, Grugeon clarifies: “My point is, how are they ever going to come to terms with the allocated car parks when they have such high standards for investing with what is not their own money?”

New Space, our new university campus in Newcastle CBD. Photography by the University of Newcastle.

New Space, our new university campus in Newcastle CBD. Photography by the University of Newcastle.

People are scared of change

“Why is politics so important when we talk about a changing Newcastle?” I ask. The former lawn mower from Morpeth has experienced the power of politics from decades in business and working for charities. “We saw it when we changed from Labor to Liberal and when we got an independent mayor. We are currently living through the surge of change that was created with that political change. The current mob is standing still, which means in effect we will be going backwards in several years to come”.

“I’m coming back to my original point. People are scared of change. Even when we dip our toe in the water, say ‘that was nice’, we realise ‘oh that’s change’, and off we run away from it and back to what we always used to do! Even when Newcastle gets shown there is a better way, even when a better way stands up in our porridge, we are too dumb to understand it”.

“How we view change has a lot to do with how we view our whole life.  Some of us love change, to me change, the stronger it is the more exhilarating it is, you go out and surf the change. Progress is something I love talking about, I think it links to development. But development is a dirty word”.

He likens it to the old saying ‘The Vikings are coming, flee for the hills’. Today, he says, it is the developers. “That’s the other thing Newcastle rejects: leadership. Anyone who dares to lead, we cut him or her off real quick. You see, leadership might create change. And remember my first point, people are scared of change”.

Read the full blog series

Thank you for reading our interview with Mr Hilton Grugeon on a changing Newcastle. This blog post is part 1 of a 3-part blog series regarding the change in Newcastle. You can read the entire series by clicking the links below.

Part 2: EJE Architect’s view on a changing Newcastle.

Part 3: HUNTERHunter’s take on Newcastle’s rapid change.

About the photographer

Alexander McIntyre is a photographer of people and places. He has a background in commercial photography from Melbourne and the UK and has recently relocated home to Newcastle with his young family.

His beautiful portfolio can be found at alexandermcintyre.com.

Long & Co was privileged to work with Mr McIntyre for this photo series. His talent is notable and his manner equally so.

About Long & Co

Long & Co is a small brand and digital alternative to a big agency. We offer everything an agency does, without the overhead. We have a network of talent across Sydney, Newcastle and Byron Bay. We think and we do.

Looking to get your brand, strategy or new website right? Get In Touch With Long & Co

A selfie at a charity event with Mr Hilton Grugeon and Long & Co’s Cathrine Long