Deakin Branch Vice-President (Academic Staff), Michael Callaghan, pays tribute to former NTEU Deakin Branch President and long-standing union activist, Don Swanson, who passed away last month.
Don Swanson joined Deakin University in 2002, having previously worked in (High School)
Education for many years. He immediately became an active member of the NTEU Deakin
(Warrnambool) Branch having previously been involved in the AEU. (Australian Education
Union). He was a proud Union activist and served as both Branch President, Branch
Committee member and staunch unionist during his time at Deakin. Alas like many, Don fell
victim to one of Deakin’s many (some would say ongoing) workplace restructures in 2013.
During Don’s 10+ years at Deakin he achieved many things, not least of which included a
successful STALG (Strategic Teaching and Learning Grant) and an Award winning textbook.
He was always at the forefront of teaching, particularly when it involved engagement of
students, and was often seen roaming the halls in Warrnambool with his Banjo – using music
as a way to invigorate and entertain students, often achieving 100% on Teaching
Satisfaction measures. On the activist front, Don was always first on the picket line and last
off, with many having fond memories of Don and his banjo, leading activist ballads whilst
picketing the front drive of the Deakin Warrnambool Campus. Don was very proud of his
Union involvement and work with the NTEU and was, in no small way, a key influencer in
many of the fights that have been fought over his time and since. He always put others first,
was always enthusiastic, always put others needs ahead of his own, and (most
importunately) always wanted others to learn from his experiences – both good and bad.
Above all, he was a great friend to all those he met and a great wit against those he chose to
In Don’s own words:
After 71 glorious years of living, Don has ‘cashed in his chips’ and quit the game. Don has
worked as a clerk, cleaner, caddy, self employed landscaper, dish pig, prep chef and chef. He has worked in the kill room of a small family abattoir and did roofing as well as carpenter for the Illinois State Museum. He is best known as a Warrnambool College English, music, guitar, and cooking teacher, active unionist, Deakin University Lecturer, author and environmentalist. He has brightened up many events as a musician playing with No Excuses, a country band, with Paddy Lie Back an Irish band with Brewer’s Own, a bush band and in many an Irish session. Along with his surf lifesaving and environmental activities, Don helped the Warrnambool and District Foodshare become ‘part of the furniture’ of Warrnambool’s social consciousness by being its CEO during a crucial transition period and being on its board of directors for many years.
He leaves behind his beloved wife Terry, son Michael, granddaughter Eve, and three
wonderful sisters Debbie, Patti and Lori, their children as well as friends and thousands of
students who have been touched by his sincere care for them, sense of humour, and ability to find their gift and help them let it grow.