By Kath Gannaway
Warburton resident John Ridley has been made a Member of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day Honours List announced today.
John has been recognised for service to the community of Melbourne in community development and arts organisations.
It is a long-standing and eclectic contribution which includes his current roles as convenor and chairman of The Melbourne Forum, chairman of the Australian Tapestry Workshop, and a board member of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and previous involvement in numerous areas including the Children’s Protection Society and the Zoological Board of Victoria.
His roots are in the Yarra Valley. His mother Ethel McLaren grew up in Powelltown where her parents had the general store.
Reconnecting with the valley in 1980, he and his late wife Trish had a weekend house in Warburton. They bought The Chalet nine years later and John said the dream they shared to re-establish the former guest house property as a tourism venture is still there.
It was about that time he also founded Clifton Consulting Group, the Melbourne—based communications strategy company of which he is principal – the work part of his work/life balance!
His membership of Warburton Valley CEDA (Community Economic Development Association) is a current addition to past involvement in local organisations including two terms on Upper Yarra Shire Council and serving on the Eastern Regional Planning Authority, the Dandenong Ranges Garden Trust.
John said his plans to become a lawyer took a different direction through his involvement in international student affairs at university.
“That opened my eyes to international relations and I decided I wanted to get into foreign affairs,” he said.
It was a good choice. After a couple of postings he became chief of staff to Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock.
Politics has been an enduring interest, he was president of the National Union of Australian University Students in the ‘60s and State Director of the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party from 1984 to 1987.
“I want to make a difference; want to contribute, want to learn, to pursue interests and I’ve been very, very lucky to have had terrific opportunities to do that,” he said in answer to what drives him in an already busy life to get involved.
The Australian Tapestry Workshop fulfils the desire to pursue his interest in textile art, and to learn.
As chairman, he was at the Shrine of Remembrance earlier this month for the unveiling of the Morning Star tapestry, commissioned by the ATW for permanent display in the Sir John Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux in France from April 2018.
The Melbourne Forum is a highlight in the ‘make a difference’ category. Pushing to have women admitted to the men-only Athenaeum Club of which he was a member, he and others came up against a brick wall.
It may have been a battle lost, but it has been a major advance in winning the war for equality.
He and other like-thinkers started the Melbourne Forum 10 years ago and it now has over 200 men and women as members.
Of the award, John said he was surprised, but delighted.
“I’m aware of so many others who are doing at least as much, if not more out there, who deserve recognition,” he said.
“One of the objectives of the Melbourne Forum is to encourage members to be change-makers, to do more, and while we still have a way to go, there is a growing number of examples where people are really pitching in and doing things to effect change.
“I’ll be looking around for people who deserve to be recognised.”