Ben passes the baton

Ben Buckley, of Benambra, has been a name synonymous with local government for over four decades.
Mr Buckley, now aged 84, has decided to retire as a councillor from the East Gippsland Shire Council and not re-contest for a position on the new council.
Mr Buckley has been a councillor for 29 of the past 40 years and is a popular figure among East Gippsland residents.
His legendary status saw him win an overwhelming majority at the 2016 elections to be catapulted into the first seat on the nine- member council.
To be the favored candidate over 38 other incumbents vying for a position made the victory even more momentous.
However, Mr Buckley has battled health concerns in recent times and believes the end of this fourth year as a councillor was an appropriate time to step aside and allow a new fresh group of councilors to be installed.
Mr Buckley was first elected to the former Omeo Shire Council in the early 1980s.
He served that council for seven years, including one year as Shire President, before being deposed and losing his seat.
Regaining it two years later, Mr Buckley served for another five years before the Omeo Shire was amalgamated into the East Gippsland Shire Council.
After a bit of a break from local government, Mr Buckley made a comeback to council with the East Gippsland Shire Council in 2003 and has managed to hold his seat since then.
He spent four months suspended in 2019 after he was found guilty by a three member panel of breaching the Councillor Code of Conduct.
A punishment he still considers unjust for disclosing supposedly secret council business.
Mr Buckley says administrations have been given too much control while the voice as the elected representative of the people has been suppressed.
A professional pilot, Mr Buckley told the Advertiser he stumbled into East Gippsland back in the 1960s spreading fertiliser in his Tiger Moth.
After meeting his wife-to-be, Mr Buckley settled down and started a family and remained in the area.
Mr Buckley says joining the Omeo Shire back in the 1980s was a bit like signing up to “an old boys club”.
“Some people referred to us as a little more than a poor man’s house of lords,” he said.
He says councillors usually came from established families in the area but he managed to break in by a small margin.
Mr Buckley says the job of a councillor has served him well, particularly during his retirement but now is the right time to step aside.
“I certainly will miss it, but at my age it’s a lot harder to keep up and I never was any good with laptops and stuff like that,” he said.
“You could perhaps describe me as electronically illiterate.”
When asked what he intends to do now he’s no longer a councillor, Mr Buckley quipped “get a life”.
He will have more time to spend flying his couple of planes.
Mr Buckley once flew his ultralight plane from East Gippsland to New Zealand’s South Island of Haast at the close of last century.
He had made the proper inquiries with Australia’s aviation authorities to receive appropriate customs clearance, but believes he was passed off as being a nutter.
Rigging up a fuel system to ensure he made the distance, Mr Buckley set off from Mallacoota and to the surprise of many made it across the ditch.
He was greeted by an astonished New Zealand customs official upon landing in Haast.
Reports of Mr Buckely flying planes under bridges in East Gippsland and dropping fertiliser on an oval while a football match was underway are legendary.
“There’s talk of that from time to time, but I’ve never been convicted of flying under a bridge,” he said.
Mr Buckley says while he is standing down, he believes people should continue to take an interest in local government and make their voices heard.
He is pleased to see his daughter, Sonia, standing in the forthcoming elections.

IMAGE:
Ben Buckley, pictured with his daughter, Sonia, is stepping down as a councillor in the forthcoming East Gippsland Shire Council elections after a 29-year career in local government.


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