Alan Nelsen, 25/6/1943 – 7/5/2023
THEY may not know it, but residents across the Mornington Peninsula are the beneficiaries of Alan Nelsen’s logical thinking, foresight and persuasiveness about community issues, planning and development.
An engineer, Nelsen kept a close eye on how developers and bureaucrats saw the future and if their views could help or hurt the peninsula.
If he saw problems with a particular project or plan he would carefully map out an argument to lessen its impact or be dropped altogether. This would be achieved through negotiation, written reports or submissions and recruiting allies to back his stance.
Alan Nelsen died at home on Sunday 7 May, soon after watching his beloved Collingwood defeat the Sydney Swans, 11.11 (77) – 6.12 (48).
The eulogy prepared by his family relates how on his wedding day (24 September 1964) Nelsen couldn’t help but tell his bride (as they stood together in the aisle) that the Magpies has lost the Grand Final to the Saints by one point. “Nancy was less than impressed because she expected Alan to say how beautiful she looked.”
News of Nelsen’s death spread quickly among members of groups dedicated to the welfare of the peninsula’s environment (built and natural) and its residents.
“I remember when I first met him, he and a couple of mates attended nearly every [Mornington Peninsula Shire] Council meeting in Rosebud. You require an enormous commitment to do that and sit there for three to four hours and listen to the sometimes dribble that emerges from the councillor’s debates,” Nepean Ratepayers’ Association president Colin Watson said of Nelsen, who headed the Mornington Peninsula Ratepayers and Residents Association.
“He loved his wife Nancy, telling me often that ‘he doesn’t know how she puts up with me when I become irritated and grumpy after dealing with ineffective councillors and council officers’.”
That initial meeting led to a long friendship and the first of many wins: the defeat of the shire’s plan to build an aquatic centre on the foreshore at Rosebud.
The most recent action taken by Nelsen and Watson was to call on the state government to inquire into the shire ‘s performance (“Ratepayers want inquiry into shire” The News 11/4/23).
Christine Haydon and Peter Avery of the Peninsula Speaks community organisation issued a joint statement describing Nelsen as “a tireless advocate” for peninsula residents and ratepayers … a person who truly cared about our precious peninsula”.
“He wrote extensive submissions to local government ministers and organisations … all done with the thoughtfulness and logic of his engineering training. Everything was done with grace and consideration.”
Fellow “council watcher” Stuart Allen said Nelsen was “one of the most honourable people that I have dealt with, both professionally and personally”.
“I will miss out chats and catch ups and, in particular, that unique laugh that he had when a subject matter tickled his sense of humour.”
Former shire councillor Hugh Fraser said Nelsen had “a keen eye for common sense good governance, council procedure, the democratic traditions of local government and what was right and good”.
“As a councillor, I quickly understood that the depth of his knowledge of council and management politics in the Mornington Peninsula Shire, and his opinion was to be respected.”
Leigh Eustace, also a former councillor, said Nelsen had been “a great friend and someone of absolute trust and integrity second to no one”.
“The service that Alan has performed for peninsula residents over many years has made a tremendous difference to town planning and council integration, whether it be council finances, planning or project examination,” Eustace said.
“Another warrior falls who has made a real difference.”
David Lines, of the Tyabb and District Ratepayers’ group, said Nelsen was “a true gentleman who loved life and his family” who would be “sorely missed on the golf course as a partner and a friend”.
Born in Richmond, Nelsen spent his childhood living with his parents and grandparents in Northcote.
From his teenage years on he played football and cricket and trained as a civil engineer, eventually staying 29 years with the then Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works. He was recognised as an expert in tunnelling and worked on the Bell’s Portal Tunnel which carries water from the Thomson River dam to the Upper Yarra dam.
He was awarded a scholarship to study tunnels in Europe and, when aged over 40, completed a master’s degree through the Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara, in the United States. He went on to graduate from Fielding as a doctor of philosophy in human and organisational systems.
After working in his own consultancy, Alan and Nancy Nelsen retired to McCrae “where the fun begins”, according to his family’s eulogy, “taking “a great liking to antagonising the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council in matters such building heights, pool on the foreshore, bus timetables and lack of transparency by the shire”.
“Alan as the born leader he was, he would rally the troops across the Peninsula and Heathmont to take nine complaints to VCAT winning eight – almost a 100 per cent strike rate.
“At the same time that this was all going on Alan tried very hard to score that elusive hole in 1 at the Village Glen and Ringwood golf course with his golfing buddies.”