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Immersion learning. If there’s one way a non-politician, elected mayor of his home town in his first tilt at public office, who happens to be a lifelong surfer, is going to figure out the city’s top job, it will be by diving right in. As the latest step of Chris Homer’s odyssey led him to the mayoral robes in Shellharbour, the political novice is out to show leadership doesn’t require party ideology or individual ambition. Instead, he plans a kind of leadership drawn from his time in the waves: spiritual, in the moment, driven by a willingness to put the ego aside. He admitted being sworn in as mayor brought a “wonderful” sort of a disbelief. Read more: Love and respect flow as union legend Fred Moore passes away at 99 “That I’ve actually pulled off, you know, the unwinnable election, but coupled with that, there was just a real feeling of gratitude,” Homer told Weekender. “I was quite humbled for it – you know, I’ve been chosen by the people to lead. I was feeling just quite blessed, and privileged to be given the role to lead people into a better tomorrow.” If a suit on a surfboard makes for a strange picture, Homer doesn’t see it that way – while making it clear his surfing life informs the rest of his actions. “People elected me and I built a profile on community, environmental activism, and the people know me as I am. I come from a certain background and frankly, that background has really helped me to be in the position that I am today – dressing as a surfer as well. “And look, the surfing world now has got plenty of classy gear in it, and I’m going to still retain that identity of a surfer that’s being put in a privileged position, a position that holds more power that I’ve previously had to really make decisions in regards to this community that really needed to be made.” While he may now “elevate the class” of his surf wear, identity isn’t just about clothes. Now 54, Chris Homer was born in Shellharbour, the youngest of five boys to parents who migrated from Sheffield, England – “from steel town to steel town”. “I thank them for having the courage to move away from the family home in England … to a new country; essentially to give five boys [a] better life and a life in the outdoors.” As it would. Growing up in Barrack Heights and educated at Warilla High, Chris was a plenty capable student but, as many in the region can understand, his mind was on the surf break. Luckily, surfing was available as a sport subject. “I was just obsessed, obsessed by surfing and wanted to just get better all day, every day. Everything revolved around surfing. I think of Australia right now and all the surfing hot spots, and there’s hardly a better place than the Shellharbour coastline with all our breaks to develop that.” He became a sponsored “free surfer” – semi-professional, competing, supplied with equipment but not saddled to one company. It was all about saving money to get overseas, getting in magazines and videos, perpetuating the surfing life. A hat-trick of wins at Werri Beach and a strong finish at the Australian titles helped form his profile, and eventually the love of the waves led itself to activism to protect coastal environments – or as Homer described it, “sticking up for the public interest and the greater good, such as Killalea State Park and the national surf reserve”. Ask what values extend from surfing into civic leadership, and you may draw an answer unexpected from a mayor. “I think the values are about trying to remain centred in life and staying in the moment, which surfing really helps you to do,” Homer said. “There’s not many things better than surfing, other than structured meditation, that really take you in the moment. And when you’re in the moment, you can really get the best out of things.” It’s almost a spiritual approach to local government. “I’m not a religious man, but I regard myself as being very spiritual and I don’t mean that in an airy-fairy way. I mean that in a way that I really like to study the true nature of life, which helps make it the best out of life. “And it really helps me to actually stay centered, to work from a real space from the heart and not necessarily from the ego. And that’s what I want to bring into this leadership role, especially. When I make decisions from my heart, I really think it facilitates what’s best for the greater good, and that is the public interest itself. That’s where I like to stay adhering to spiritual principles and the laws of love, really helps me to do that.” The laws of love? What are they, Weekender had to ask. “The biggest one is, always work out what’s good for the many, not necessarily facilitating what’s good for the few,” Homer said. “There’s a lot of cause and effect: whatever I cause in this world, I will feel the effect. So try to do the good, always focus on the good and, what’s the most good for the public interest. “Every time we get surfing, for myself being in the environment and immersed in salt water, it really sort of facilitates that meditative state for me, where I can sit there and let go, putting the moment and it, to be honest, that’s where a lot of my great ideas are formed.” Homer, having worked as a mortgage broker, and run his own board-shaping business Chris Homer Creations, once divorced, without kids, lives in Lake Illawarra with his long-term partner Vikki. He’s not the kind of politician people are used to in a stalwart Labor region, and he’s proud of it. Alongside making the council process work across party lines, Homer nominates boosting the coastal city’s resilience to climate change as his priority first up. He surprised many with his victory, not the least former Marianne Saliba, who even in defeat was still openly saying she didn’t understand why he got so many votes. It appears the Shellharbour electorate warmed to a candidate who speaks more like a local surfer than like a politician. “No-one thought I could move an entrenched, rusted-on Labor leadership in Shellharbour LGA,” Homer said. “No-one else was prepared to stand up for it, throw their own money at it and throw their own time at it to have even the slightest chance of overcoming what was an incumbent entrenched Labor stronghold. “So that was my first gift to the community. Somehow I pulled it off. A lot of the feedback from the community was that the incumbent mayor at the time had a very polarising personality – people were either right behind her or right against her. And that’s something that I want to remove as well, because I want to bring in a leadership that is inclusive, equitable and non-partisan. There will be nothing coming from me saying now, if I helped you, that means you will run on that on the next election and maybe defeat me. I’m not concerned about that. “It takes away that partisan political thing from the community, and that enables the new councillors coming in. I want to enable all of them to do their specific jobs in their ward and everything they want done. “My job is to make everyone shine, and that’s councillors and council workers as well from the city. I would like to see everyone shine and I would like to see the public good because I just think that right now at the local level, even at the state and federal level, I just think the world needs good leaders.” Sign up for breaking news emails below:


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