'Mr Planning' - Gary Prattley celebrates 50 years of planning!

At the 2017 Planning Institute of Australia's Congress Gala Dinner in May, attendees celebrated the 50th anniversary of the PIA. Just as the Institute embodies the ideals of our industry, there’s one man in this room whose illustrious career also charts the story of Australian planning over the past 50 years - Gary Prattley. In fact, he’s a worthy contender for the title of ‘Mr Planning’.

It wasn’t always going to be that way.  Gary started off studying architecture but very quickly realised that was just too small scale for his liking. Why design individual buildings when you could be creating whole suburbs and communities.  Even whole cities.

So he switched enrolment to urban geography before going on to do a masters in town planning, allowing him to focus on the big picture and long-term thinking.  He was - and still is - interested in how cities take shape and grow.

When I say Gary is a big picture man, I should add, really really big picture.  He hasn’t just contented himself with one region, or even one state.  He’s covered the whole of Australasia. There’s a song which could well be described as the Prattley anthem: ‘I’ve been everywhere man, I’ve been everywhere.’

The lyrics include almost every town in the country.  I haven’t asked Gary if he’s been to Wollongong, Geelong, Kurrajong, Mittagong, Molong, Grong Grong, Ettalong, Dandenong, Woodenbong . . . and so on, but I’d almost be prepared to bet he had.

Gary has held almost every major planning and development position across the country.  There’s not too many people in Australia with a CV that could match his, or who have worked in so many jurisdictions. He’s had a huge influence in WA from a strategic planning point of view and in the setting up of Sydney’s growth areas.

I could list the executive roles he’s held, the boards he’s chaired, the significant legislation he’s helped introduce . . . but really, we’d be here forever.  His achievements are just too numerous.

And to be honest, they don’t shine a light on what is truly his most valuable skill.

In real estate, there’s the three ‘p’s’: position, position, position.  In property, we also have the three ‘p’s around which everything revolves. People, people, people.  It’s not just that urban development is really all about people.  It’s also that telling the story and creating the vision requires what’s called ‘people skills’.  And Garry is nothing if not a ‘people person’.

He’s an extrovert to whom others really respond.  He’s happy to sit down and have a conversation with anyone, no matter their age or background. He can inspire bureaucrats and developers, and he can corral senior people, having the hard, honest conversations needed in a political environment.

Of course, his favourite environment for conducting business is over a meal, in a restaurant.  This has earnt him the titles of ‘Sir Lunchalot’ and ‘Just another Reisling’.  Gary is a gastronome, and wherever he goes, he’s quick to seek out the best places to eat.  If you’re interested, Chez Pierre in Perth is a favourite, as well as some of the older Chinese restaurants in Sydney where the staff know him only too well.  Tap him on the shoulder if you need any tips about where to dine.

While he’s been instrumental in the growing of the country, he’s also played a major role in the growing of our company.  Though he only came to work with Macroplan for the first time 15 years ago, in a sense, you could say he was there in spirit right from the start.

Gary met Brian when he was the CEO of the Upper Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges Authority and Brian was a uni student putting the finger on him for some money.  It was 1975, and Brian had the bright idea to start an urban planning journal, but needed funding to print it.  When Brian cold called Gary, announcing he was the editor of Polis and wanted some sponsorship for publication, he received a sympathetic ear and a handout.  Without Gary, Polis may never have got off the ground or morphed into Urban Policy and Research, still published today and the only Australian peer reviewed journal in the field.

Fast forward from that introduction to 2001.  Gary is now Deputy Director General of Planning in Sydney, and Brian again picks up the phone.  Knowing the way to Gary’s heart, he invites him to lunch at Customs House.  Why don’t you leave your comfortable and prestigious government job and set up a Sydney office for me, asks Brian.  And that’s exactly what Gary does, hanging the first Sydney Macroplan shingle at the historic Rocks.

It’s in this role, that my own relationship with Gary begins.  When I joined the company, Gary taught me the ropes and mentored me into my current role as CEO.  I owe him a great debt of gratitude.  More than a professional guide, he has been a father figure to me.  We’ve shared digs and I moved into his house in Sydney when he left for Canberra to run the Macroplan office there.

In between his Sydney and Canberra gigs for us, Gary was tempted back to a government role, chairing the West Australian Planning Commission.  I think we only managed to entice him back to Macroplan because the Canberra job allowed him to live on his Gunning property where he runs a Murray Grey cattle stud.  Who knows what attracted him to the farming life, but the name of the property couldn’t have hurt.  It’s called ‘Chatelle’.  Apparently, the previous owner was inspired by the label on a bottle of brandy sitting on their table.  Now that would appeal to our Gary.

Gary’s zest for life is mirrored in his work.  He lives and breathes his professional roles and his approach is: it’s not a job, it’s your life.  Work is what gets him up early in the morning and he leaves no stone unturned.

He challenges people to think differently, and will put on his travel agent hat to take a group of Sydney developers over to Perth to show them around so they can see how things can be done.

His approach to planning and his belief in evidence-based decision making is completely aligned with Macroplan’s.  He has been part of the fabric of our business and of my own professional life.  I can’t remember a time he hasn’t been there.

Tonight, we are honouring his 50 years in planning.  Serendipitously, today is also Gary and Di’s 49th wedding anniversary.  Tomorrow they head off on a cruise to celebrate.  When the two made the move to Australia from New Zealand, where they met as students, Melbourne was to be the first stop before their overseas journey.  Well . . . that never happened.

Luckily for us, Australia snared his talents and turned a brief sojourn into a lifetime of service to the country’s development.

Does Di regret that those travels in their early married life were always domestic, and not international?  No, she says that Gary always considered her work and she was able to establish her own successful career as an occupational therapist.  ‘We never held each other back.  We always allowed each other to grow’.

But if there is one quibble, it’s this.  Remember I said Gary is a very big picture person.  He likes to leave the detail to other people.  In the office, that means he has a PA to rely on for the fiddly things.  But at home, well that would be Di.  As she says, he never knows where anything is.

He can’t see the towel for the town centre, or the hose for the new housing estate.  Well, he’s a planner, what do you expect.

Keep looking at that big picture, Gary.  The profession needs you!

Speech presented by Michael Tilt, CEO