New Zealand politican says her Denny childhood inspired her ideals

Casey at a pre-election event in New Zealand
Casey at a pre-election event in New Zealand
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For years it was said that Scotland’s greatest export was its people.

From the 17th century onwards, thousands of Scots decided – or in some cases, were forcibly told – that their lives would be best spent elsewhere. Entire families sailed from ports like Bo’ness, Greenock and Ayr to distant, often spartan settlements in far off places.

The Falkirk district was no exception, and the stories of American shipping magnate Robert Dollar and Canadian politician Tommy Douglas are well-known examples of Falkirk Bairns made good.

Today, many still opt to emigrate. The most popular destinations are now Australia and New Zealand. It was the latter that Cathy Casey moved to from Denny in 1987.

The 56-year-old has prospered in her adopted home and last week won re-election as a city councillor for Auckland, the largest urban area in the country, with a population of more than a million.

Cathy, a rising star in New Zealand politics, and a well-known voice on local current affairs radio and television shows, told The Falkirk Herald that it was her childhood in Denny that formed her political ideals.

“I developed my love for books from frequent visits to the old Denny library in Dryburgh Avenue,” she said. “The library educated me. In my political life I have always championed free access to libraries and community facilities. I understand what it means to be poor.”

Born in Kirkslap, the youngest of six children, Casey’s parents Rosa Ferrari and Jimmy McMenemy were weel-kent faces in the community. Rosa’s family owned the chip shop that once stood near Denny Cross, and Jimmy served as one of the town’s postmen - known locally by the nickname of ‘Wee Dimps’.

Casey has fond memories of growing up in Denny.

“In 1969, I was the second ever Denny gala queen. I can still recite the speech I learned - I thought I was just the bees knees riding around Denny in Princess Margaret’s landau drawn by two white horses.

“My enduring memory is of the safeness of old Denny. I was able to play in the street with my brothers and my friends, walk my neighbour’s dog for miles and spend summer holidays roving around Denovan and the Dunipace byways and “up the glen”.

“Like most Denny kids, I learned to swim very young with my brothers at the Red Brae in Fankerton. I was very aware of the dangers of the Black Lynn pool further up that same river, which claimed the lives of some strong swimmers. I was terrified to go near it in case I got sucked in.

“I was always sorry that Stirling Street was demolished (to make way for Church Walk) – I can still remember the names of all the shops on both sides of street.”

Casey’s decision to emigrate came after she received a job offer in New Zealand at a time she was eager to see more of the world. A former pupil at St Patrick’s Primary and St Modan’s High School, she was awarded a PhD in criminal justice and had began work as a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Strathclyde.

“I started looking overseas for academic work in the criminal justice area. In the end I was offered two jobs. One was at the New South Wales Police Acedmey and another at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. I decided on the latter.

“I had no previous knowledge of New Zealand, but I instantly loved it.

“I had also had enough of Maggie Thatcher and cold Scottish winters.”

It was two very different issues that inspired Casey to stand for election. One was the decision to privatise local services, and the other was dog leashes.

“In the early ’90s, the district council decided it was going to contract out all its services. I stood as councillor to oppose it and got elected. It really was dogs that got me to stand in Auckland. In 2003 the city council decided to review its dog access rules and it looked like many of the places previously available to dog owners for off-leash access would be removed. I had a little dog and was horrified. I formed an owners group called Dog Owners Auckland and lobbied the council hard for fairness.

“I already had nine years’ earlier experience as a district councillor so when people suggested I should stand for Auckland City Council I did, and in 2004 I was first elected. I’ve since worked full-time in my role as city councillor, it’s a huge job.”

Casey now stands as an independent after the demise of the Alliance Party - an amalgamation of various left-leaning political groups.

She says there are some subtle differences between politics in her new home country and back in Scotland.

“The New Zealand public is much more polite than the Scots. Last week, I was at a packed public meeting to protest against new plane flightpaths over a number of suburbs. There were 200 people there and very little heckling. That would never happen in Scotland - Scots are very good at making their discontent known!”

Away from politics, Casey enjoys photography and painting, and has published several books. She is also the patron of the Auckland Highland Games Association.

She lives with her partner Kees, who is originally from Holland, his two teenage children and her daughter Alex (22), who recently graduated from university.

The family are planning “an overdue” trip to Scotland.

“I love catching up with my extended family and friends in the Denny area, especially my older sister Rose who lives in Stenhousemuir, and who I miss a lot. My daughter loves Scotland. It’s in her genes.”

Casey would be delighted to hear from any of her old friends in the Falkirk district. She can be contacted via her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/crcathycasey.

FACTFILE

1. There are numerous examples of Bairns who have emigrated from the Falkirk district and gone on to find great success around the world. Perhaps the most well-known is Robert Dollar. Described as “Falkirk’s answer to Andrew Carnegie”, Dollar was born in Bainsford in 1844, and followed his father to Canada in 1857. His ability to write and count, and a certain ruthless streak, brought rapid advancement. At 22 he was running a lumber camp and he later moved to Michigan to set up the British Canadian Lumber Company, before moving into shipping. By 1884 he was rich enough to return home and present Falkirk with £1000 to buy books for its first library. He later donated the land that would become Dollar Park.

2. Tommy Douglas was born in Camelon in 1904, the son of an iron moulder, and emigrated to Canada with his family in 1910. He served in the Canadian House of Commons from 1935-79, and was the driving force behind the establishment of its national health service. He was named ‘Greatest Canadian’ in 2004 by as the result of a nationwide survey.