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August 17, 2023

Whatever happened to… thought leaders?

A penny for their thoughts.

Whatever happened to thought leaders
  • Former Lord Mayor Stephen Yarwood in 2015.
  • Words: Josh Fanning

Whatever happened to thought leaders… like Stephen Yarwood?

Whatever happened to the idea of Adelaide having a Night Mayor?

Whatever happened to the piece of graffiti on Topham Mall’s UPark that said, Fanning for Mayor 2023?

Or was it 2026?

I don’t know. But things have changed.

I remember when CityMag was just starting, Stephen Yarwood had been elected Lord Mayor and suddenly “the youth” were paying attention to politics and the City of Adelaide felt like it had its own agenda and ideas and purpose.

The City of Adelaide felt like a capital city rather than an electorate/protectorate under State Government supervision.

Stephen had won his campaign based on “the numbers”. He only needed a few hundred votes to be elected and so he door-knocked. And door-knocked. And door-knocked.

To one of the city’s business owners, Stephen described himself as, “a thought leader”.


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This made the business owner chuckle (and share the encounter with me). Stephen was responding to a question from the business owner about how he would lead and change the city when the role of Lord Mayor was mostly ceremonial (the Mayor only votes when the chamber is tied).

Indeed “thought leader” sounded a bit like “cult leader” at the time. But, reflecting on the one-term wonder, Stephen did change the culture of the City of Adelaide. The City Council went from a glorified bin collector and gardener to a cultural catalyst and grassroots advocate.

Now we’re back with J-Lo.

Jane Lomax-Smith is an excellent Lord Mayor. She’s quite good at Instagram / Facebook. She’s eloquent and she doesn’t take shit (unless she’s taking manure/compost from the City’s organics facility for her garden).

But Jane has already been Mayor. In 1997.

It’s kind of perfect the way Jane’s return to Lord Mayor sums up Adelaide. It’s what we do. We take a few steps forward and then we take a few steps back. Going nowhere but distracting ourselves with movement all the same. Perhaps that’s the very nature of democracy?

And while we absolutely don’t want to make any Great Leaps Forward, it would be nice to have some thought leaders out there express a vision for the future beyond business as usual.

I think we can all agree that the future is going to be anything but “usual”.

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