Past life is ‘no secret’, Cr says
Ron Petterson's three eldest children pictured around the same age that Ron moved to Airlie Beach. Emily, now 25, was born with a rare chromosome abnormality and was five years old when he left, Bridget was aged seven (now aged 26) and Thomas was two years old (now 22). Contributed
HIS name was on the election ballot sheet as Ron Petterson, and the region's voters gave him a place on the Whitsunday Regional Council.
But for 32 years of his life, he was actually known as Ronald Speek.
Mr Petterson, confirming he had a name change in 1998, says it's a story of love and loss: a bitter divorce, followed by a happy marriage in which he took his second wife's surname.
His first wife and three children however, say he has wiped them from his CV.
Thomas Speek, now 22, says he and his sisters Bridget, 26, and Emily, aged 25 and profoundly handicapped since birth, haven't been contacted by their father for 20 years.
"(Then) I read an article online that he was running for council. Everything about him, spouting that he was a dedicated father… it was a spit in the face," Thomas said.
"The article said he was family focused and it made me angry (because) for years, it was mum left with three kids and she was the dedicated one."
Thomas believes Mr Petterson running as a council candidate on the basis of family values misled voters about a man who left his eldest son at just two years old.
But Mr Petterson says he dearly loves all six of his children - the three boys he's raising here in the Whitsundays and the three children he left behind in Melbourne more than two decades ago.
"It was a really upsetting and bitter separation and the children were being pulled in between it," he said of the marriage break-up with their mother.
"And that was part of the reason we moved up here in the first place - to stop that environment.
"It might not have been the right decision but it was the best decision I could make at the time and do I regret it? Every single day."
Mr Petterson says far from not contacting his kids he sent letters and Christmas and birthday cards, that never got through.
As for whether his past life was something he kept from voters or not, Mr Petterson said it had never been a secret.
Sergeant John Dickinson, who Mr Petterson is affiliated with through his work at the PCYC, is one of the many locals who knew, and said he didn't believe it would have made a difference to the election result.
"Why would it? He's not a dishonest person and if it was going to be an issue he wouldn't have told anyone," he said.
"And he's done a lot for the community here."
Maz McDougall is a Division 2 voter, selected at random, who knows Mr Petterson through his community work and voted for him on March 19 but was unaware of his past.
"It would not have mattered one iota," she said.
"This is none of mine and none of the community's business - this was years ago."
DIVISION 2 was the most closely contested of the six in the Whitsunday Regional Council election, with Mr Petterson winning by just 25 votes against his closest rival John Atkinson, followed by Tanya Bandow in third place.
Mr Atkinson said he knew about Mr Petterson's past, but didn't want to run his own campaign by smearing an opponent.
"But I think it should have been made public right from the start to make it even with Tanya and myself," he said.
Ms Bandow meanwhile said it was a concern that this information was not published pre-election despite being available, allowing the community to make up their own minds.
"Effectively it appears this was an intentional concealment," she said.
"Honestly, integrity and responsibility as a parent are all values that we place in high regard in our community. Members of our community who deal daily with challenges of managing family members with disabilities will be most disappointed about this information regarding their elected representative.
"We have all been cajoled into believing a misleading facade of family man election pitch. I have no doubt that there would have been a different election outcome if this information was published pre-election.
"Now as an elected public figure in our community, we are entitle to know the real truth."