Fay Miller, former NT politician and Katherine council mayor, dies aged 75


Former Northern Territory politician and long-serving Katherine mayor Fay Miller has died at the age of 75, just a week shy of her 76th birthday.

The prominent community leader died peacefully in Darwin this morning after a years-long battle with myelofibrosis, an incurable type of bone marrow cancer.

Originally from South Australia, Ms Miller — whose first name was Christina — was born in 1947 in Ceduna and grew up in Smoky Bay.

Moving to Katherine in 1989 when her late husband Mick was transferred to the town for work, she would stay for more than three decades and advocate for the community at multiple levels of government.

After the couple lost their caravan park business in the devastation of the 1998 Katherine floods, Ms Miller put her hand up for NT politics.

Representing the Country Liberal Party (CLP), she was elected Member for Katherine in the NT Legislative Assembly in 2003 in a by-election sparked by the retirement of former deputy chief minister Mike Reed.

She represented Katherine in NT Parliament for the next five years, sitting on the front bench and even serving as deputy leader of the CLP for a time.

But a car accident in 2006 disrupted her plans. 

While returning from a political function in Alice Springs, her car hit water, and she suffered serious injuries, including a broken neck.

Though she later returned to the job, her health suffered, and she stepped down in 2008.

But her public service was far from over.

She also mourned the death of her first husband Mike, who died of cancer in 2010.

In 2012, Ms Miller was elected the mayor of the Katherine Town Council, a position she would go on to hold for almost a decade through significant ups and downs.

She led Katherine through a PFAS groundwater contamination crisis after it was discovered the firefighting chemicals used at the nearby RAAF Tindal base had contaminated groundwater.

The class action that followed led to a $92.5 million payout for residents.

Then in 2018, Ms Miller made national headlines when she accused then-federal health minister Greg Hunt of misogyny after he reportedly swore at her during a meeting.

Mr Hunt apologised six months later for using “strong language”.

Mayor of Katherine Fay Miller's face is impassive as she faces Health Minister Greg Hunt in a meeting
At the time, Ms Miller said she was “gobsmacked” by Mr Hunt’s comments. He later apologised. (ABC: Marco Catalano)

Ms Miller retired for health reasons in November 2020, shortly after being diagnosed with myelofibrosis.

Despite believing she would never leave Katherine, she had to move from her adopted home town to Darwin for treatment.

The following year, she was appointed a member of the Order of Australia for significant service to local government, tourism, and the Katherine community.

Upon her retirement, she said she was proud she had been able to “serve [her] community with dignity” for so long.

“Sometimes I haven’t always had a good outcome, but it wasn’t from lack of trying,” she said.

“Wherever you live, you need to contribute to make it the best it can be.”

She is survived by her husband Dennis, children, step-children and grandchildren.

A staunch advocate with a zest for life

Ms Miller’s former parliamentary and council colleagues offered tributes to her life and legacy.

Former CLP politician Willem Westra van Holthe, who succeeded Ms Miller as the Katherine MLA in 2008, said she had been an “incredible” local member who worked hard for her community, even if it caused a stir.

A close-up of the face of a woman wearing a red T-shirt and smiling widely.
Ms Miller spoke her mind for the benefit of her community, according to former colleagues. (Supplied)

“Fay was never a wallflower; she was always one to come out and say things like she saw them,” he said.

“She was immensely passionate about Katherine — she was eager to drive change and make things better for the people who lived there. And she didn’t mind stirring up the hornet’s nest when it was necessary to do so.”

Current Katherine MLA Jo Hersey, a good friend of Ms Miller’s, said she had been a strong local ambassador.

“She’s put Katherine on the map, whether it be as a very proactive local member [or] a very proactive mayor,” she said.

“Her zest for life was just like no other.”

In a statement on social media this afternoon, Katherine Town Council paid tribute to Ms Miller’s service.

“Fay will always be remembered for her fun-loving approach to life, her ability to tell you like it is, to sell ice to Eskimos, and most importantly, care for her people,” it said. 

NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles praised Ms Miller as a “pioneering territory woman”.

“She paved the way for many and was a strong advocate of her community. I have great respect and fondness for her,” she said.

“She always fought for her community and was always constructive.”

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