Michael Robert Matthews, born in 1946, was a distinguished scholar and long-term resident of Ultimo when he formed the Active Residents Committee, to address the suburb’s neglect and agitate for improved services. In 1982 he published Pyrmont & Ultimo: a History, which recorded a precinct whose people were distressed by industrial decline and about to be displaced by “urban renewal”.
He was elected as Alderman for Phillip Ward in 1980, aged 34, the first Independent Alderman for Phillip in living memory. He was also the first of a wave of Independents including Frank Sartor (elected in 1984, Lord Mayor from 1991) and Clover Moore (elected in South Sydney, 1980, merged with Sydney in 1981, Lord Mayor from 2004). Matthews resigned in 1985 but his colleagues became dominant in Sydney Council soon afterwards.