The National Trust (NSW) is celebrating its 75th Anniversary with a special program of events running from 2020 – 2021. On Monday 1 March, the conservation charity held a party at the National Trust Centre in Sydney to thank over 100 volunteers who dedicate their time and talent to the protection, education, conservation and celebration of heritage. Lois Rasmussen, one of the organisation’s longest serving volunteers in Sydney, delivered this speech at this event.
“I feel very honoured to be invited to speak about my role of volunteering on this, the postponed celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the National Trust of NSW. My introduction to the Trust came by accident rather than design.
“My late mother-in-law Clare Rasmussen was a good friend of Annie Wyatt and had been involved with her in the Ku-ring-gai Tree Lovers Civic League and the local Red Cross over many years. Clare was one of the 10 ladies from the Tree Lovers who formed the National Trust under the stewardship of Annie Wyatt in April, 1945. In those days several of the ladies didn’t drive, so student Philip, with his newly acquired driver’s license, called for some of the ladies and along with his mother drove them to the meetings at Mrs. Wyatt’s home in Park Avenue, Gordon. And so it was that he was joined up as a junior member on the very first day.
“When the Friends of the S H Ervin Gallery was formed, there wasn’t anyone willing to take on the role of Secretary, so Philip (who was a volunteer Gallery Guardian and present at the initial Friends meeting) volunteered my services. I had two very small children at the time and he came home, broke the news to me and that is how I fell into the role of volunteering for the Trust.
“Philip, in addition to being on the Trust Council for several years, was later to chair of the Friends for more than 10 years. That’s why I jokingly say: ‘I feel as though I married the National Trust’. I had come from a family where community service was the norm in fact considered a duty, so volunteering was not a novelty for me. From ‘The Friends’ I moved on and joined the Women’s Committee and have been giving a helping hand on that committee ever since.
“I think it is an appropriate time for all of us to stop and contemplate what this state, indeed the entire country, would be like without the work of the National Trust.
“The New South Wales National Trust is the fifth oldest National Trust in the world and is linked with many countries globally.
“Just think of what Sydney, for example, would look like without the work of the National Trust. Many of the landmark buildings would have been demolished and, as unthinkable as it seems to-day, the proposed extension of King Street in 1940s would have been meant the demolition of the Hyde Park Barracks. That was prevented by the indomitable spirit and work of Annie Wyatt and the ladies of the fledgling Trust, with the help of the Sydney Morning Herald and the well-known English actress, Vivian Leigh, who leant her support to the effort on one of her visits to Sydney. Earlier, there was a proposal to rip down the Barracks as well as the Mint building and that was the catalyst that really mobilised these North Shore women to form the Trust and stand up and fight for their preservation.
“But it wasn’t for fighting to save buildings that the Trust gained its first official recognition, but rather for saving the fairy penguins on Montague Island off the coast of Narooma.
“The struggle to save the Customs House at Circular Quay, Cadman’s Cottage and the Queen Victoria building from the wrecker’s hammer are but a few of the heritage success stories of central Sydney. There have been many others like Balls Head Reserve on Sydney Harbour, and – with country blood flowing through my veins – one close to my heart: the saving of the Stock Routes across New South Wales. During the recent extended drought, these “Long Paddocks” were vital arteries crisscrossing the state where starving stock could graze as they were shepherded from one region to another in desperate search of pasture.
“Volunteering in all its many and varied avenues is a most rewarding experience. There are so many unsung quiet National Trust helpers across this state who day by day give up their time and use their talents to help promote the vital work of the Trust. I stand here as a modest representative of them and want to applaud their loyalty and ongoing efforts.
“In my life I have witnessed times where dramatic changes have occurred. As a small child I vividly remember the time when the lights of Sydney were blacked out and even the shop fronts had newspaper pasted over them during the turbulent times of World War II. Life had to go on and people had to rally round and adapt. We must be prepared to adjust to change and to accept that things never remain static. In this COVID time, everything that we have done in the past, of necessity has had to change or be put under scrutiny. Our efforts have been greatly curtailed and our fundraising methods have had to be re examined. These changes present new challenges. With the rapid building developments in many areas of the state the Trust’s vital work of protecting the best of the built and natural environment is just as imperative as it ever was.
“I believe to become a member of the National Trust is very patriotic and I would like to see all ages and people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds supporting its work. When people become involved in the work they are often surprised how much satisfaction and enjoyment they derive from their efforts. In fact some make lifelong friends while doing so.
“Today I want to ask you all to do something for me: please see if you can think of a friend or member of the family that you can join as a National Trust member. Its often been said that without volunteers, the Trust could not function and of course increased membership gives it added strength. Please stop to imagine if each of you joined just one person, what a wonderful anniversary gift to the National Trust that would be.
“Congratulations on the achievements of the past 75 years and it’s with optimism I look to the future.