Remembering Betty Mason and the heritage battle for Annandale

During the 1960s and 1970s, Annandale was at serious risk of being drastically affected by major planning proposals and developments. If it wasn’t for the tireless work of Betty Mason and the support of the local community, our special heritage places could have been lost forever.

Betty Mason was a petite gentle-looking woman with a fierce devotion to defend the heritage listed buildings in and around Annandale, New South Wales.

In the 1960s, the areas of Annandale and Glebe were to be severely impacted by the structure of a proposed new freeway. Other likeminded people in Annandale, using the model of the Balmain Association, set up an association to protect the buildings of Annandale and Betty was the founding secretary of the new Annandale Association in 1969. The association, along with the Glebe Society, published the projected plans. A public outcry, black bans, and fierce protestations against the freeway succeeded in saving impacts on Glebe and Annandale.

Not long after this, Betty and the members of the group compiled a detailed research survey of individual buildings in Annandale.

Betty became very involved in visiting heritage sites and protecting them. She started a long association with the National Trust from April 1970 when the President of the National Trust, Jeffrey Miles, recognised a kindred spirit. At the time, Betty was taking on Leichhardt Council over the proposed demolition of the Witches Houses. The National Trust Junior Group held their first event with the Annandale Association in 1972.

In 1976, the Leichardt Local (28 September 1976) reported fire damage to 264 Johnston Street. Betty Mason “who lives around the corner” it was reported, saw smoke coming from the roof. It was a suspected arson attack on the heritage property that became a theme over the subsequent years. Betty and the Annandale Association were later reported (Sydney Morning Herald, 8 October 1976) putting out more fires at 270 Johnston Street, Oybin House.

Heritage places in Annandale

The AbbeyAnnandale is an important area with remarkable history and heritage sites. Significant places include:

  • The Witches Houses (Johnston Street), including Kenilworth (home of Henry Parkes in his last years and John Young (Mayor)).
  • The Abbey, the grand Gothic sandstone mansion (pictured, photo taken in 1978).
  • Whites Creek Sewer Aquaduct, completed in 1897, significant system that can be viewed from the south side of Piper Street.
  • Terrances – ‘Trafalgarville’ 20/22 Trafalgar Street; and 39-41 Trafalgar Street.
  • The Goodman Building, 105-119 Johnston Street (pictured at the top of the blog post, photo taken in 1972).
  • Westgate Post Office, 255 Parramatta Road.
  • Annandale Public School.

These buildings were listed by the New South Wales National Trust at that time and continue to be protected today by heritage listings. Betty continued to promote and protect the wealth of heritage listed buildings in the area until she was well into her final years. She continued to keep the National Trust aware of any possible threats to her beloved Annandale. Betty Mason passed away over the second weekend of April aged 95.  She is fondly remembered by the National Trust.

Written in memory of Betty Mason by James Bosanquet and Julie Blyth. Many thanks to Cameron Wadick for his excellent research.

James Bosanquet


James Bosanquet

James is the Archives & Library Manager at the National Trust (NSW). James has an interest in Australian history, heritage and local, endemic flora.


Join the Conversation

  1. I am very pleased to see Betty Mason’s dedicated lifework acknowledged in this blog post.

    As a member of both the Annandale Urban Research Association and the National Trust, I request that “Sir John Young” be amended to “John Young”.

    John Young, (1827–1907) was founder of Annandale , Mayor of Sydney and known as the “Father of Lawn Bowling”, but was not knighted.

    Sir John Young, (1807–1876) was Governor of NSW from 1861-1867. In 1870 he became 1st Baron Lisgar. Lambing Flat was renamed Young in his honour.,_1st_Baron_Lisgar

  2. I notice that Kenilworth has a National Trust plaque on it, but when I type ‘Kenilworth’ into the National Trust Q box, it brings up ‘No results’. Same with the NSW Heritage Register website. Where can I find the documentation related to this building’s heritage listing?

  3. I lived in the servants quarters of 264 Johnston st at the time of the fire and stayed there all the time of the reconstruction .
    A cedar tree was logged and shared its timber with the Strand Arcade which also burnt down at the same time . The timber was used to replace all carpentry within both the structure

  4. I lived at 33a and 33 Johnston street (Annandale) from about 1976 to ’79. When we moved in, these places were derelict and we fixed them up to make them habitable. The owner didn’t want them and offered to sell us no. 33a for $20,000 , a sum we couldn’t afford at the time. Like Barbara Kearns (above), I have had no luck researching the history of no. 33 which is named ‘Norton House’ and is heritage listed. The only info available is that it was built in 1882. I would love to know who built it and who lived there in the 90 or so years before we moved in. Does anyone have any clues? Also, recently I was sent a clip from someone who made a super 8 film (old technology) of one of the Witches Houses on fire. I believe this house has now been demolished. I remember visiting friends who lived in the Witches House in the 1970’s and it was divided up into flats like a rabbit warren. Thank heavens these houses were not all destroyed by fire as they were (are) architectural gems. Unfortunately, the current State government seems intent on vandalising the inner city with a load of high-rise development. We need another Betty Mason!

    1. Hi Miriam, or is it Mum ? I’m Brian – Ruben’s dad. Interesting to read your comments about 33a. In Norton house Div and I pulled up a single sheet of lead that covered the upstairs bathroom floor and used it to sound proof a band room downstairs. Also we found in the front downstairs bedroom a safe that appeared to have been blown open with explosive, and all around the floor were strewn business papers related to the distribution or sale of pianos. That’s all I can tell you about Norton House unfortunately .

    2. Yes Mim, it was lovely living in 33 Annandale Road and having my baby there! Such a gracious old house, back in 1976…it was derelict and someone had already stolen the wooden stair railings. A few of us were squatting in there, but then the owners let us live there for extremely minimal rent, and even put the hot water on for the arrival of the baby! Next door 33a, of a very different architecture, not double story like Norton House, but just as beautiful in its own way. The two houses were like a community of fellow humans. Some good memories and good music there ! And the witches houses also housed friends. So glad some places get saved through the efforts of communities… and often someone at the helm!

  5. I lived almost opposite 33/33A from 1972-1995 in 72B johnston St..
    It ha originally also had the lots adjoining on both sides. These were sold off in 1905 and 1907 and became known as 72 and 72A Johnston St.
    72B, the original house was apparently one of the first houses constructed in what was referred to as North Annandale. The house was built, apparently, by the then government solicitor, Paige (? sp.) in the late 1860’s. Finding oput specific details is not easy, but it would be interesting to know the actual history of the hous.
    As to the Annandale Association, I lived in rose St around the corner from Betty and many of us, new to A’dale, joined the Annandale Association, established by Betty and Jeff Miles. We fought the developers, eventually with the support of Leichhardt Council when an A’dale Councillor, Bill Hume was elected to Leichhardt Council. The Annandale Association was also a great local social group which held meetings when necessary, but also members took it in turns to host different courses of “walking” dinners. These were wonderful events to share homes, food, drinks and fantastic political, environmental and other conversations.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Review the Blog Code of Conduct