This will be my last stint as Chair of the judging panel – I have always favoured the American electoral system of fixed terms (recent US events not withstanding) and six years is enough.

Having said that, these awards are good for my soul and I am sure I will miss being involved. This an occasion to reflect on trends in conservation and heritage and to celebrate the enormous achievements and dedication of those who seek to tell the stories of the past and to pass on these to future generations.

I don’t know how often anyone here reflects on the National Trust logo – the three gum leaves – the past represented by the old leaf with the bit missing – the present by the larger whole leaf and the future by the small new leaf. It is a powerful message and we neglect any of those three leaves at our peril.

As an important element in understanding the story this logo represents I’d like to thank Uncle Allen Madden for his welcome today and I’d like to pay my personal respect to elders past and present in acknowledgement of the traditional owners of this land we are meeting on today – the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.

As the world seems to be going through what the Chinese would call ‘interesting times’ it is important to remember that this country is made up of people from many different places and contains a myriad of stories. The 2017 Lifetime Achievement award has been given to an immigrant who changed the face of professional historical archaeology in this country through her inquiring mind, enthusiasm and relentless energy, Judy Birmingham.

The Cathy Donnelly award this year goes to Linda Babic who makes an important contribution to the celebration of our past through small scaled architectural practice, mentoring and straightforward practical advice where it is needed, as Cathy herself did.

The Trade Skills Award went to Stephen Brooker a common sense plumber with tremendous skills and exacting standards. Steve worked as a sub-contractor for another National Trust Trades Skill Award recipient, Noel T Leach – there seems to be a certain cohesion in that.

Conservation and heritage, like politics I suppose, makes strange bedfellows. Unfortunately the Minister for Heritage could not be here today but we do have the Shadow Minister. We also have a ratbag communist, and former recipient of the Trust Lifetime Achievement National Trust Heritage Awards 2017 and subject of a book entered into these awards, Jack Mundey. I am sure many political parties and affiliations are represented in this room today. We all come at this passion with different voices from different backgrounds and viewpoints. Different aspects of our heritage inspire the passions of different people but together we make a strong force that respects the varied positions of our community.

Over a hundred entries is a lot to get through, particularly as they were all interesting and reflected real commitment to heritage. As usual we decided to move a few to different categories and we gave more than one award in certain categories – it is simply too hard to chose sometimes when the entries are of such widely different scales or budgets that direct comparison is impossible.

This year’s theme is ‘Having A Voice’ – and we heard many and varied voices. Unlocking the Past to Free the Future: Kinchela Boys Home CMP is a story of the Stolen Generation – or should I say Kidnapped Generation. It is a vital story, not only for those children that endured this ‘Home’ and for those that must now make decisions about it but also for the rest of us because unless we hear these voices we cannot make peace with the past and move to a positive future.

Other voices we heard were simply intriguing – the Dowling Songbook, the musical soundscape at Elizabeth Bay House, for example opened our minds to the musical life of a place we thought we knew well. We were deeply engaged by the exhibition Alchemy at Hill End and moved by the clear voices of the NSW Railwaymen in the first world war in the Lives on the Line artwork. The Irish Orphan Trunk also made us pause and reflect on the lives of young migrants – a topic of particular resonance in 2017.

We got to explore the excitement of hidden things in ‘Going Underground’, wonder at the skill of the botanical artist in Florileigium, and despair at the latest iteration of Demolished Sydney. The publications covered many areas of interest but we were particularly taken with two, that by their titles, may not immediately grab attention – a Field Guide and Fact Sheets. The Sydney Cemeteries Field Guide is a must for anyone who ever visits a cemetery – and reading this will certainly make you want to visit lots. The Waverley Council Inter-War Fact Sheets are a great resource, well presented and easy to get your head around.

We decided this year to give a special judges commendation to Woodford Academy because of the wonderful work happening there activating a property which has not seen such life for quite a while – and it is a wonderful place fully deserving of the attention it receives from the Woodford Academy Management Committee. What committed volunteers can achieve continues to amaze me.

Volunteers and committed enthusiasts were also reflected in the Advocacy awards. Advocacy is a raison d’etre for the Trust and we are always thrilled to see innovative and successful campaigns. As someone who has spent more than a few years on advocacy issues the 80 year long campaign for the Gardens of Stone region near Lithgow fills me with awe. The entry was for a single photographic exhibition but the judges felt that while the exhibition was itself fabulous its role as an advocacy tool was what set it apart. The campaign for recognition of Lansdowne in Neutral Bay also demonstrates that the community will fight for what they believe despite what various ‘experts’ might say. I am reminded here of a comment made to me recently – ‘experts built the Titanic, a volunteer built the Ark.’

I’d like to think though that the professional can be equally committed to excellence (and let’s not forget that a lot of the volunteers are also professionals in their other lives). The Museum of Fire Crane Restoration is another great example of the power of the enthusiast and also in its way reflects the role of our Lifetime Achievement recipient in the celebration of industrial, or historical, archaeology.

The two awards (and two commendations) given in the Conservation of Built Heritage demonstrated careful, traditional work embracing traditional craft and trade skills as did the work to the beautiful interior of St Pauls at Burwood.

The Trust always encourages traditional craft and trade skills and this year has introduced a new category to encourage that further – ‘Continuing Tradition’. Encouraging traditional skills for conservation work alone is all very well but there needs to be enough work around for those skilled tradespeople to make a living! It is also true that in this modern world there is a place for careful bespoke detailing and execution. This year a wide range of building skills in a house built around a collection and skills such as tatting, knitting, crochet and embroidery (among others) have been celebrated.

On skills – National Parks has committed to an in-house ‘track construction team’ doing great work and RMS tackled the impressive Mitchell’s causeway at Victoria Pass. I’d also like to draw attention to the commendation that went to Sydney Water for the thorough work on the Tempe Reach of Alexandra Canal. We are anxious to see what will happen on the next ‘reach’ to be tackled by this impressive team. Sydney Trains is also to be applauded for their tour ‘Running on Time’ which so beautifully caught the voices of the people that make the railway work. Temora Shire Council was also awarded for the adaptation of the disused, and rather lovely, Temora Railway Station. Good work by local government.

The other heartening aspect of the awards were the entries for the Restoration of the Southern Gasholder at Macdonaldtown and the adaptation of the Harold Park Tramsheds. These projects were the result of consent conditions and they just go to show what can be achieved if an applicant embraces those conditions. They are both terrific.

In a nice note of continuity the award winner in the Multimedia category is the Beachcomber House website which celebrates the 1960s Lend Lease project home design ‘The Beachcomber’. We gave an award to the conservation of a ‘Beachcomber’ in the Blue Mountains in 2015. The website is a great resource which will further the enjoyment of midcentury Australian architecture.

I haven’t mentioned all the entries and no doubt I’ve missed things but on behalf of the judges I congratulate everyone who put an entry in and express the belief that the skill, passion and commitment you have all demonstrated augers well for the future.

– Jacqui Goddard