The 40th AGM of The Glebe Society Inc. was held on Sunday 30th August at Benledi. It was very well attended – in fact the meeting room was filled to capacity. One of the highlights of the meeting was the awarding of Honorary Life Memberships to two members, Liz Simpson-Booker and Eric Sandblom. Additionally, an award was also made to Bobbie Burke.
Liz Simpson-Booker (centre) receives her Honorary Life Membership from Lesley Lynch (right), with Bob Armstrong (left) who spoke in favour of the award. The award was made in recognition of the outstanding work she has done as Secretary of the Society for ten years.
Eric Sandblom receives his Honorary Life Membership from Lesley Lynch. The award was in recognition of his contribution to improving planning policies and procedures in the then Leichhardt Municipality in the 1970’s as an Independent Alderman on Council, and subsequently as Planning Convenor and President of the Glebe Society.
Lesley Lynch presented Bobbie Burke with her Glebe Society Commendation, in recognition of the work she has done over many years in connection with the Jubilee fountain, Foley Park, and for the benefits the Society has received from her desktop publishing talents in her design of flyers, invitations, leaflets, etc.
The meeting was then addressed by Ian Carroll OAM, President of the National Trust NSW, who spoke on “Sense of Place and Belonging”. The text of his talk follows:
A Sense of Place and Belonging
Ian Carroll OAM, President of the National Trust of Australia (New South Wales) gave this speech at the 40th Annual General Meeting of the Glebe Society
It is indeed a pleasure to be present at this Annual General Meeting in the 40th Anniversary Year of the Glebe Society. I thank you for inviting me to be with you on this important occasion for you.
I bring you both greetings and congratulations from the National Trust – greetings to a kindred organisation, and congratulations on your outstanding record of achievements for Glebe over the past 40 years. Our two organisations have much in common in that both are independent, resident-initiated, community-based, not-for-profit bodies concerned to protect our heritage and environment and the interests and amenity of our communities.
In the case of the Trust, it was created in 1945 to protect heritage which included some of our finest colonial buildings and pristine bushlands at risk of destruction during the post-war rush to modernization. The inspiration for its formation came from a Gordon housewife, Annie Wyatt, who realised that the only way to stop the destruction was to form a community-based organisation which, unfettered by the conflicting priorities of government and developers, could voice the concerns of the community at the highest levels without fear or favour. As precious buildings and natural features were lost, the fledgling Trust garnered and galvanised community support and, within two decades, it was an Australia-wide movement.
The concerns and actions of Annie Wyatt have a parallel in the concerns and actions of Bernard and Kate Smith which led to the formation of the Glebe Society in 1969. The Trust has been associated with the Society since its inception, and is proud to have been in attendance at its inaugural meeting in Glebe Town Hall on 11 April 1969. While the Glebe Society has a more specific focus than the Trust, it is an exemplar of local community organizations, often called ‘Progress Associations’, which are concerned with the protection and improvement of the environment and amenity of their communities. Some of the community organizations, such as those at Naremburn and Quakers Hill, have been working for their communities for a around a century. Others are of more recent origin. Although not necessarily loved by governments, the community groups are a critical element in the processes of contemporary society to provide a voice for the otherwise unheard, and a counterbalance to political and commercial agendas, which are not always driven by the best interests of the community.
The National Trust has, in recent months, been developing its Strategic Plan to 2020. In that context, it has revisited, among other matters, its Vision, and asked of itself ‘what do we aspire to achieve?’. One of my fellow Directors caused me to pause with the comment, albeit tongue in cheek, that ‘we should aspire to become redundant’. She was not saying, of course, that we should aspire to make all of the Trust’s functions redundant. Its roles as a conservator of heritage properties and as a heritage educator would still be relevant. But she was saying that the Trust’s role as a heritage advocate would become redundant if our society developed to the point where, without agitation and pressure from organisations such as the Trust and the Glebe Society, our heritage was identified, respected and unhesitatingly protected. A wonderful ideal but one which, given current attitudes to heritage, is unlikely to be achieved in our lifetimes, or at all. So the need for independent community-based groups will continue, and in all likelihood, increase. But, as the decision-making processes which impact heritage and amenity become more centralized and less local, there may be an increasing need for larger, umbrella voices in issues which would formerly have been dealt with at the local level.
The outcome of the Trust’s deliberations in relation to its Vision, is that its draft Strategic Plan proposes the following Vision: ‘To be a leading independent guardian of Australia’s built, cultural and natural heritage, and defender of our sense of place and belonging in a changing world’.
The words ‘defender of our sense of place and belonging’ are also apt to describe the work of the Glebe Society in relation to Glebe and its community. The Trust’s archives reveal, however, that the Society’s focus has not always been exclusively on Glebe, and that in 1969 the Society was supporting the Paddington Society’s protest against the widening of Jersey Road under a banner saying ‘The Glebe Society supports Paddo all the way’!
What do we mean by ‘sense of place and belonging’? The Social Commentator, Hugh Mackay, acknowledges that Indigenous Australians have a special relationship with the land from which they derive a sense of place and belonging, but he contends that it is false to believe that this sense is unique to Indigenous Australians. Rather, he contends, a sense of place is ‘fundamental to the human sense of self, sense of community, sense of morality and sense of destiny’ which can be related to almost any site or location which evokes an emotional reaction – a battle site, a sporting venue, a school, a house, a street, a shop, a workplace, a mountain or stream, a church, a concert hall, or some other place at which something personally significant occurred and which is part of what you are.
While asserting that we have nothing to learn from Indigenous people about the significance of place in the formation of our identity, Mackay tellingly further asserts that ‘we have a great deal to learn from them about how to protect, preserve and nurture the places that have formed us. Our problem is not that we lack the yearning for a sense of place; that yearning is universal. Our problem, especially compared with Aborigines, is that we’ve often failed to acknowledge that deep need in us’.
I was struck by the original aims of the Glebe Society as set out in one of its early leaflets and quoted in ‘Celebrating Conservation and Change in Glebe’. I was especially struck by the fourth aim – ‘to promote interest in Glebe as a community’. In a more abstract way, ‘community’ is another relationship which gives rise to a sense of place and belonging.
I have long believed that we have lost much of our sense of community, and that society is much the poorer for that loss. Encouragingly, some commentators believe that dissatisfaction with contemporary values, attitudes, lifestyles and outcomes may be precipitating a swing of the pendulum. Early in our married life, my wife and I purchased our first family home at West Pymble. Located in the valley to the west of the Pacific Highway at Pymble, the topography of the area largely defines the boundaries of the suburb, but its strong sense of community derives from more than its quite well defined boundaries. It derives, I believe, from its population mix of younger and older, and from the personal interactions and connections enabled by its schools, its churches, its adequate but not-too-large shopping mall, its sporting clubs, its service clubs, its voluntary support groups, its parks, ovals and courts and so on. When we moved there, we were told ‘You don’t leave here. You move within it’. While we did try to move within it, we were unable to find our larger dream home, and quite reluctantly moved to a nearby area.
Mackay asserts that there are plenty of factors that might help to explain this loss of sense of community. He cites, for instance, the high divorce rate, the falling marriage rate, the low birthrate (removing much of the lubricant supplied by the children in a neighbourhood), the mobility of the population and the shrinking household.
Mobility is, I believe, a significant factor. No longer are we relatively confined to a smallish geographic area with which, and with whose people, we become connected. Today we may live in one suburb, work in another, school in another, shop in another, recreate in another and so on. While mobility results in diverse and enriching experiences, which may give rise to multiple senses of place and belonging, for many it has reduced the opportunities for the development of a strong sense of place and belonging which can result from being part of a community. The self-absorption and withdrawal which has resulted from the computer age may also be a factor. Mackay contends that ‘The real challenge is to put people together again, and a critical part of that process is to create – and preserve – the places and spaces that encourage interaction with each other as members of a neighbourhood or community’. The potential physical and mental health benefits of such an approach should not be underestimated.
Many of the pressures on the heritage and amenity of our cities and suburbs and on our communities, particularly those closer to the eastern seaboard, are directly related to the continuing increase in our population, and to the desire of so many to live on or near to that eastern seaboard. It is a matter of great concern that there is no consensus on what is the optimum Australian population, on what is the optimum carrying capacity of this fragile and largely barren land. Indeed, I seem to recall that some commentators believe the country can carry at least twice its existing population, while others believe our population is already twice what it should responsibly be. It is crucial that a responsible and definitive population policy be urgently formulated and adopted for Australia. This goes to the heart of the debate regarding the sustainability of our country, our standard of living and our lifestyle. It is ironic that, at a time when our eastern seaboard is agonizing over the threats to its heritage and amenity from new developments to accommodate and provide work for its ever-increasing population, our rural sector is facing equally serious social threats and dislocation from population drift, related to lack of job opportunities, falling rural incomes, withdrawal of support services, social isolation and other factors.
The achievements of the Glebe Society over the past 40 years have been outstanding, not only in relation to the physical elements of Glebe, but in relation to the social and community elements of it. There was a palpable sense of community at your 40th Anniversary Celebration which I was privileged to attend earlier this year. The passion, commitment and concern of your membership which was so evident on that occasion, gives every reason to be confident that the vision of Bernard and Kate Smith, born a little over 40 years ago and so successfully pursued by your members in the interim, will continue to be successfully pursued by your Society for many years to come, to the benefit of Glebe, the benefit of the people of Glebe and, indeed, the benefit of the wider community.
Ian Carroll OAM