This week the NSW heritage sector celebrates the good work done across the state. It is the Heritage Festival, and as part of that the National Trust (NSW) hosts an awards function in which projects large and small are recognised and celebrated. It’s like the heritage Oscars without the celebrities, variety acts or television cameras. The awards have been a regular part of the festival for some years and are one of the ways that the National Trust keeps its core business, promoting and protecting heritage, in the public view. How did the National Trust in New South Wales begin though?
The National Trust has been around in Sydney since 1947. Set up by the activist Annie Wyatt, the Trust has sought, with varying amounts of success, to preserve Sydney’s and NSW’s built and natural heritage for the future. Annie was the driving force in the 1930s and 1940s behind the growing concern about the pace of demolitions of colonial buildings happening at the time.
It was the loss of Burdekin House in Macquarie Street, the Commissariat Store at Circular Quay and the then threat of demolition of the Mint and Hyde Park Barracks on Macquarie Street that galvanised Annie and her supporters into action.
Their first act was to establish a list of A and B classified buildings that should be saved. The A list included the Macquarie Street collection, Cadmans Cottage, the 1815 Military Hospital on Observatory Hill as well as Old Government House and Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta and a few cemeteries around greater Sydney. All these were saved, all remain on their list and all have migrated onto statutory heritage lists like the State Heritage Register.
Annie’s work continued until her death in the 1960s. She did not get to see the National Trust take up permanent residence in one of her A list buildings, the 1815 Military hospital, in 1975. Now known as the National Trust Centre, it was built by Governor Macquarie to serve the military garrison, mirroring the hospital in Macquarie Street built to serve the public. The hospital was in use for 34 years before being converted into the Fort Street Model School for girls and boys. The model here was for the beginnings of non-denominational education in NSW, with new government run schools giving an alternative to the religious education that was otherwise on offer.
The school, in varying formats, remained until 1975. During this time additions and alterations kept the old building relevant and useful, ensuring its survival. And so it is, 204 years after it was built that the building remains alive, saved by enthusiastic, passionalte, volunteer activists and kept going by the desire to maintain a layering of history in the built fabric of the city of Sydney.
To find out more about the National Trust’s fantastic work and the Heritage Week Festival, head to their website. Check out the calendar for events near you: https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/ahf/nsw/
Mark Dunn is the Chair of the NSW Professional Historians Association, the Deputy Chair of the Heritage Council of NSW and a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of NSW. You can read more of his work on the Dictionary of Sydney here. Mark appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Mark!