Shut to visitors and volunteers for four months, a new resident has been stirring up dust behind closed doors at the oldest building in the Blue Mountains.
New property co-ordinator Annie Stevens has spent lockdown ensuring critical maintenance of colonial-era Woodford Academy and its historic National Trust-owned collection continued and developing an innovative curatorial plan in collaboration with the volunteer management committee.
The central Mountains property was forced to close just days before its popular annual Harvest Festival in March because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Fortuitously, the National Trust had appointed Ms Stevens to the role of the museum’s first dedicated property co-ordinator just one month prior.
The property had been managed by volunteers since the National Trust opened it to the public in the 1990s.
Woodford Academy Management Committee chairperson Elizabeth Burgess said Ms Stevens’ appointment by the National Trust was a significant step towards ensuring the sustainability of the multi award-winning museum.
“We were thrilled to welcome Annie to our dedicated team. At the time we had no idea what a tumultuous year 2020 was going to be and, in hindsight, Annie’s appointment could not have been more timely.’’
A Blue Mountains resident for the past five years, Ms Stevens has 17 years’ experience working in museums and heritage sites, including the lead curatorial role on the development of several exhibitions at the Museum of Sydney.
With a Bachelor of Arts (History) and a Master of Arts (Museum Studies), Ms Stevens has experience in conservation, maintenance and management of historic collections. This year she is also undertaking a Masters of Heritage Conservation at the School of Architecture, Design & Planning at Sydney University.
While Woodford Academy has been closed, Ms Stevens has ensured that critical maintenance of the museum and its historic collection continued and has developed an innovative curatorial plan in collaboration with the management committee.
“I am passionate about providing positive visitor experiences, crafting compelling stories and embracing new technologies to engage visitors with history in unique and meaningful ways,’’ Ms Stevens said.
“Legibly curating and interpreting the complex multi-layered history of this important heritage site and its unique collection is an exciting challenge.’’
The four-stage curatorial plan will be incrementally implemented over the next year and include engaging local creatives and artists to produce new interpretive displays.
Several projects identified in Stage 1 have already begun with help from a National Trust Women’s Committee donation, including custom-designed display units by Woodford-based furniture designer/maker Georgina Donovan and a replica of the Woodford Academy football cap by former artist-in-residence Christine’s Millinery.
“The curatorial plan became our lockdown project while the museum was closed, but it was only possible because of Annie’s expertise,’’ Ms Burgess said.
“We see Annie’s museum curation as a much-needed positive step, not only for this heritage property and the morale of our dedicated volunteers, but also for the wider Blue Mountains community as we recover from the devastating 2019-20 bushfires and the pandemic.
“We can’t wait to share the improvements Annie has already implemented during the shutdown including revitalising existing displays, and new interpretative signage and new displays with the community when we re-open the museum.’’
The National Trust (NSW) re-opened a selection of its properties on July 3 including Norman Lindsay Gallery at Faulconbridge and Everglades Historic House and Gardens at Leura with revised terms and conditions of entry such as pre-booking timed entry tickets. Details.
Woodford Academy is expected to re-open in the next few months, pandemic permitting.
In the meantime, Ms Burgess invited people working from home and looking for extra workspace to consider a tenancy lease at Woodford Academy. Details: Belle Property, Leura
Today owned by the National Trust, Thomas Pembroke was given the original land grant to establish a roadside inn at the Woodford Academy site in 1831.
Since then, the Woodford Academy property has operated as one of the first guesthouses in the Mountains and a Victorian-era country retreat for wealthy Sydney merchant Alfred Fairfax, who expanded the property to a 90-acre estate.
Distinguished scholar John McManamey leased the property in 1907 and operated an exclusive school – Woodford Academy for Boys – until 1925, then a co-educational day school from 1929 to 1936.
After his death in 1946, McManamey’s daughters Jessie and Gertrude lived on in the building.
Jessie died in 1972, and Gertrude, who bequeathed the property to the National Trust in 1979 and lived there until 1986, died in 1988.
Today, the property offers a unique glimpse into colonial life in the Blue Mountains as well as an insight into the modern Blue Mountains community through interpretive displays, artist residencies and site-specific arts events organised by the volunteer management committee which cares for the site.
All proceeds from Woodford Academy events directly contribute to the conservation of the property.
About the National Trust (NSW)
The National Trust is Australia’s oldest and largest independent conservation organisation founded in 1945 in New South Wales by Annie Forsyth Wyatt. Collectively the National Trust in Australia owns or manages over 300 built and natural heritage places (the majority held in perpetuity), is supported by 7,000 volunteers and employs more than 300 people nationwide.
The National Trust (NSW) is committed to engaging the community to celebrate and conserve heritage places and collections through events and education. With the support of our members, volunteers and dedicated staff and partners, we advocate on the protection of historical and naturally significant places and collections to ensure their preservation for future generations.
By Ellen Hill for Everglades Historic House & Gardens
Photos: David Hill, Deep Hill Media
Possums, bats, birds and other native critters can make a tree change with million dollar views, thanks to new nesting boxes carved into a dead tree at Everglades Historic House & Gardens.
Financed by a grant from Greater Sydney Local Land Services through NSW Government funding, the habitat tree is located in The Glades at the edge of the Leura property, famous for its magnificent 1930s art deco house and set amid spectacular gardens and formal terraces overlooking sweeping views of the Jamison Valley.
Arborists using a chainsaw fast-tracked the natural process in the bush when tree hollows are formed by limbs dropping from trees, creating a hole in the tree trunk or limb.
Over time (sometimes more than 100 years), these holes become larger and eventually form tree hollows.
Land clearing and urbanisation has led to a shortage of hollows across the Greater Sydney area, meaning there are fewer havens for small animals to shelter, hide from predators, breed and raise their young.
Of the 174 native animal species in NSW which rely on tree hollows, 40 are listed as threatened.
Everglades manager Guy McIlrath said: “Because tree hollows are becoming increasingly rare and their formation slow, it is very important to retain habitat trees, so when this big gum tree died it was an opportunity to provide a safe haven for some of the small animals who live at Everglades.’’
The Blue Mountains ash (Eucalyptus oreades) was pruned so it was safe for the many visitors to wander the tiered gardens and picnic under the tree canopy in the cool glade.
Experts from Sydney Arbour Trees, who have carved similar habitat hollows in dead trees across the Cumberland Plain area of Western Sydney, then created three artificial nest hollows for birds in the upper limbs and trunk and two openings for bats in the lower portion.
The arborists first sliced off a “faceplate’’ before using new chainsaw techniques to carve habitat chambers into the tree branches and trunk and reattaching the faceplate to protect the resident animals which enter the readymade homes through custom-designed slits and holes.
Birds can still perch on the remaining branches while hollow-dependent animals such as Crimson Rosellas, Southern Boobook owls, Owlet-nightjars, Eastern Rosellas and Chocolate Wattled bats can move in to the new hollows.
While the creatures may be too tiny, timid or nocturnal for visitors to Everglades to see, an interpretive sign at the base of the tree explains the purpose of the habitat tree.
“What we’re doing here at Everglades to help provide shelter and food sources for native animals is an example of what everyone in the Blue Mountains can easily do to help conserve wildlife,’’ Mr McIlrath said.
As well as plant a native garden, residents could retain safe dead trees with hollows, install nest boxes or become involved in Blue Mountains City Council’s (BMCC) Bushcare Program.
National Trust, which owns the Everglades property, and BMCC Bushcare volunteers have worked for years to ensure exotic plant species do not escape into bushland.
However, that is not always easy to do along cliff edges so, as part of the grant, specialist teams used rope access techniques to scale the cliffs around Everglades and remove weeds, thus preventing the spread into the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
Everglades Historic House & Gardens, 37 Everglades Ave, Leura, is open from 10am to 5pm daily during daylight savings and from 10am to 4pm during autumn and winter. Entry: $13 adults, $8 concessions, $4 children, National Trust members free. Contact: (02) 4784 1938 or email email@example.com.
This project is supported by Greater Sydney Local Land Services through funding from the NSW Government. For further information phone 4724 2100
* Everglades Historic House & Gardens is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill for Everglades Historic House & Gardens Photos: David Hill, Deep Hill Media
Celebrate the simplicity, subtlety and emptiness of “white’’ when the richly designed and furnished Everglades Historic House & Gardens, Leura, holds a luminous twilight soiree to launch the White Exhibition on November 11.
Featuring three Blue Mountains artists (James Gordon, Julie Martin and Helen Sturgess), exhibition curator and art consultant Louise Abbott of iArt has based the exhibition around the White book by Japanese designer and curator Kenya Hara, the art director of Muji since 2001 who designed the opening and closing ceremony programs of the Nagano Winter Olympic Games 1998.
In his book Designing Design, Hara elaborates on the importance of “emptiness’’ in the visual and philosophical traditions of Japan and its application to design.
“In summary, `white’ symbolises simplicity and subtlety,’’ Abbott said.
“Hara attempts to explore the essence of `white’, which he sees as being closely related to the origin of Japanese aesthetics. The central concepts discussed by Hara are emptiness and the absolute void. He also sees his work as a designer as a form of communication. Good communication has the distinction of being able to listen to each other, rather than to press one’s opinion onto the opponent.’’
Hara compares that form of communication with an empty container.
“In visual communication there are equally signals whose signification is limited as well as signals or symbols such as the cross or the red circle on the Japanese flag which, like an empty container, permit every signification and do not limit imagination,’’ Abbott said.
“The Japanese character for white also forms a radical of the character for emptiness. Therefore, we can closely associate the colour white with emptiness.’’
Launched with a White soiree, the exhibition will be held in the magnificent 1930s art deco Everglades House set amid spectacular gardens, formal terraces and overlooking sweeping views of the Jamison Valley.
Dressed in white, guests will be served a selection of canapes and locally-produced drinks sponsored by Dryridge Estate, while floral arrangements will be provided by Floral Ink and musical duo Rachel Hannan and John Stuart will set the tone with smooth grooves.
All the artworks will be white-themed.
Everglades manager Guy McIlrath said: “With its progressive ideas and stark philosophies, the White exhibition is as avant garde as the property itself.
“The soiree event will be a reminder of Everglades in its heyday when you can imagine beautiful people floating around the gardens in beautiful clothes on summer evenings.
“In November the evenings are balmy, cool breezes and summer scents float through the trees and the formal ponds help cool the air, so it will be a very dreamy atmosphere.’’
The White exhibition official opening soiree event will be held at Everglades Historic House & Gardens, 37 Everglades Ave, Leura, from 5pm to 8pm on Saturday, November 11. Tickets: $55pp, $50pp National Trust members. Bookings essential: 0467 332 591 or 0410 312 827 or email firstname.lastname@example.org (please dress in white).
The exhibition will be displayed in the main house for a month thereafter. Everglades is open from 10am to 5pm daily during daylight savings and from 10am to 4pm during autumn and winter. Entry: $13 adults, $8 concessions, $4 children, National Trust members free.
Contact: (02) 4784 1938 or email email@example.com.
*Everglades Historic House & Gardens is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill for Deep Hill Media Photo: David Hill
A photographic exhibition at Woodford Academy, a National Trust property, in September will lay bare the soul of the oldest collection buildings in the Blue Mountains, revealing the colourful history which played out on the property.
The collection of black and white images by Blue Mountains photojournalist David Hill gives a revealing interpretation of the collection of buildings which makes up Woodford Academy in the mid-mountains village.
Based at Springwood, Mr Hill is a former newspaper photojournalist with a unique eye for poignant architectural, human and landscape portraiture.
“I’m always in search of depth and soul and try to make an emotional connection beyond the superficial with every subject, whether it be food on a plate, a person with a story to tell, light on a landscape or an architectural work like Woodford Academy,’’ he said.
“Life is a continuous stream of fleeting nuances and it’s a constant challenge to capture as many as I can.
“The use of black and white photography to capture the essence of Woodford Academy made sense for me because the land and the buildings have a complex past, influenced by so many events and characters and black and white printing tends to show more subtlety and tone without the distraction of colour.
“Hopefully my interpretation of Woodford Academy reflects the many shades of grey between the contrasting black and white tones.’’
Mr Hill also photographed the property at night to capture another dimension of its character.
“The pop of the streetlight and the slick new highway running next to this stoic sandstone old timer is such a juxtaposition yet is so in keeping with how our modern community lives alongside and within such tangible reminders of the past.
“Woodford Academy is not just a few old buildings on the side of the highway – it is a living entity that has a story to tell and a relevance to us today, and the volunteer management committee is doing an excellent job in ensuring that story is told and exploring ways in which to realise that relevance locally and nationally.’’
Woodford Academy Management Committee deputy chair Elizabeth Burgess said: “We were fortunate to have David Hill photograph the Academy a few years ago. The committee was overwhelmed by the beauty of David’s striking, highly detailed black and white photographs.
“We are greatly looking forward to presenting these stunning photographs of the Blue Mountains oldest building for our September open days in conjunction with the annual Hazelbrook/Woodford Garden Festival.’’
Shades of Woodford Academy will be on display at Woodford Academy, 90-92 Great Western Hwy, Woodford (on street parking available on Woodford Ave), from 10am to 4pm Saturday, September 10 and 17, and 12pm to 4pm Sunday, September 11 and 18. Meet photojournalist David Hill from 1pm – 2pm on Saturday, September 10. Photographs included in the exhibition will be for sale each Saturday.
Museum/exhibition entry: $6 adult, $4 concession, $15 family (2 adults, 2 children). Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
By Ellen Hill for Everglades Historic House & Gardens Photos: David Hill
Children can learn about heritage conservation and the natural environment in one of the most enchanting historic properties in the Blue Mountains these school holidays – and they won’t even know it’s educational.
My Adventure at Everglades children’s program will begin at Everglades Historic House & Gardens at Leura during the long December/January summer holidays.
Funded with a $25,000 grant from the Ian Potter Foundation through the Alec Prentice Sewell Gift, the program aims to encourage children to care for their natural and historic heritage.
Everglades manager Scott Pollock said the My Adventure at Everglades program would introduce a new generation of history and nature lovers to the Everglades property and others like it.
“We know that about two thousand of the thirty thousand visitors who come through the Everglades gate every year are children. That is two thousand potential future guardians of our nation’s heritage, culture and natural environment.
“For the first time, we have a dedicated program for children at Everglades, one which will spark their curiosity and urge to investigate and explore and help create a magical memory for the rest of their lives of an afternoon spent with Mum and Dad or Gran and Pop at this fairytale property in the Blue Mountains.’’
Surrounded by the spectacular landscape of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, Everglades features many outdoor “rooms’’ where small people can explore grassy slopes, tall trees, tiny flowers, colourful shrubs, outdoor theatre and mystic sculptures, tucked away among the Banksia men with their wicked tales.
The Everglades property at Leura includes 12.5 acres of Paul Sorensen-designed European-style gardens and native Australian bush with breathtaking views over the Jamison Valley, as well as the art deco house created by Henri Van de Velde in the 1930s.
Designed in consultation with expert educators for three to six-year-olds, the My Everglades Adventure program provides learning tools such as the Garden Detective Program, Sculpture Trail, activity book and an array of things to see and do.
Children will set off on their adventure with a pack of tools including a work book, magnifying glasses, garden trail, Play with Parents Guide and instructions for physical activities throughout the property.
Half the activities are for children to do themselves while others are conducted with parents.
A great resource to help children become ready for school, activities will give the opportunity for matching, drawing, colouring, identifying component parts, labelling and drawing from their surrounds along with counting, exploring and contemplating.
The My Everglades Adventure program will start during the 2015 summer school holidays. Everglades Historic House & Gardens, 37 Everglades Ave, Leura, is open from 10am to 5pm daily during daylight savings and from 10am to 4pm during autumn and winter. Entry: $13 adults, $8 concessions, $4 children, National Trust members free.
The children’s activity books cost $10 and $5 per subsequent book. Bookings and information: (02) 4784 1938 or email email@example.com.