The catalyst for the establishment of the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust (BCCT) was a Sydney County Council (SCC) plan in 1963 to destroy a row of trees in Wongala Crescent in order to erect poles for high tension electricity mains. Nearby residents began a campaign to save the trees, appealing to the SCC and running a public campaign involving local members of Parliament. A compromise was reached which saved the trees.
This experience led Mr E J Richards, to propose the formation of a Civic Trust. He had knowledge of the work of the English Civic Trust, founded in 1957. That organisation was created “to champion Britain’s rich heritage of historic buildings and places” as there were many plans for unsuitable developments in the years following WW11.
According to Robyn Rowlands, a foundation committee member and later Treasurer of the BCCT, the interests of the first committee members were varied. Prime movers E.J.Richards and F.R.Barnett were very concerned to preserve the village character of Beecroft. John Noble was already involved, with a few friends, in removing privet in the Beecroft Reserve. Marie Byles and her brother, Baldur Byles, were active conservationists. Both John Noble and Marie Byles had already led walks through the local bushland to promote the value of these wild areas. Robyn Rowlands and her husband Owen, who lived close to Beecroft Reserve, but on the Epping side, were concerned at rubbish being dumped by residents in the reserve and decided to attend the first public meeting when it was announced in The Northern District Times.
According to Robyn Morrow, her father W.H. (Bill) Matthews believed the new organisation could have the dual function of preserving both the built and natural environment of the area. He was strongly “anti-development” and said, “We got in just before the power of the developers got so strong and we were able to influence Council”. The Constitution of the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust thus reflected the varied concerns of the early committee members who wrote it. The first object of the Trust, expressed in its constitution, is “The preservation of the existing village character and the natural beauty of Beecroft and Cheltenham”.
At the initial public meeting in 1964, E.J. Richards was elected President. Marie Byles and Bill Matthews were elected Vice-Presidents. The first Hon. Secretary was F.R. Barnett and R.A.L. Green was elected Treasurer. Shirley Manion, who accompanied her neighbour to the first meeting, after receiving a flyer in her letterbox, found herself elected to committee, along with Robyn Rowlands, John Noble, M.A. Brown, R. Kingsford-Smith and E.B. Penman (‘The Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust Story’.)
Australia’s flood of post-war migrants needed housing. Local Councils had to make decisions on many development applications without the necessary level of legislation that could guide that decision-making. While Don Evans, a Hornsby Shire Councillor for C riding and a Beecroft resident, was supportive of the Trust’s aims, as was Mr Max Ruddock, another Councillor, Don Tulloch, referred to the BCCT as “The Anti-Progress Association” according to Robyn Rowland. At the time Hornsby Council did not publish its decisions, so committee members resolved to create a roster of members to attend Council meetings and report on proposals before Council that affected the district. They could then prepare to lobby for favourable outcomes.
In New South Wales the importance of heritage and the need to preserve it was rising. In other parts of Sydney and across the state organisations were formed in the 1960s with aims similar to the BCCT. The others still surviving include the Paddington Society, also formed in 1964 and the Balmain Association, formed in 1965. Influential in raising the need to recognise and protect heritage was the NSW branch of the National Trust of Australia, founded in 1945. Another significant event soon afterward the creation of these citizens’ groups was the ‘Green Bans’, a movement whereby community groups enlisted the help of the Builders Labourers’ Federation to place bans on building work on sites that local groups were convinced would create unsuitable developments. The first campaign preserved Kelly’s Bush in Hunters Hill. The most notable campaign was saving The Rocks as a heritage precinct.
The BCCT came under its greatest risk of fracture when the dual goals of preserving the natural environment as well as the village character of Beecroft were tested during the Greiner government’s proposal in the 1990s to construct the M2 motorway. Local member, Bruce Baird, was also the NSW Roads Minister. Many residents were very concerned about the adverse effects of traffic on suburban streets. Because of population growth in the Hills District, heavy peak hour traffic streamed through formerly quiet Beecroft thoroughfares such as Sutherland Road. Other residents who valued the Beecroft and Cheltenham reserves were strongly opposed to their destruction for this major road project.
For almost 50 years the BCCT has survived and continues the fight to retain the inherited character of Beecroft and Cheltenham.