Recognising Sue Halmagyi

Good afternoon everyone

Fig. 1 Ed Halmagyi holding the portrait of his mother, Sue Halmagyi, by artist Anne Cape.

I should like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land – the Borogegal and Gamaragal people of the Eora Nation. As carers for our parks and bushland, paying our respects to the first carers of our land is particularly appropriate.

For those who don’t know me, I am Kate Eccles, the current president of Mosman Parks & Bushland. I attempt to walk in Sue’s big shoes!

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this very special occasion – Cr Peter Abelson, Mayor of Mosman, Council’s General Manager, Dominic Johnson, guests, among whom I notice supporters of various campaigns and of course, Mosman Parks & Bushland’s own members. But above all, it is our very great pleasure to be sharing this day with the family and friends of Sue Halmagyi.

Thanks today, to Mosman Council for supplying this seat, and to staff for their help. Their support is an acknowledgement of the debt the community owes to Sue for her years of dedication to the parks and bushland of Mosman.

Michael (Michael Halmagyi) has instructed me to talk about Sue’s work. But I have to say to Michael, that we can’t remember the work without also remembering the personality. Because it was the person who did the work.

In the words of one of her team of bush regenerators whom I was encouraging to attend, “You’ve got to come. You were a favourite”, I said. “Well, she was a most impressive lady. She got things done!”

Sue’s first big campaign was back in the 1990s for the Bathers’ Pavilion. Bathers’ was dilapidated and Council came up with an attractive commercial plan. It involved a hotel, loss of public open space, loss of public access and loss of the changing facilities for bathers! It would have effectively privatised this dearly loved public landmark. There was a public outcry. At first Sue attempted to reason with Council. She received a very firm response. There was no way that the community was going to win this one. That was throwing down the gauntlet. Sue’s response was “You’re on!”.

For over 6 years the battle raged.

Vast amounts of research were needed – land titles, trawling through records, endless meetings and a court case.

Sue enjoyed it – parts of it anyway…..

She told of a meeting with the Minister for Land and Water which she attended with her accomplice and fellow battler, Connie Sievers. “What a great team we were”, said Sue. “Connie was brilliant. I asked the questions. Connie squeezed the details out of him. “Exactly when would that have occurred, Minister? / Who did you say was present at that meeting?/ Would that have been recorded?”

Did the family enjoy it quite as much? There was the evening when they were eating roast chicken and Sue was regaling them with the latest instalment of progress. The future chef put his head in his hands and said, “Couldn’t we just have a Bathers’ free chicken tonight?”

The end result was a happy one. Restaurant, change rooms, public open space and a beautiful historic building are very much enjoyed by the public.

Hard on the heels of the Battle for Bathers came another battle – to save the Defence Lands at Middle Head and Georges Heights. Some of the most significant lands in Sydney Harbour were to be sold out of the public domain. Shortly after the Headland Preservation Group launched its campaign, Sue became President of the Mosman Parks & Bushland Association. She too was absolutely determined that these lands were to stay public

When the battle was won and the Harbour Trust was established, Sue served on the Trust’s Community Advisory Committee. Her constructive criticism and suggestions were appreciated. She helped practically too, first by monitoring the die-back that was threatening bushland at Middle Head, and later, at North Head, she helped the Harbour Trust establish a volunteer native plant nursery. Then she got the nursery volunteers researching the habitat of the endangered Long Nosed Bandicoot. And then the nursery volunteers were put to work conserving the 3rd Quarantine Cemetery on North Head. Sue was a difficult person to say “No” to.

We have strayed out of Mosman, but Sue loved these projects at North Head and was proud of their success.

Now back to Mosman and her work as President of The Mosman Parks & Bushland Association. Apart from a brief period, she was President from 1998 until 2012 when ill health eventually forced her resignation.

Sue and the Association were passionate in the belief that public land should be retained and enhanced for the benefit of the public. Her advocacy for its protection ranged from large areas like Middle Head to small spaces that may seem insignificant but nevertheless support the green and open character of Mosman.

Shall I mention a certain unmade road? Saving that small space took 20 years! But saved it was eventually and now forms a happy part of a larger Reserve.

Barry O’Keefe said at one of our meetings, if the community is right in its opposition to a threat, eventually it gets its way and change comes.

When Sue walked in to a Council meeting, you felt a collective indrawn breath and girding of loins. Antennae twitched and Councillors and Council staff would have a pretty fair idea of what they were in for – at least a telling off and probably a fight.

 But it was not always a fight that Sue was after. When the last LEP was being drafted and the state government was rezoning urban bushland, she worked with Council to ensure that maximum protection for Mosman’s bushland was retained.

Sue was a qualified bush regenerator and an ardent supporter of the Bradley method of bush regeneration developed in Mosman by Joan and Eileen Bradley, Audrey Lenning and others and supported by Barry O’Keefe.

In 2010 Sue planned and worked with Council to enhance the Bradley Bushland Reserve, recruiting volunteers and working here herself on her hands and knees until very shortly before she died. The work isn’t finished, but it continues.

In preparation for today I found some of the words that other people have used to describe Sue – “the lady who got things done”.

“Her ideas are based on science, reason and information”

“A dedicated and enthusiastic worker for the environment”

“A real leader of people with an ability to focus on the real issues. People like Sue inspire people to bring lasting positive results”

Ultimately, though, when all the shouting is over, battles lost or won, we come back to the source of the inspiration – nature’s own value, nature’s own truth. Sitting quietly with Sue, at a time when she was slowing down (only a little) looking through the bushland at the sea, she said “I’ve liked to dream.”

As you walked up the path to this seat, you will have passed the stone commemorating the work of the Bradley sisters, two of the original dreamers of the Mosman bushland movement.

We remember Sue’s dreams and her work.


Kate Eccles

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