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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Audrey Lenning 1926–2015

image001 Obituary – Audrey Lenning 1926–2015: Passionate conservationist practised the vigilance she taught

SMH Date May 17, 2016 – 9:00PM

Audrey Lenning was known for her meticulous eye and vast knowledge and experience. Photo: Supplied

In 1964 Audrey Lenning was a foundation member of the Ashton Park Association, now Mosman Parks and Bushland Association Incorporated, and for the rest of her life was an active campaigner for the protection of bushland and open space both locally and further afield. She firmly believed in the motto, “The price of bushland is eternal vigilance”.

The Ashton Park group was the first association devoted to the conservation of urban bushland formed in Australia and was initially in response to the land being bulldozed for an unnecessary road. Lenning and others lobbied the then minister of lands to save the park from the construction of a car park by Taronga Zoo. Out of these efforts grew the bushland management industry.

Lenning was also revered for her work with the Bradley sisters in developing a system of bush regeneration that is still used.

                                                                                                                                 image002Conservationist Audrey Lenning fought for more than 50 years to preserve bushland in Mosman. Photo: Supplied

Audrey Joy Corbett was born on March 19, 1926. She was the first of two daughters to Harold Corbett, a Mosman realtor and fifth-generation Australian, and his wife, Muriel (nee Read), who had been visiting Australia from London, aged 19, with her uncle, a British admiral, when World War I broke out. It was deemed safer for Muriel to remain in Sydney and her uncle returned alone for battle. Audrey and Harold met, married in 1921 and moved into the house that Harold had had built for them. It remains the family home to this day.

After a free-spirited Mosman childhood, sliding down gullies, hitching rides with the milkman, who kept his horse at Middle Head, and running through flannel flowers, boronias and grevilleas in heathland that is now Rawson Park, Audrey matriculated from North Sydney Girls High School. Her first choice of career was medicine – however, her father was not of the view that this was a profession for women. So she gained a Bachelor of Economics at the University of Sydney in the late 1940s then went travelling and working in Europe for three years. On her return she secured a position at Fairfax in the then male-dominated Financial Review as its first female commodities writer.

While she was at university, Audrey had met Ray Lenning, who had come to Australia as a refugee from Prussia, and the pair courted at the State Library in Macquarie Street. They would study together, reading philosophy and poetry, then Ray would walk Audrey to the ferry at Circular Quay. He was enamoured by what he described as her “quiet English reserve”. They married in 1955 and built a house in Clifton Gardens.

After leaving Fairfax to start a family, Lenning met Eileen and Joan Bradley while taking her daughter to a small kindergarten in the house next door to them.

On their walks around Clifton Gardens, the sisters had been observing that the bush was being overrun by weeds and that birdlife was in decline. The methods of the day for controlling weeds, slash and burn, were not working.

The Bradleys and their friends, Lenning and future mayor of Mosman Barry O’Keefe among them, worked on a new method of clearing out non-native growth. The system involved moving gradually from relatively weed-free areas to those more densely weed infested, disturbing the soil as little as possible so native seeds could germinate.

The method was slow but it allowed the bush to regenerate of its own accord.

The Bradleys, Lenning, Joan Larking, June Gram, Jean Walker and O’Keefe began applying the principle of working from good bush to bad in various reserves around Mosman.

For 46 years Lenning continuously held office in the original organisation and the MPBA, where she was still vice-president in 2010. Her role was key both as campaigner and bush regenerator. Early in her life as an activist and always in a voluntary capacity, Lenning became a person whose opinion and support was sought and valued by other activists and groups in their campaigns. She was known for her meticulous eye and vast knowledge and experience.

In the 1970s, when the battle for Kellys Bush in Hunters Hill began, Lenning and Joan Bradley attended meetings and gave advice from their experience, which helped to ensure the success of that campaign.

At Mosman Council Lenning was a constant advocate for public land and bushland, gaining respect for her knowledge, intelligent insight and dogged determination. She was an effective negotiator with government departments at all levels, her quiet gracious demeanour belying a steely will never to give up.

Her single-minded dedication to bushland over more than 50 years inspired and motivated countless individuals and organisations to take up the cause.

One of the more important and later challenges on which Lenning worked was the battle over zoning of Mosman bushland. The MPBA preference was to choose “E2 Bushland”, rather than as “Open Space”, which would promote inappropriate development.

For many years Lenning was also a member of the Nature Conservation Council’s Urban Bushland Committee and played an active role liaising with countless other organisations, including the National Trust and the Total Environment Centre.

From 2002 to 2007 Lenning was a member of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust’s Community Advisory Committee formed after the decommissioning of Defence land on Middle Head and Georges Heights.

Nick Hollo, artist and former deputy executive director of the trust, remembers working with Lenning.

“She was wonderful to work with, always bright and passionate. She’d listen carefully then pull everything together so analytically. When we were dividing building blocks on Markham Close we wanted to preserve the ridge line. Audrey came to us, not in a meeting but on her own time, with a better plan, moving the blocks slightly and that is what was used. She was polite and witty and determined, but she just wanted to get the best outcome, and people like that are incredibly rare.”

The current president of the MPBA, Kate Eccles, said, “I was one of Audrey’s devotees and she was a mentor to me. She was a great inspiration to bush regenerators and people concerned with saving public land.” Indeed, Lenning continued to mentor long after she retreated from public life. One afternoon, after another visitor had left and a spate of telephone inquiries seeking advice or comment, she quietly remarked to herself, “They’ll just have to learn to manage by themselves”.

Lenning was also a founding member of the Friends of Bradley Bushland, established in 1984 to protect the reserve on Middle Head Road named in commemoration of the pioneering work of the Bradleys. Lenning continued working to maintain the reserve for moe than 20 years.

Lenning contributed to and edited many publications including Weeds & Their Control, the MPBA’s publication Bush Regeneration, Bringing Back The Bush, and Drug Dependence with Professor Catherine le Fevre in 1968, on behalf of The Middle Harbour Group of the NSW Association of University Women Graduates.

In 2008 Lenning was diagnosed with vascular dementia but maintained a healthy interest in all things political and environmental to the end. Ultimately she achieved her original intention to make a useful contribution to medical science by donating her body to the University of Sydney’s Body Donor Program.

She is survived by her daughter Angela, son-in-law Tom, grandsons Dean and Tommy and great-grandchildren.

Harriet Veitch

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50th Anniversary

   Mosman Parks & Bushland Association
invites you to our
50th Anniversary Celebration

from 4 pm on Saturday 25th October 2014
Rawson Park
Cross Street
Mosman NSW 2088
Bradley Bushland Reserve
Middle Head Road
Mosman NSW 2088

The Mosman Parks & Bushland Association, originally the Ashton Park Association, was formed in 1964 when bushland at Bradleys Head was threatened with destruction. The Association invites you to join us in celebrating 50 years of protecting parks, bushland and open space and the development of a system of bush regeneration known as the “Bradley Method”.

Our celebration will begin at 4pm with conducted walks around the Bradley Bushland Reserve.

Formal proceedings will commence at 5pm on the grassy knoll overlooking the Bradley Bushland Reserve (or in the Drill Hall if raining).

Cr Peter Abelson, Mayor of Mosman, will introduce our guest speakers.


Robyn Williams AM, the ABC’s Science Show and Ockham’s Razor

Jeff Angel, Executive Director, Total Environment Centre


There will be wine and cheese in the Drill Hall and an exhibition of highlights from 50 years of bushland regeneration in Mosman.

Mosman Parks & Bushland Association is grateful to Mosman Council for its support of this event.

For directions to join a walk and to the venue for speeches, please come to the Drill Hall, Rawson Park, Cross Street, Mosman.

RSVP by email please to help us with catering:

For more information  

Kate Eccles, President, 02 9968 1336
Libby Manuel,                0418 401 238


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Bush Regeneration Founders

The Mosman Parks & Bushland Association had its gestation due to the work of Eileen Burton Bradley (1911-1976) and Joan Burton Bradley (1916-1982).

The story of these 2 remarkable women is reproduced here in full in an article authored by Heather Radi, and published online at

Bradley Sisters

Figure 1. (Kate please identify who this is, and possible date?)

Eileen Burton Bradley (1911-1976) and Joan Burton Bradley (1916-1982), bush regenerators, were born on 14 August 1911 and 2 September 1916 at Neutral Bay, Sydney, third and fourth daughters of native-born parents John Houghton Bradley, dentist, and his wife Caroline Mary, née Drummond. Both sisters attended Wenona School. Graduating from the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1938), Joan was employed as an industrial chemist. Eileen helped at home and also worked for a dentist.

After World War II they bicycled around England, Wales and Scotland, taking particular pleasure in woodlands and forests. They later ran a small decorating business from their Mosman home, where their widowed mother joined them. All three were keen gardeners. Joan was also a skilled carpenter and a black-and-white photographer.

Systematic observers of the natural environment, the sisters studied the habits of three families of the Superb Fairy-wren, Malurus cyaneus, which frequented their garden and nearby Ashton Park. They used colour-coded rings to identify individual birds. Their ‘Notes on the Behaviour and Plumage of Colour-ringed Blue Wrens’ appeared in Emu (1958). When numbers fell dramatically in 1966, Joan alerted the press that minute doses of organochlorines over long periods caused sterility in small birds.

Eileen and Joan walked regularly in Ashton Park and on Chowder Head. Observing that attempts to control weeds by slashing and clearing resulted in rampant regrowth, they formulated an alternative strategy. The sisters hand-weeded where they walked, doing less than an hour a day and being careful to replace the bush litter which—they believed—contained the seedbank for new growth. They waited for the bush to regenerate.

In Weeds and their Control (1967) and in Joan’s Bush Regeneration (1971) they developed the three principles of the Bradley method of bush regeneration: work outward from less infested to more seriously infested areas; minimize disturbance, and replace topsoil and litter; allow regeneration to set the pace of the work. Selected hand-tools were the only implements permitted. The Bradleys opposed the use of chemicals and criticized the controlled-burning programme begun in 1971 by the State’s Forestry Commission.

From 1962 the sisters had kept records of their work. Following an experimental burn in Ashton Park in 1966, they noticed the introduction of weeds and began to watch regrowth after other controlled burning. By 1973 they proclaimed that regular ‘cool fires’ did more damage to bushland than the wildfires which it was intended to control. In contrast, intense fire stimulates regrowth.

By 1975 bush regeneration was gaining public support and the value of their work was becoming acknowledged. That year the restoration and landscaping of bushland in suburban North Sydney was funded as a National Estate project. Next year money was available to the State branch of the National Trust of Australia for an experiment in weed-control at Ludovic Blackwood Memorial Sanctuary, Beecroft. The trust adopted the Bradley method, employing Joan to supervise the work and to develop its training programme.

The sisters had been supported in their work by the Ashton Park Association (later becoming Mosman Parklands and Ashton Park Association), formed in 1964 to oppose a projected car-park for Taronga Zoo within Ashton Park. Members of the association joined the Bradleys as volunteer weeders. As their method became more widely known, similar organizations of volunteers formed and local government authorities began to employ bush-regeneration teams. The sisters did not seek to re-create pristine bushland, but waited to see what returned. Sometimes there was no regeneration. Retention of natural litter inhibits germination of some species. The Bradley principles have been modified in practice as knowledge of conditions for germination accumulates: the prescription of small hand-tools has gone and the limitations on regeneration in seriously degraded bushland are better understood. A science has been refined since the Bradleys established its bases.

Eileen died of myocardial infarction on 24 February 1976 in Sydney Hospital, Joan of the same illness on 18 May 1982 at Clifton Gardens; both were cremated. Joan’s notes for a revised edition of Bush Regeneration were used for Bringing Back the Bush: The Bradley Method of Bush Regeneration (1988), edited by Joan Larking, Audrey Lenning and Jean Walker.

Select Bibliography

  • Wenonian, 1948
  • National Trust of Australia (New South Wales), Bulletin, 1976-77
  • Mosman Daily, 6 July 1966, 8 Nov 1967, 24 Oct 1970, 9 June 1972, 25 May 1982, 20 Sept 1985
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 June 1972, 2 Feb 1973, 16 Aug 1980, 21 May 1982
  • E. Bradley, Control Burning and Wildfire (manuscript, 1972, held in Mosman Municipal Library)


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Where bush regeneration all began – Mosman NSW 2088

Bradley Bushland sign

The Bradley Bushland Reserve is on Middle Head Road, a corner of harbour side Sydney wedged between the road, tennis courts and playing fields.  Volunteers have been helping restore this locally unique patch of sandstone heathland,  which honours the Bradley sisters, Eileen and Joan, who invented the concept of bush regeneration in this area in the 1960s.

These days Mosman is better known for its zoo, breathtaking views and some exorbitant property prices than as the home for thirty years of two women who helped to bring grassroots environmental activism into being. It was in their local bushland that these unlikely and ladylike eco-pioneers, working with other members of their local resident action group, got down on their middle-aged hands and knees and carefully, systematically, began to weed out the plants they believed to be out-of-place among the native flora.

After Joan Bradley’s death in 1982 The Mosman Parks and Bushland Association lobbied to have the hectare of bushland dedicated as a memorial to the Bradley sisters. At the opening of the reserve in 1988 Milo Dunphy, then director of The Total Environment Centre, spoke persuasively of the importance of community groups.

Today as the implications of the Greenhouse Effect are beginning to occupy us we need the sort of minds that regard an acre of natural bushland as precious, that can nurture it in the tiniest detail and draw general principles from it applicable to millions of acres up and down the country.

Fast forward and much has changed for the better. Land managers like local councils have money to spend on bushland management. Bushland is considered precious, not as available space for which a use has yet to be found. Great initiatives started by the Bradley Sisters, then taken over by Mosman Parks and Bushland Association means bush care in busy urban environments is still  moving in the right direction, by involving community volunteers in the care of their local patches of bush.

Mosman Parks & Bushland Association

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Bradley Sisters and Bradleys Head

There is an excellent guide written by the Mosman Historical Society in 2010,  about the Bradleys Head area,  which encompasses Sirius Cove,  Athol Bay, Bradleys Head itself and around the point to Taylors Bay.

The Bradley Sisters developed their famous techniques for bushland regeneration while fighting the many invading species of imported exotic flora that were dominating the native flora in that area.

The community group formed in 1964 that became closely identified with their work was originally called Ashton Park Association,  after the regeneration work done in Ashton Park on Bradleys Head.

The Ashton Society morphed into the Mosman Parks & Bushland Association in 1982.  (check date with Kate Eccles)

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