OUR SAY | Historians and environmentalists have reason to smile

THEN AND NOW: A 1950s snap of Emily Cottage taken by my grandfather, Arn McGill. Last week, I stood in exactly the same spot to try to capture the same angle of the much-loved local heritage icon.
THEN AND NOW: A 1950s snap of Emily Cottage taken by my grandfather, Arn McGill. Last week, I stood in exactly the same spot to try to capture the same angle of the much-loved local heritage icon.

Who’s your hero?

Some people list movie stars, sports stars, or even politicians, but I think of my ornthilogist grandfather.

I can still picture him in his wide-brim hat with a battered set of binoculars around his neck, taking me through our local bushland and pointing out everything from lorikeets and red-belly blacksnakes to the bush tuckers he learned as a kid.

It was Arnold McGill OAM who taught me my love of history, research, art, maps, photography and heritage – and, of course, the bush. 

He was also a man who stood up to be counted.

He was at the forefront of campaigns in the 1950s and 1960s to create Towra Point Nature Reserve on Botany Bay and protect Wolli Creek bushland, among many other battles around Sydney.

So, why do I mention this? Well, two reasons. It is almost exactly 30 years since Grandad’s death in 1988….and three of his greatest heritage passions in Macarthur were:

1. Emily Cottage.

2. Georges River bushland.

3. Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan.

So, yes, it did feel a bit spooky as all three of those things have this week burst into the news – and for all the right reasons.

Firstly, the Botanic Garden is celebrating its 30th birthday. Congratulations!

This is our greatest tourism asset, and my grandfather (as a vocal campaigner for suburban wildlife corridors) was thrilled when the Garden was announced, but sadly did not live long enough to see it open in 1988.

Nonetheless, one of his proteges – Alan Leishman – has spent decades at Mount Annan as the resident ornithologist and campaigner to keep green corridors open. Grandad would be proud. The Garden is a local gem.

My grandfather was also fascinated by Emily Cottage, snapping the (top) photo above in the 1950s and I fondly recall him examining photos I snapped of the heritage building as a teenager wielding my first camera.

I think he would be delighted that, after a patchy run of owners, it has now been purchased the Catholic Club, not a developer.

Three things burst into the news last week – for all the right reasons.

Unfortunately there have been a few snide comments made online suggesting Emily Cottage will be bulldozed for car parking or filled by poker machines – IT WON’T. Thankfully, most fair-minded people have simply praised the Club for trying to protect both it, and the Fisher’s Ghost Restaurant ruin.

As somebody who works closely with the Club and its Board, I can assure you these purchases were made with the best of community intentions – and its track record with Quondong speaks for itself. Thank you, Catho.

Finally, I was delighted to hear Luke Foley’s promise of a Koala National Park along the Georges River – from Glenfield to Appin. Hooray.

My grandfather often dreamed of this, as did other mentors such as the great Keith Longhurst, and I spent my childhood exploring around The Basin, Freres Crossing and many of the other natural wonders that look set to be included. IF Labor wins, and IF Foley keeps his promise, we’ll also get a ‘koala hospital’ and be truly recognised as a koala capital. Good stuff.

Congrats to our local MPs Greg Warren and Anoulack Chanthivong for pushing this. It makes a difference to the constant stream of loss.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the state government responded by not only matching Labor’s vow, but extending the boundary of the promised national park to include koala habitat at Wilton, Douglas Park and other Wollondilly sites. But that would mean standing up to developers. Don't hold your breath.