A Tribute to Nell Pillars

Nell Pillars was the first to stimulate an interest in the preservation of Randwick’s early heritage buildings. Early in 1957 she advertised, inviting any local resident interested to attend a meeting at her home, the 1854 heritage mansion Nugal Hall, in Milford Street, Randwick.

At this meeting, representatives from the National Trust of Australia and the Royal Australian Historical Society attended. The outcome was the formation of Randwick Historical Society by forty local residents. The Mayor of Randwick, Alderman W.H. Lucas agreed to become Patron and it was decided to celebrate the Centenary of Randwick with an exhibition in the Town Hall, in December 1957.

The basis of the Society’s present museum collection was formed from early residents after Nell advertised for local history and items for the Centenary display.

Nell Pillars generously offered the use of Nugal Hall to the Society for its monthly meetings, until she died in August 1973 – sixteen years in all.

Nell was responsible for successfully submitting the first two buildings in Randwick to

the National Trust of Australia for heritage listing – Hooper Cottage and the old Star & Garter Inn. It was after searching the history of Nugal Hall that she resolved to stimulate the preservation of other local heritage buildings, including Blenheim House. In the 1950s and 60s, heritage preservation was not popular, and she was rebuffed in many ways by some of Randwick’s leading citizens when trying to gain support.

Campaigns waged and popular activities arranged including:

◊ Public inspections of Nugal Hall every month, with member Lorna Sanders decorating the stately old home dressed in period costume.

◊ Exhibitions of local artists and popular dances in Nugal Hall’s ballroom for historic occasions took place with members also dressed in period costume.

◊ Plaques for certain important heritage buildings were erected including the Blacket building of Prince of Wales Hospital.

Nell gave generous support in the setting up of Bare Island Fort Museum at La Perouse in 1964. This flourished until 1976 with an average of 1,000 visitors weekly. Support was given for the coming 1970 Bicentenary of Cook’s landing in Botany Bay and the promotion of the ill-fated building of Cook’s Endeavour replica ship. Almost $400 was raised for this project and Captain Alan Villiers, well known author and mariner, was contacted of obtain the oak and sail the replica. The Mayors of historical societies in the vicinity of Botany Bay were invited to Nugal Hall to co-ordinate action for this project. Lack of government support scuttled this worthy historical re-enactment ever taking place.

Hazel Brombey, R&DHS Secretary

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