Get to know Wingecarribee Shire's 2022 Citizen of the Year Eric Savage.
How did you feel when you were announced as the 2022 Citizen of the Year?
When Victoria from the council called me last week to say I was nominated, and would I accept the nomination, I was a shocked as it was completely out of left-field.
If the award encourages others to get involved in the local community, that's great.
Everyone can do something - dog walking at the Animal Shelter, volunteer to listen to primary school kids leaning to read, opening your garden as a fundraiser, utilise your skills from your working life for your local community organisation, charities or sports clubs. Besides the satisfaction of helping others and meeting people, its great for your own mental health.
How long have you called the Southern Highlands home?
Clive (my partner of 41 years) and I moved out of Sydney after retiring from public service careers in 2002.
We bought one hectare of land and a 'house' just south of the River in Berrima. The house was very basic - probably build in the early-mid 1800s from slab timbers cut on the property. Originally it would have had a dirt floor but later concreted by a former owner some time after WWII). One room was was added in the 1960s.
We believe the property was the garden and orchard for the first Anglican Minister in Berrima; the original 60 feet deep well is still in the garden. Our first renovation was to bring the toilet inside and start planting a garden in what was then a large horse paddock.
In 2006, we put on major extension which earned a Council Heritage Award in 2007. The garden is planted out with hundreds of heritage roses and has been opened as a fundraiser for the Botanical Gardens and others.
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How did you get involved with the Berrima Resident's Assocation?
I joined the BRA very soon after moving here, probably in 2003 or 2004, later joining the Committee and becoming President probably in 2010 (after Keith Walker-Smith stepped down) and was re-elected annually, except for a couple years when Mary Cawood was President.
The BRA was set up in 1983 to protect Berrima from inappropriate development and that has been its primary focus ever since.
I was active in community affairs in Darlinghurst in Sydney before moving to Berrima and it was natural to get involved in the local Berrima community when we moved here, particularly as the BRA was full of very interesting, hard woking people who loved Berrima and wanted to protect it.
How did you get involved with the National Trust and Harper's Mansion?
I joined the local branch of the National Trust just after we moved here, joined the Committee and served as Secretary for a few years in the 2004-8 period.
So when the National Trust suddenly announced in 2006 that they were going to sell Harper's (it was acquired by the Trust in 1978 and opened to the public in 1985), I joined local residents and Trust members to stop the sale.
The Trust Board eventually agreed not to sell it on the condition that the property be self sustaining. I joined the first Management Committee in 2007 and have been there ever since, on an off as Chair of the Committee.
Since 2007 the Committee has raised over $700,000 which has all been put back to improve the house and to develop the garden. It remains one of the most successful properties the Trust owns in NSW.
The Management Committee has worked closely with Council's Destination Southern Highlands to promote the National Trust, Harper's Mansion and Berrima as a heritage tourist destination.
What's something that you have achieved and the proudest of?
This is interesting. I think I am most proud of commissioning two of NSW's most highly respected heritage landscape professionals, Colleen Morris and Christine Hay, in 2017 to report on the heritage significance of the "Berrima, Sutton Forest and Exeter Landscape Area".
The 186 page study was generously financed by grants from 'Battle for Berrima' and 'Coal Free Southern Highlands' and formed evidence in the expert opinions submitted by the community opposing the Hume Coal project.
This expert Study is also very important as it establishes the evidence for the State and National heritage significance of Berrima and underpins the BRA's 2019 Nomination to the NSW Heritage Council to list Berrima and Surrounds on the State Heritage Inventory.
This nomination is still under review ! The Study is also the reason why the historic Sutton Forest to Exeter landscape should be listed on the Council's heritage inventory - a work still in process.
Also, back in 2009-10, the BRA worked collaboratively with the Berrima Business Houses, the National Trust, the Berrima Courthouse Trust, Berrima Museum and others, in working closely with Wingecarribee Council, and the Council's Heritage Adviser, to draft the heritage provisions of the Berrima Development Control Plan (2010), which ever since has been quite effective in allowing Berrima to grow while retaining the village's essential heritage values.
There is still unfinished business. Berrima Gaol is up for sale; what the Government decides will determine Berrima's fate.
Put bluntly this decision is between 'profit' - sell to the highest bidder or let the community 'buy it back' for the community. The community's vision is for the historic site to re-purposed as an arts and cultural centre serving the whole Southern Highlands, creating sustainable jobs, delivering social and economic benefits and new local investment, like Beechworth Gaol, and open to the public as a major tourist attraction. Modelled on Carriageworks, a weekly Farmer's Market on site would showcase local produce and providores.
My proudest achievement would be playing a part in securing Berrima Gaol for our community.
What's your favourite thing about living in Berrima?
Definitely the Post Office, where you have to collect your mail and chat to Bronwyn or Judith about nothing and everything in particular. But also The General Store, Josh's, the Berrima Museum, and the Little Hand Stirred Jam Shop, the 1830s houses around the Marketplace. Dawn Service on ANZAC Day.
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