Ailsa Brackley du Bois appointed to the Ballarat Heritage Advisory Committee

SCCA PhD Candidate Ailsa Brackley du Bois, has been appointed to the City of Ballarat’s Heritage Advisory Committee as a Community Representative. This significant voluntary position involves a three-year fixed term commitment

I have lived in Ballarat since January 2005 with my husband and daughter. Our first home, as mortgage-holders, was a modest, weatherboard, ‘returned soldier’s bungalow’ in Melbourne’s inner-West Spotswood, which we lovingly restored to reflect its old-fashioned charms. It was on a tiny block though, so ultimately, we felt rather hemmed-in at that address, despite the great proximity to everything happening in marvellous Melbourne.

As tree-changers, we credit Ballarat’s plentiful heritage architecture, large blocks, picturesque and wide tree-lined streetscapes, un-congested roads, bright and starry night skies and abundant fresh air as some of the initial draw-cards. Our sketchy awareness of the Eureka story-line and the strong tradition of quality performing arts was also part of the appeal for us. 

Our move here caused my late parents to relocate from Adelaide, followed by my brother and his family from Darwin who lived here for five years. My parents adored Ballarat and were proud members of, and advocates for, Sovereign Hill and the Gold Museum. My Mum worked as a voluntary information officer at the Ballarat Regional Tourism Office (now known as Visit Ballarat) in the old Eureka Centre (now repurposed as the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, M.A.D.E.) Mum was an avid collector of books and paraphernalia on local history. While she was alive, I was far too busy commuting to Melbourne, and elsewhere, in my career as an educational publisher, to participate in any of the events at attractions she recommended. Since her passing I have created that time.

When we first arrived, we set about fully renovating our shabby 1880’s Victorian home in Ballarat Central, after carefully researching its history of ownership and modification over the years. This experience was probably the spark that led us to then buy and renovate an 1870’s butcher’s shop in Ballarat East. This involved sympathetically converting the neglected and filthy old shop into a clean commercial art gallery. Thereafter, in pursuit of greater challenges, we purchased an utterly derelict rural commercial property, established in the 1860’s. We embarked on a life changing adventure in considerate restoration and resurrection efforts to make this our family home. We’ve effectively just jumped from one mortgage to another, but all have been rewarding labours of love.

Throughout this process of attempting our fourth, and by far most ambitious, restoration and renovation project, we worked very closely with Heritage Architects and Engineers in advisory roles, while we adopted the difficult job of becoming owner builders. We learned an enormous amount and were deeply honoured to receive the 2014 Category Award for ‘Best Adaptive Reuse of a Heritage Place’ from the City of Ballarat. That story was covered by the ABC and The Courier. We were also to be featured on the ABC Television’s Restoration Australia Series II, but just one day before the camera crew were due to arrive that whole series was sadly cancelled.

Through embarking on this profound personal journey of learning the intricate differences between preservation, restoration and adaptive reuse, it created a passion in me that grew to develop professional relevance. I set about taking a range of knowledge development programs: attending the 2013 Renew Australia ‘Creating Spaces’ Conference in Newcastle, the 2014 ‘Critical Heritage’ Conference at Australia National University. in Canberra, the 2014 ‘Urban Built Heritage’ Conference at the University of Melbourne, various UNESCO World Heritage seminars on the Historic Urban Landscape, the 2015 ICOMOS workshops in Port Fairy, the 2016 AHA Conference hosted by Federation University Australia’s CRCAH at the landmark Ballarat Mechanic’s Institute, as well as Deakin University’s various cultural heritage seminars held in Melbourne CBD. I have also been actively engaged in various city-planning meetings throughout, within my local community environment. The list goes on, but suffice to say that I’ve been staying abreast of most heritage sensitive issues that have arisen in Ballarat and Melbourne over the past five years.

For one intense year, I worked in a marketing communications liaison role on the City of Ballarat’s complex major urban redevelopment project at ‘Civic Hall Site’. Thereafter, I worked as the Artistic Director for Creative Clunes, planning, curating and delivering the 10th Anniversary Clunes Booktown Festival, which utilised an eclectic range of unique and mostly unrestored heritage spaces. I’ve also written a wide range of public history style articles in the public forum, intended to be informative but also approachable. Indicative of this ‘easy read’ genre are articles such as this one for Arts Atlas.

It’s fair to say that I’ve become well and truly ensconced in how much heritage matters. I am profoundly grateful for both the formal and informal heritage industry education I’ve been privileged to have, thanks to the immense influence of so many great people and organisations within Ballarat, and beyond.  A mid-life career transition such as mine does not occur without incredible dedication, but also extraordinary inspiration from others.

Over the past five years, I feel that Ballarat, rather like myself, has entered a new phase of social development and consciousness. Thanks to a lively arts and communications culture, and visionary hard work by so many people, Ballarat has truly begun to come alive again with a dynamic cultural embrace of both its past and present riches. 

I believe that recognition and respect for heritage assets, both tangible and intangible, is critical for the future prosperity of the diverse communities of Ballarat, as is offering visitors a flexible and engaging experience of distinction and resonance. I understand the weight of responsibility in taking on this role with the Ballarat Heritage Advisory Committee. And I greatly look forward to the challenge of representing the people of Ballarat and being of service in a multi-channel communications capacity. I suspect this experience will also enrich my research endeavours.

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