WERONA: a place of peace (1982 – 2023)
Heather Saville, New South Wales Regional Meeting, and Werona Friends
This second part of Werona’s history gives a quick update on the significant changes to the property and surrounds, looks at the changes in use since it was bought and concludes with personal memories of what it has meant to many individuals over the years.
As covered in the March edition of The Australian Friend, the 1982 bush fires destroyed the much-loved bark hut along with the farm cottage. Friends House was unscathed and continues to provide cooking, eating, and sleeping facilities. The cabin with sleeping bunks, a water tank and wonderful views over the valley was built in the early 1980s along with a shelter on the site of the old farm cottage. Some 18 years ago Council required the pit toilets to be replaced and there is now a solar/hybrid one.
The road into Werona is reached across the land of the electricity sub-station that provides power to the entire Kangaroo Valley area. The need to protect the sub-station during bush fires may well have contributed to ensuring that Werona too was saved. Over the years the road has been repaired and improved and is now accessible with care down to the camping area in front of the cabin.
By 1976 the Tallowa Dam was completed resulting in the disappearance of the ‘beach’ and a rise in water level. Access to the river for swimming was more difficult and erosion was aggravated. The days of rushing down to retrieve the pump from inundation were over. New steps on the path to the river are planned soon.
A Back to Werona gathering was held from 26th December 1992 to 3th January 1993 coming up to the 25th anniversary of the Werona’s purchase. Over the course of the week, around one hundred people attended from places far and wide. The gathering spanned the generations and many stories of the histories and sheer pleasures of enjoying the bush were exchanged. The gathering was centred around the Shelter, the food preparation hub with rosters covering food preparation, cooking and cleaning. Everyone slept in tents and we were blessed with perfect weather for meetings, bush walks, discussions, swimming and music making.
Twenty years ago, The Australian Friend described the aims of Werona as establishing an alternative community, a rural retreat, a haven for draft resisters during the Vietnam war and a safe and peaceful place for people to experience nature in a tranquil bush setting. It has indeed been used by a variety of peace groups for training camps etc. Young Friends have frequently held their annual gathering there, and now there are second and third generation users who spend time on the property, as can be seen in photo below.
Werona adopted a policy of Paying the Rent in 1988 and chose Tranby College in Glebe, which had long-term links with Quakers and held several student camps at Werona. Since then, there have been a range of interactions with local Indigenous organisations and the rent is now paid to the Nowra Land Council. In 2018 Merindah Funnell, a Wiradjuri woman, who has spent time at Werona designed and painted the Acknowledgement of Country that appears on the wall of Friends House.
In 1995 in conjunction with National Parks and Wildlife and local landowners The Friends of the Brushtailed Rock Wallabies was formed to save the last colonies of these endangered native animals in Kangaroo Valley. Werona has participated in this scheme since its inception and each year sees the number of wallabies increase.
Werona contacted Shoalhaven Land Care in 2004 seeking advice about nurturing and caring for the native bush. Over the next 14 years we received advice, support and a series of grants. Working along with local bush regenerators, many of the introduced species of weeds have been minimised and eradicated. One hundred red cedar trees, native to the area, were gifted by a local resident and have been planted on the property.
Then in 2021 negotiations with the Bio-Diversity Conservation Trust began. The BCT ranger with whom negotiations were conducted expressed delight to see that parts of the property had no introduced species and overall little disturbance of the natural environment. Lyrebirds, echidnas, wombats are thriving and bandicoots have also been seen.
The BCT focuses on the conservation of private land and allows owners to register a minimum of 20 hectares with the Trust for conservation and environmental purposes. Parts of the property may be set aside for buildings and roads. In return the property receives a reduction in rates, financial assistance with infrastructure such as fences, and revegetation of native plants.
A special General Meeting of share-holders unanimously supported the decision to sign up with BCT. In March 2022 we gifted 32 hectares of our 38 hectares to the Trust to be kept and maintained as native bushland in perpetuity. Under the agreement, we have a responsibility to keep the property free of introduced species of plants. The agreement also means that we have our rates reduced by 58%. The two neighbouring properties, Sydney Bushwalkers and Chakola have also signed up to this agreement which means there is now a substantial corridor along the southern side of the Kangaroo River that is protected.
“I was first introduced to Werona by my friend and colleague James who suggested it as a peaceful and beautiful place to write and to compose. That was about 10 years ago, and since then my time there has help me to compose a number of pieces of music, including an opera and two concertos. I am particularly uplifted by the birdlife on the property and this directly inspired my piece for flute and piano Paradise of Birds. A wonderful recording of this by Bridget Bolliger and Andrew West may be found on YouTube.
The birds that I find most fascinating at Werona are the lyrebirds, and I always try to spend time there in May and June when the males are displaying. I remember one evening a sitting very still outside Friends’ House when two juvenile male lyrebirds, whom I took to be brothers, came tearing out of the bush chasing one another in play. They did three laps of Friends’ House at full speed and then stopped right in front of me, panting. I’ve never witnessed birds panting before.
I’ve explored the property, seen the ruins of the timber-getters’ humpies, swum the river, watched the wombats play and listened to the dawn chorus. Much of my time there is spent at the table outside Friends’ House in the shade of the turpentine tree writing my music.
My children, now adults, continue to enjoy time at Werona. Sitting with them around the campfire is about as happy as it is possible to be. “
Dr Jim Coyle
Composer, Music Educator, Conductor
“For four 23-year-old men to revert to young boys chatting at a sleepover, it needed a home like this. A day spent entirely fishing, with pure enjoyment seeding from the catching of a single bass. “We need some lemon!” was the instant call as the fish was dumped into the esky. Silence by the fire as we watched foil wrapped fish sit among the embers. Out came the spine as we all dug in. Simple, pure joy.
The final night we slept like rocks, the pure black night enveloping us into its kind heart. The great reset. One of many.”
Roy, Vince, Giaco, Angus.
“We used to spend long weekends there, and I always felt that we were like an orchestra tuning up, and when we were all in tune we went home!”
“We stayed at Werona on Friday night and we had a really wonderful time. It was such a beautiful location, could not have been better! Beautiful bush, river and properties. The kitchen was so well stocked and we were impressed at how great the fire in the cabin was! “
“It was really a spiritual investment for peace. I saw my first platypus family in the area. “
Would you like to sniff a wild flower,
climb a cliff, sing around a campfire,
watch the moon rise,
boil a billy, build a raft,
look under a rock, listen to the silence?
If so please come and discover for yourself.