Craft ACT staff were honoured to attend the naming ceremony of Gene Willsford Park on Wednesday 12 August, hosted by the Suburan Land Agency Taylor Mingle team.
The park was officially named by Deepak-Raj Gupta, MLA, with a lovely Welcome to Country by Aunty Violet Sheridan and beautiful opening words by Meredith Hinchliffe, which we have been able to publish below with her kind permission.
Gene Willsford was defined by a sense of design. She came from a family of designers and I believe she would be very happy and pleased by the jaunty sails we see above the play equipment here, and the park named after her. Like all other designers, she had a strong belief in the importance of good design to the general community.
l first met Gene Willsford nearly forty years ago. I knew her when she was still working at the NCDC and still making an important contribution to the world of design in Canberra
Gene was an important player in the development of the Canberra community. First through her work helping people design extensions to their modest ex-government houses, and later in the homes advisory service at the NCDC. Later, she conducted open houses at Australia’s first medium-density housing development at Swinger Hill. Eventually she moved into her favourite house in that suburb. Gene had a remarkable ability to listen and to hear – and smile her warm smile.
In 1980, when Anabelle Pegrum, arrived in Canberra, Gene was one of very few female architects in Canberra. Annabelle described Gene as being generous, open and supportive, and a mentor of younger women architects coming to work in Canberra.
But her contribution was far greater than that. I first knew her as a Committee member of the then Craft Association of the ACT, now Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre. When I began work there in 1977, the organisation had just taken over the old Horse Era Museum in Watson as its premises. Gene drew up the plans to convert the large, open spaces into more usable offices, exhibition spaces and workshop areas. The gallery was completed in less than 12 months. Gene designed the template for the basic invitation, used for over 100 exhibition openings, until at least 1987.
Gene was an active member of Soroptimist International (of South Canberra). Her good friend and colleague Margaret Hendry was President of the North Canberra Branch. Gene was taught wood turning by Richard Raffan, and became an excellent turner, making finely turned bowls and plates. She helped establish the ACT Woodcraft Guild with Robert Hyslop, an organisation that is still going strong.
For several years Gene volunteered in the membership admin area of the National Gallery.
Gene Willsford loved Canberra and engaged with it as an active citizen.
While she would be self-effacing, I am sure she would be honoured, and proud that this park has been named after her.
August 12, 2020
Thank you to Meredith Hinchliffe for her recollections of Gene and her knowledge of our history.
GENE WILLSFORD, PHOTO SUPPLIED.