At an event at The Mint on 4 December, SLM trustees, staff and community leaders were joined by the Minister for the Arts, the Hon Don Harwin MLC, to recognise the contributions of outgoing SLM Chairman Michael Rose AM and retiring SLM Foundation Chair Edward Simpson.

Michael Rose will complete the maximum three terms, or nine years possible under the terms of the SLM Act in December, while Edward retires, having been a Director of the Foundation for 12 years, and its Chair for the past four. 

The Minister for the Arts suggested that the significant legacies of Michael Rose’s term as SLM Chairman were the UNESCO World Heritage listing of the Hyde Park Barracks in 2010, the rebranding of the organisation as Sydney Living Museums in 2014, and the transformative reinterpretation of the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, to reopen late in 2019 to coincide with the site’s 200th anniversary.

Michael Rose AM

Michael Rose completed the maximum three terms (nine years) as chairman of the SLM Board of Trustees in December 2018. A passionate advocate for the modernisation of the institution, Michael oversaw its transition in 2013 from the Historic Houses Trust of NSW to Sydney Living Museums. This change has seen visitation more than double across our sites, outreach programs, leaseholds and events, and national and international exhibition touring program. Michael has also encouraged bold and innovative approaches to telling the story of Sydney in new ways, and the embrace of broader audiences and richly researched content across our exhibitions and programs.

In his remarks at the farewell, the Minister identified two legacy projects as highlights of Michael’s chairmanship. The first was the 2010 listing of the Hyde Park Barracks as one of 11 Australian convict sites on the UNESCO World Heritage Register. The second is the bold reinterpretation of the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, which will mark the building’s 200th anniversary, and is due to open in late 2019. The Minister described the renewal as ‘an inspiring project, which promises to be unlike anything else on offer in Sydney, and which will tell complex, challenging and inspiring stories of Sydney’s early history’.

The Minister noted Michael’s personal commitment to Aboriginal culture and community, evident in the development of SLM’s Aboriginal Action Plan, introduced in 2015. This outlined the organisation’s approach to Indigenous interpretation, consultation and community engagement, and now frames the cultural program and recognition of Aboriginal histories at each of our sites.

Through his leadership, Michael has also shown a commitment to education, and the opportunities for heritage and cultural institutions to enrich the lives of younger Australians. Connected Classrooms, established in 2010 with support from the SLM Foundation, offered online experiences to students in remote areas, while the innovative Unlocking Heritage program provided travel subsidies for primary school students in regional and remote areas of NSW and from socioeconomically disadvantaged schools to access learning experiences at SLM sites.

Over Michael’s three terms, a guiding principle of inclusion and support for diversity has informed the culture and practice of the Board of Trustees, and its strategic direction. Reflecting on his terms as chairman, Michael nominated as a source of pride and satisfaction a shift in the institution’s ‘idea of itself’, from an organisation that preserves and presents buildings and landscapes that were a particular part of Sydney’s story to now seeing itself as the custodian of Sydney’s story.

This custodianship enables the presentation of stories that reach back to the city’s past, stories which are not emotionally neutral, and which offer fresh understanding of our complex history. It also encourages us as an organisation to think ahead, and provides the opportunity to be part of explaining to the community who we are, and why we are here.

Edward Simpson

Edward Simpson has been a director of the SLM Foundation for 12 years, and its chair for the past four years. His involvement with the organisation owes much to the leadership of his late mother, Caroline Simpson OAM, a passionate collector of decorative and fine arts. Her collection, gifted to SLM in 2004, now forms the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection – a resource unique in Australian cultural institutions. Over Edward’s term as chair, the Foundation has raised funds to acquire significant additional materials to deepen this important research resource.

The Minister nominated two milestone projects of Edward’s term. The first was the beautiful restoration of the drawing room at Vaucluse House, completed in 2017, and the second the publication of Darling mother, darling son, an edited selection of the remarkable lifetime of correspondence between the prominent Sydney interior designer Leslie Walford and his mother, Dora Byrne.

Edward observed that his family had looked at many possible recipients for their mother’s extraordinary collection of early colonial art, artefacts, prints and books. Due to the collection’s extensive and eclectic nature, they chose SLM. ‘Looking back now, with a perspective of 12 years, we certainly made the right choice. The fact is we are thrilled with that decision. What my mother wanted, above all, was to inspire others about Australian history, Australian architecture, furniture, gardens and design’. Edward and his sisters have left a lasting legacy.

We are grateful for the passion, wisdom and commitment that both Michael and Edward have brought to their roles at SLM.