Goodbye Betty

Robert Stephen, Dennis Gration, Betty Marsden and Carolyn Ebdon 351213_05 Picture: on File

by Gabriella Vukman

On the morning of Tuesday 28 May, beloved hills protector, advocate and pillar of the community Betty Marsden OAM passed away.

Ms Marsden’s long list of achievements extends from securing Birdsland Reserve to being president of the shire of Sherbrooke to receiving an OAM in 2011 for service to conservation, community and the environment along with a Yarra Ranges Mayor’s Lifetime Achievement Award.​​ These achievements are a testament to her long, full life, spent being committed to protecting the Dandenongs and surrounding areas.

Described by many as a community hero, Ms Marsden’s memory is sure to live on, her legacy being passed down for generations to come.

President of the Dandenong Ranges branch of the National Trust of Australia and friend and colleague of Betty Marsden, Carolyn Ebdon said, “I just found her to be a wealth of information and knowledge. She was so astute with planning issues. She understood the planning scheme so well.”

“She was instrumental in securing the Birdsland and making sure that the 75 acres of land was bought by Sherbrooke Shire Council,” Ms Ebdon said.

“We’ve got her to thank for that plus a number of other things. She looked after the Dandenongs and made sure we were protected. I loved her dearly.”

Having lived in Kallista for over 50 years, Ms Marsden was deeply entrenched in the community, serving as a steadfast president of the Save the Dandenongs League, Vice president of the Dandenong Ranges Branch of the National trust of Australia, and council member for seven years among other areas.

Ms Ebdon said, “Betty moved to Kallista in the 1970s and she became very quickly involved in the Save the Dandenongs League and then she was elected to shire of Sherbrooke Council in 1982. She served for about seven years as a councillor as well as shire president for one of those years.”

“She had been in declining health since last year. She resigned as president of the save the Dandenongs league, she stepped down,” Ms Ebdon said.

After a gradual decline in health, Betty Marsden succumbed to pneumonia on the morning of Tuesday 4 May, and her funeral attended by many taking place on Friday 7 June.

Ms Ebdon said, “I spoke with her just a week before she passed. She sounded quite ok.”

“I was going to go and see her on Wednesday. I told her the week before that I would come and visit her. She wasn’t really getting out much,” Ms Ebdon said.

“She was having a lot of difficulty walking and another friend and I were going to go and see her and take her a pie for lunch – she loved meat pies.”

Ms Marsden’s legacy extends beyond her commitment to the Hills community to her inherent thoughtfulness and love for meat pies.

“The Lysterfield valley was one of the areas that Betty had a great attachment to and just last Christmas for example, she wasn’t able to get out to get Christmas cards easily but she found a card with a landscape picture on the front of it and sent it to me as a Christmas card. It had this lovely Australian landscape on the front,” Ms Marsden said.

“She said, ‘I’m sending this to you because it looks like the Lysterfield Valley and goodluck with protecting it.’”

“Those things mean a lot to me. We shared the same love of the Dandenongs and we were interested in protecting and preserving as much as we can,” Ms Ebdon said.

Ms Marsden was also a trained singer in her youth.

“She always sounded very authoritative. She had a very deep, musical voice,” Ms Ebdon said.

“She had been a trained singer in her younger years and it certainly showed in her speaking voice. She always had that lovely, deep mellifluous tone,” Ms Ebdon said.

“As soon as she spoke she was able to command an audience because she had that authoritative way.”

Betty Marsden’s activism commenced at a time where the Hills were under significant threat of over development.

By the 1970s, the city had crept out to the bottom of the Hills and there was a lot of pressure for housing and development.

Long serving CFA volunteer and convener of the ‘Friends of Ferny Creek’ group John Schauble said, “Betty was one of a number of people who took decisive action in those days to slow the development down and ensure that the environment and the Hills remained a special place.”

“I didn’t know Betty very well but she was such a personality in the hills over so many years that everyone met or had dealings with her,” Mr Schauble said.

“The Dandenongs would be a very different place if it hadn’t been for her efforts to conserve and protect many parts of the hills.”

At a time where old values and approaches were paramount, Ms Marsden stood up for her own methods in order to help her community.

Mr Schauble said, “Even with fuel reduction burning and land clearance she was trying to inspire a different way of dealing with these issues which put her in conflict with older ways of leadership at the time.”

“I hope that people will remember her as someone who worked for her whole life from the time she moved to the Dandenongs in the 1970s to secure the Hills as a special place for melbourne.”

It is safe to say that Betty Marsden OAM has left an indelible mark on the Hills and surrounding community and her legacy and memory will continue to live on through organisations such as ‘Save the Dandenongs League’ and places such as the Birdsland Reserve.