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Wednesday, 4 May 2022
Government House Sydney
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of New South Wales

Bujari gamarruwa,  Diyn  Babana  Gamarada  Gadigal  Ngura.[1]

In the language of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the Traditional Owners of the land on which we gather, I welcome you to Government House, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present, and emerging.

In 1961, Lieutenant-General Sir Eric Woodward, the 31st Governor of NSW, unveiled a plaque commemorating the commencement of construction of homes in Hunters Hill.[2] That plaque is still there, at Wurley Court, where some of you live today. A year later, in 1962, the organisation responsible for that construction, The Vasey Housing Auxiliary of NSW, was incorporated, beginning the 60-year journey that we are celebrating today.

Two years ago, I was honoured to turn the first ceremonial sod on the new Kokoda Residences in Waitara. Construction there is nearing completion.[3] At that ceremony, I spoke of the special symbolism of ground-breaking: the turning of the first sod, the laying of the ‘corner stone’, the placing of a commemorative plaque. Such ceremonies celebrate not only the physical act of a building’s commencement, but also make concrete “a concept that had originated in the imagination.”[4]

Today, in marking the Diamond Jubilee of Vasey Communities, we celebrate sixty years of Vasey’s provision of affordable housing to older Australians. We also celebrate the vision and imagination that underlies that endeavour, which began with the indomitable Jessie Vasey.

As a war widow, Mrs Vasey was keenly aware of the difficulties facing women whose husbands had died serving their country. With tenacity that is legendary, she sought innovative, concrete solutions to those difficulties. Through her founding of the War Widows Guild, she brought war widows together to support and advocate for each other, underpinned by a simple but profound belief in “self-help”.[5] She campaigned tirelessly for increases and consistencies in war pensions and, beginning with a single donation and the proceeds from a raffled car, was integral to the creation of Vasey Housing, a subsidiary of the War Widows Guild that provided housing for elderly war widows facing difficulties finding secure accommodation within their means.[6]

In the 60 years since 1962 and the incorporation of the body that was to become Vasey Communities, much has changed in NSW. In particular, we have experienced a significant shift in the age of our population.[7] In 1991, 11% of the population were 65 or over; by 2016, this had risen to 15%.[8] It is projected that by 2031, more than one in three NSW residents will be aged 50 or over.[9]   

With that, happily, our older (and slightly older) population is, overall, a healthier, more active and engaged group than ever.

This creates new challenges as the needs of this population change. Vasey Communities understands this and has broadened its services accordingly, without losing its core objective of providing affordable accommodation starting with the over-55s. I also particularly thank Vasey for maintaining their special connection to the Defence Forces and the families of those who have served.

Just as important as housing is community. As Vasey Communities has long recognised, housing is about homes, homes are about a sense of connection, and community is about providing that sense of connection. 

At Vasey, you centre community in your name, your mission, and in the way you carry out your mission.[10] Community, of course, is a two-way process, and the wider community is enriched by connection with our older Australians.

Tonight, we also celebrate the residents of Vasey’s four – soon to be five! – villages. We celebrate the vibrant and engaging “communities within communities”[11] and the individuals within those communities who supported each other during the lockdown, showing a resilience in the face of a shared adversity that echoes the ‘can-do’ problem-solving vision of Jessie Vasey.

And so, tonight, Dennis and I are more than delighted to welcome you all to our home, to celebrate your homes. To celebrate 60 years of Vasey and the values of community support embodied in the vision of its founder, Jessie Vasey.

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