Pastoralist gives $16m to make music

26 May 2005

The largest ever donation to an Australian performing arts institution was made today when the Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music at the University of Sydney, Kim Walker, accepted more than $16 million from the estate of the late George Wallace Henderson.

The money will fund post-graduate and early career scholarships for young Australian musicians and singers seeking further training and experience here and overseas.  It will also fund the first endowed teaching position at the Conservatorium.

Gifts to the Sydney Conservatorium, now in its 90th year, currently make up less than 1 per cent of its income.

“Following in the great tradition of the University’s founders, the Hendersons’ generous foresight is an inspiration to all those who want to make a real difference to others,” said Professor Gavin Brown, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney. “The Conservatorium of Music at the University of Sydney is now on a trajectory to join the ranks of the world’s great music academies.”

“We are deeply indebted to the generosity of George and his wife Margaret, for their vision in seeing that special musical talents need special support if they are to flower and to remain in Australia,” said Professor Walker, at an unveiling this morning of a bronze head of Mr Henderson in the Conservatorium’s foyer.

“The Hendersons were great opera lovers, who knew that musicians in North America and Europe have many more such opportunities than here, and the Hendersons also did so much to make music accessible in their own regional areas.”

The couple will also be acknowledged tonight in a special scholarship concert, staged for the Henderson relatives and other benefactors of the Conservatorium, to be conducted in the historic Verbrugghen Hall by Hungarian conductor Imre Pallo.

George Henderson, who died in 1991 at the age of 93, was a pioneering pastoralist who part-owned and managed properties west of Bourke in the 1920’s before expanding to eventually include 19 further huge properties spread across NSW, Queensland and WA.

Family interests were consolidated into Pastoral Developments Pty Ltd which was floated as a public company in 1952. George served as both Chairman and Managing Director, before it was sold to Dalgety’s in 1963.

“George was an innovative manager and breeder for all his properties and also helped develop local aviation and the flying doctors and nursing services,” said his niece and co-executor Mary Turner.

“He served on the board of Dalgety’s but it soon sold off the properties, their continuance I think impossible without his genius and personally committed direction. He was a shy man but he would be very pleased with today. His extended family admire and are proud of what he has done for his family and his country.”

At the age of 43 George Henderson married Margaret Doyle, who in Sydney was the first woman announcer  on ABC radio. Margaret Henderson gifted $0.75 million in scholarships to the Conservatorium and, while at a Kings Cross nursing home was regularly played to by Conservatorium students, until her death in 2002.


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