FOBL AGM – 2nd June 2017

Chairperson’s Report

Mariella Totaro-Genevois


Good evening and a very warm welcome to everyone here tonight. This is the 19th Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Balmain Library (FOBL). My name is Mariella Totaro-Genevois and I have been Chair of the FOBL Committee for the last ten years. I am really sad to announce that Annette Waterworth, our invaluable Treasurer since 2002, has lost her brother in a light plane crash and has gone to Adelaide to join her family there. FOBL Committee member Rosa Saladino has kindly agreed to read the Treasurer’s Report, while Shirley Allen, another helpful Committee member is standing in for Fiona Chapman, our Secretary, who is unable to be here tonight.

FOBL, as most of you know, is an independent, non-profit organization, founded in 1998 to fight for Balmain Library’s inclusion within the restoration plan of the Balmain Town Hall. Since achieving that goal all following FOBL Committees – including the current one – have been devoted to supporting, promoting and enhancing the services of Balmain Library.

But, coming to the present, while Annette’s report will mostly focus on financial issues, I will endeavour to present a concise but comprehensive account of FOBL’s work, initiatives and projects from May 2016 to May 2017. My Report includes three sections addressing the main areas of interest we have covered in this financial year: education, culture, and communication and interaction with our members and the Balmain community at large.

Of course not everything can be categorised in absolute terms, for instance our 2016 AGM when Shirley Allen, Convenor of the NSW Support Association for Women of Afghanistan (SAWA), gave an informative and inspiring talk about the long-standing and successful work of her Association, this could come under culture because of its edifying content, but could also fit into the area of communication & interaction with FOBL members and the general public. So I hope you will allow me to be a bit flexible.

I’ll start with FOBL commitment to educational projects.

In June we held the fifth School Writing Competition Awards Night for students of the Sydney Secondary College in Balmain. This is one of two annual creative-writing contests run by FOBL.  The second Awards Night for the Primary School Writing Competition was held in mid October. The atmosphere at both events was vibrant and joyful, with our venue full of bright excited students, smiling teachers and proud parents and grandparents. Soon after the Primary Schools Awards Night the celebrated writer and distinguished education expert Nadia Wheatley conducted a creative-writing workshop for the lucky winners and the highly commended schoolchildren.

As you may know since 2010, when our Committee launched the first FOBL Primary School Writing Competition these contests have occupied a central place in our annual calendar, thanks also to the generous financial backing of Bendigo Bank, to which we are and always will be deeply grateful.

Unfortunately we have recently been informed that the Bank won’t be able to continue supporting us in the future. Let me say that notwithstanding this unexpected drawback, the FOBL Committee would like to continue running its writing competitions for the schools; I am confident we will eventually find support from other community-minded organizations.

Finally in the education area I want to take this opportunity to warmly thank Vivienne Nicoll-Hatton, Maryellen Galbally, Bronwyn Monro and Fiona Chapman, the four highly competent and dedicated judges of the School Writing Competitions. The amount of work required by these contests is huge. It’s not just a question of professional qualifications, but as in most things relating to education qualities such as flexibility, empathy, experience and above all passion are essential, and the FOBL team of judges have all these qualities.

Let me move now to cultural initiatives and events.

On June 10 2016 children’s literature star and collage artist Jeannie Baker fascinated her audience illustrating the genesis and development of her latest book Circle. At the same time the book’s original artwork was on display in a traveling exhibition at the Sydney Maritime Museum. I must also mention that since then Circle has attracted national acclaim for its powerful, environmental message and artistic merit, and has been chosen as the best picture book for children by the Independent Bookshops NSW. It has earned Jeannie Baker the honour of being chosen by the International Board on Books for young people (IBBI) as the Australian nominee for the prestigious 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration.

At the end of July Emeritus Professor Nerida Newbigin from the University of Sydney, a specialist in Italian Renaissance Studies, captivated us with the story of the discovery and subsequent transformation of a 15th century Florentine manuscript firstly into the PhD of her postgraduate student Kathleen Olive, and later into a magnificent book that was given to Pope Francis on his first visit to Florence. A facsimile of this precious and splendidly illustrated volume was on display for the audience to inspect on the night.

In November we decided to present a daytime function, a well attended and well-received talk by Anne McCloud, who presented her recently published biography of Marie Byles, the first female solicitor to practice in NSW. A lively question time followed ending only because there was a delicious lunch waiting to be enjoyed.

Our end of the year function in early December was called Carols, Carousing and Cooking: a Medieval Christmas. Vivienne Nicoll-Hatton, who had put in a tremendous effort organising it, gave us a lively introduction to this special celebration. The event also included traditional carols sung by the local small choir PerSona. On this occasion our customary generous supper featured tasty examples of medieval finger foods.

Do I need to add that the FOBL crowd had a highly successful and fun night?

Coming now to this year, FOBL’s cultural program for 2017 was inaugurated in March with the best selling author and well-known memoir-writing teacher Patti Miller. Her topic was Truth Telling in Memoir, and her thought provoking presentation fully engaged the audience.

If we move now to FOBL’s interaction with its membership and the wider community, first on the list is of course the increasingly popular Open Book Group. Its regular meetings take place on the second Tuesday of the month. Discussions are always lively and stimulating, a great achievement by inspirational convenors Gillian O’Mulloy and Jan Atkin.

Still on the subject of connecting with the public FOBL’s website, au, keeps expanding its content and is regularly  and meticulously updated. This is a time consuming and specialised task that our wonderful Gillian carries out in her usual generous and understated style.

Our regular publication, Bookworm, on the other hand, remains a reliable and valuable source of information about matters of interest for FOBL members, always presenting it in a very appealing format. The Committee is deeply grateful to Rosa Saladino, its accomplished Editor. In addition, as unfortunately Rosa is not nominating for next year’s committee, I wish to publicly express our deep gratitude for her skilled and generous contribution to the FOBL Committee work in the past four years.

As for Hill of Content, our local bookshop, FOBL is truly grateful for its generous support. The collaboration is not only very welcome but also very enjoyable for us all.

Finally, and still on the subject of the FOBL Committee connecting with people, we have a new initiative, in the form of a quarterly morning tea for the Staff of Balmain Library, when they join us for a brief break, which offers the chance for a quiet chat over a cup of tea and home-made cake.

And now, having concluded my 2017 AGM Report, once more as in the past ten years, and most importantly with the same enthusiasm as the first time, I wish to sincerely thank every member of the FOBL Committee for their amazing and resourceful work.

For me it has been not only a wonderful experience but also a real privilege to be part of the team!

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