Gillian Borrack is the founding member of the Friends of Westgarthtown and Whittlesea’s Citizen of the Year.

What’s your connection to the City of Whittlesea?

My connection to the City of Whittlesea began in 1959 when I was appointed to a teaching position at Merrilands High School, Keon Park, in the then Whittlesea Shire. In 1962, my husband John and I purchased five acres of land in Mernda, a cow paddock which retained two ancient gum trees and a derelict cottage built in c1874, a few elm trees and a remnant garden. In 1970, we built a new home and studios and came to live at Mernda.


What do you like about where you live?

I absolutely loved the small farming village and the rural environment where everyone knew their neighbours. Our children attended Mernda Primary School when there were less than 100 students. We had no mains water, electricity was relatively new, no rubbish collections and gravel roads. Today it is vastly different – we have improving infrastructure and the train is back. However, I will always retain my wonderful memories of Mernda as it was – a significant cultural landscape – and be thankful that our family had the opportunity to live in that environment for so many years.


What, if anything, would you like to change?

To see the parks in the City of Whittlesea being visited by more people, more often. Establishment of areas with community gardens and a farmers’ market, to create connections to the land and the residents living within this once fertile valley. Traffic lights at the Plenty Road and Bridge Inn Road intersection.


How long you have been involved with the Friends of Westgarthtown?

I was a founding member of the Friends of Westgarthtown in 1995.


What sparked your interest in the group – and what keeps you volunteering?

My mother-in-law, Augusta Borrack (neé Ziebell), was one of 10 siblings to grow up at Ziebell’s Farmhouse in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her mother, Dorothea Ziebell, died in 1969, aged 96. Two of Dorothea’s daughters, Sylvia Adams and Verona Ziebell, continued to live there after her death. After the death of Sylvia Adams, Ziebell’s Farmhouse was purchased from the Adams family  by the City of Whittlesea in 1993. My brother-in-law, architect Geoffrey Borrack, was engaged by council to supervise the restoration of the buildings. In 1995, I organised a meeting and the Friends of Westgarthtown was  formed.


What does it mean to be named Whittlesea’s Citizen of the Year?

I accept the award as recognition that volunteers working together within a community can achieve outcomes that individuals by themselves can rarely achieve. I remain close friends with many people I have worked with over almost 48 years in varying groups in the local area. School councils, Plenty Valley Conservation Group, Friends of Plenty Gorge, Plenty Valley Arts, Mernda-Wollert Water Extension, providing water to 18 rural properties, and many City of Whittlesea Council committees and forums.


Where is your favourite place to spend time?

My most favourite place would have to be my own home and garden. In second place, Ziebell’s Farmhouse and garden. I can recommend the enduring sense of place and welcome on entering that gate, no matter what the season or weather.