With the passing of Ruth Baxendale OAM in June 2015, aged 89 years, it’s appropriate to acknowledge her valuable contribution to the Willunga and McLaren Vale communities, especially her extensive work as a local historian.

Ruth Binney was descended from four pioneering families of the district (Binney, Couchman, Lewsey and Elliott). After leaving school Ruth was apprenticed to a dress-maker before she took employment at Goode’s store in Willunga. Marriage to Alec Baxendale and the birth of their three children followed. She was involved with many school and community groups, especially supporting her husband in his work for the McLaren Vale Rotary Club for which she was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship.

Ruth was a member of the Willunga Branch of the National Trust for 46 years and completed 21 years as Branch Chair in 2000. Highlights included the opening of the Court House Museum in 1970, the opening of the restored Stables in 1975, the restoration of the Bassett Boys Schoolroom in 1988 (assisted by the local Probus Club) and the Star of Greece Centenary commemorations in 1988. Numerous historical publications have been based directly on her research, including the McLaren Vale Heritage Trail, the Willunga Walks booklet and the Heritage Reports commissioned by Willunga District Council and the Noarlunga Council. She also helped innumerable authors and family historians in their search for information about their particular areas of interest.

In 1995, Ruth was named Citizen of the Year by the District Council of Willunga. On Australia Day 2000 she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for ‘the preservation of local and family history and heritage sites in the Willunga and McLaren Vale areas’. In 2007 she received the Dr. Mildred Moccatta Award for her exceptional voluntary contribution to the National Trust in SA.

Ruth’s hard work and commitment to local history were legendary – to her it was simply a pleasure to help people and to share her enthusiasm for the heritage of our district.

Willunga Primary School Centenary 1977 (Ruth on left).

Dr Mildred Mocatta Award, NTSA 2007.


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