Vale Margaret Bolster
November 16th, 2016
On the 16th of November 2016, Mark gave a speech paying tribute to the late Ms Margaret Bolster.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I rise today to pay tribute to the memory of Margaret
Camilla Bolster, a prominent conservationist and art lover who died recently, aged 83. Margaret had
a long and distinguished life in South Australia and New South Wales. She helped popularise the art
of the Asia-Pacific region in Australia and had a significant second career as a leading environmental
activist. It was in that role that I got to know her well over many years.
Margaret Bolster was born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1932. She graduated from Auckland
Teachers Training College in 1950. She subsequently moved to Sydney with her second husband,
Mr Tom Bolster, an American writer who had lived in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Having settled in California, after reporting on the rape of Nanjing for the South China Morning Post
in the 1930s, he left the United States permanently after being denounced as a communist. The
couple married in 1978 and had one daughter, Camilla, together. Margaret also had two children
from her first marriage to Bruce Eady: Brent and Frances.
Although she remained proud of her roots in New Zealand, taking on Australian citizenship
only later in life, Margaret Bolster found the laid back and welcoming atmosphere of Sydney a
revelation. The city became her base as she travelled widely throughout Asia and the Pacific
acquiring art, including an impressive collection of Khmer ceramics. She left Sydney in the late
seventies in order to allow her husband to write the book that was to be his magnum opus, an account
of the history of Asian art.
At the urging of Don Dunstan, former premier of South Australia, Margaret Bolster and her
husband moved to the Adelaide Hills in 1982. Their home, Samarra, was designed by renowned
German architect Gerhard Schurer. It was intended to serve as the hub of an institution modelled on
the Japanese folk craft museums of Tokyo and Osaka. Unfortunately, these plans were foiled when
Tom Bolster contracted Parkinson's disease, which also prevented him from completing his
manuscript. He died in 1998.
Margaret, motivated by the devastation of the Ash Wednesday bushfires she had witnessed
shortly after arriving in South Australia, had by then been elected as president of the Mount Lofty
Ranges Conservation Association and a member of the board of the Conservation Council of South
Australia. She served as the organisation's president between 1999 and 2001. In a statement
following her death, the Conservation Council praised her as a 'fiercely devoted conservationist' and
a 'relentlessly passionate', 'dedicated' and 'highly articulate' leader.
In 1993, Margaret helped found the Environment SA magazine, which she edited between
1995 and 2003. Her sometimes controversial writings for the magazine touched upon her many
interests and drew from her varied experiences. In September 2001, for example, she called upon
Australians to 'empathise with the ordinary Afghani people' amid the preparations for war, and
expressed quiet scepticism as to whether foreign military intervention would succeed. She certainly
knew about the subject, having travelled in Afghanistan as a guest of King Mohammad Zahir Shah's
niece, who was a good friend.
A passionate advocate for the interests of Indigenous Australians, Margaret Bolster was a
founding member of the Environmentalist and Aboriginal Reconciliation Action Group in 1994. She
was an outspoken opponent of development on Hindmarsh Island and was named as a defendant
in a defamation case related to the controversy. She was appointed a Member of the Order of
Australia for service to conservation and the environment in 2003.
In 2013, thieves broke into Samarra and stole two 9th century statues of the Buddha crafted
during the Srivijaya empire. After enduring this home invasion, Margret Bolster moved to Sydney in
order to live with family. She died on Thursday 20 October in Armidale, where her elder daughter
lives. In addition to her three children, she is survived by eight grandchildren.
Margaret Bolster was a fine South Australian who was a great inspiration to me, especially
in my early days as a young conservation campaigner. She was a person I looked up to with
admiration and respect. I know I speak on behalf of Margaret's many friends and colleagues when I
offer my sincere condolences to her family.
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