In this ‘In Conversation’, meet long-standing Convent volunteer Moyna Wilson.
Q. How long have you been volunteering at the Convent, and what was the reason you started?
I’d known about the Convent for years. So, when I moved to the area, I walked along the river to explore it and fell in love. Volunteering seemed like a good way of getting to know the precinct and offering something back.
Q. How has the Convent changed in your time?
While the Convent has always buzzed with excitement and a multitude of events and activities, the scope and range has increased as additional areas have been renovated and repurposed. In particular the Oratory and the Laundry, both massive projects, have given new life to the precinct. When I first came both these areas were inaccessible with gaping holes in the floors, walls and ceilings. Thanks to the efforts of the Abbotsford Convent Foundation most of the original areas, inside and out, are now accessible and functional.
I like the way the different spaces are renovated to reflect their former selves, such as the tiling in the bathrooms, the original bakery cooking in the old ovens, the nuns’ hospital corridor becoming Wellbeing and the music school evolving into 3MBS.
Q. You volunteer both as a gardener and tour guide, so know the ins and outs of the Convent’s buildings and grounds. Do you have a favourite place at the Convent?
One of my favourite places is the Oratory—a haven of calm beauty in the stressful life of the laundry girls. The blue glass dome spreads an ethereal light, and the stained glass windows gave the girls a choice of talking to Mary, the mother of Christ or streetwise Mary Magdalen.
The grandeur of the Bishop’s office is impressive too. It’s a luxurious and distinct contrast to the rest of the precinct.
Q. What did you miss most about the Convent when it was closed last year?
During the lockdown, I often walked past the Convent and felt sad about not walking in and through the gardens. I missed the work, the weekly routine, the camaraderie and the fun of the fellow gardeners.
I love the feeling you get being here. It’s as if you’re in the middle of the bush, yet it’s only four kilometres from the city—the best of both worlds. The fact that the Convent has survived a century and a half to such a significant extent is awe inspiring.
Q. What do you enjoy most about volunteering at the Convent?
The history, the gardens, the architecture, the people who work and visit have become an important part of my life. And the people who join the Social History Tours are always interesting, fun and informative. Some of them share amazing and generous stories, many of them very personal. I feel privileged to work with them, especially past residents.