Sutherland Road, which runs along the side of the railway on the opposite side to Beecroft Road , was formerly a dirt track winding down to Epping where it crossed a creek . It was used by horse drawn vehicles and cars until the development of the M2 cut off the access through. Over time more portions of the surface have been tarred and some of the humps and troughs evened out to make it safer, if not as much fun, for cars. One dip was loved by children in the back seat who felt their insides lurch up and down as the car whizzed over the dip.
About a hundred metres, on the left hand side of Sutherland Road after leaving the intersection with Copeland Rd. is a white house usually with an Australian flag flying proudly on its pole. Beside the house is a small reserve called Booth Park. The lady of the house, Mary Jo Reeve has for over fifty five years been custodian, caretaker, gardener and nurturer of this space. A true labour of love, particularly for the country which she adopted after her marriage and which she loves with a passion. Her philosophy is that everyone who calls themselves Australian should be responsible for some patch of the country. A visit to Booth Park is a tribute to her fulfilment of this. Another gem of her wisdom is that if you create beauty , people who see it will also want beauty around them.
The area occupied by the park was originally a quarry for sandstone, much of which was used in foundations and fences of the homes being built in the area. Then the space became a recreational area for the boys attending the Rev. Booth’s Beecroft Grammar School in Copeland Road. The boys had played rugby there and at some stage there had been outside showers for the dirt covered players. During the war Rev. Booth had a twelve foot deep trench dug as an air raid shelter. Mrs Reeve can recall a group of former students, now young men who had been in the RAAF, so looked fine, fit young Australians, coming back to visit their former play area. They organised for a memorial be constructed to Rev. Booth. Now, in a byway of the garden near the road is a sandstone tribute with a plaque which reads,
The Rev. Albert Booth B.A.
Remembered always by his boys
Who planned, worked and played
Here with him on the oval from 1925-1960
When Dr and Mrs Reeve moved into the house fifty five years ago the park was neglected and become the dump for unwanted fridges, old stoves, car parts and rubbish, quickly overgrown by privet, blackberry and lantana. Gradually with hours and hours of labour, Mary Jo cleared part and then more, to allow sport to be played again. Now that the space was looking more respectable , local children came to play after school ,with Mary Jo keeping a motherly eye on everybody, like a community babysitter. Up to seventeen children could appear and as some did not have mothers at home she would supply afternoon tea and also hear their spelling though she says, her American accent could confuse the children. Mary Jo also paid youths to help her weed and plant shrubs, keeping an account book of who she had paid and how much.
As the years passed her labours extended into the land surrounding the oval and nowadays it is a delight to be taken along the walkways. Extensive paths have been laid, often with paving salvaged from other sites, the track meanders across the back where there is a watercourse after rain, then up to near the roadway and along parallel to the street back to the path leading to the Reeve’s garden. Two enormous Norfolk pine trees tower behind the oval ,possibly planted when the first parcel of land was apportioned and when locals together with school children planted trees sent from the Sydney Botanic Gardens often to mark Arbour Day. A mix of Australian and imported plants have settled together happily and in spring the clivias, azaleas and blossom announce the very pretty area. It now has a watering system. Mrs Reeve speaks warmly of her relationship with Hornsby council who work together with her in appreciation of her singlehanded effort. Toilets are inspected weekly both by Mrs Reeve and the council .At one stage undesirables including ‘druggies’ used the area leaving behind traces of their activities, also pornographic magazines which had a short life after being found by Mary Jo. This element has now disappeared however and it is an alcohol and drug free space. She is always on the lookout for lonely or depressed people who may be hanging about or sitting for a long time alone. In her home there is a treasured gift, a beautiful figurine left on her doorstep with a brief note ‘thanks’. A few days before she had found a very depressed young person who could see no purpose in living. After much positive motherly advice, Mary Jo had been able to give this young person reasons to live and to attack life with enthusiasm. Hundreds of plants and shrubs have been purchased by the Reeves for the space, their gift to the local people. Junior cricket and soccer are played there on Saturdays and other times it is available for the public. Mrs Reeve speaks of the support she has had from local councillors such as Don Evans and also the local police force. She says she only has to call and they come immediately. Another pleasure has been showing local children the nooks and crannies used by possums and lizards. So many children do not have an adult with a love of nature to share the miracles of the bush. However professional help was needed to remove the nest of a brown snake colony with seventeen eggs.
Recently the bird population of the park has been noticeably augmented as tree loss along the railway line from Cheltenham to Beecroft has meant birds have had to relocate, often squabbling amongst themselves as they vie for new nesting spaces.
Mrs Reeve also let slip that she has for years put a bouquet of flowers on the Willis war memorial. She noticed that it often had nothing on Anzac Day so she has quietly done something.
This is only one of many contributions made by this remarkable woman. She is also remembered for her contribution to Little Athletics and being a watchdog and prepared to speak up in the local community, surrounded with often unwanted development. Mrs Reeve does not point out to you but there on the wall near the road is another plaque. It reads
Hornsby Shire Council
MARY JO REEVE
This plaque marks Hornsby Shire Council appreciation and the generous support that she
has provided to the development and maintenance of Booth Park. 2005
Catherine Bartho,Beecroft Cheltenham History Group