Convict Trail Chairman and instigator Paul Budde received one of the inaugural Heritage Volunteer Awards – on 28 August 2002 from the Deputy Premier, the Hon Dr Andrew Refshauge, at a special ceremony in the NSW State Library.
Paul moved from Oss in the Netherlands to Sydney, Australia in 1983, where he set up his own telecommunications consultancy company. However, one of his hobbies is history.
The Convict Trail Project (CTP) started on Australia Day 1990, when Paul discovered that 80 sandstones blocks had been stolen from a convict-built wall in Bucketty (Lower Hunter Valley), where he and his family lived at that time.
When Paul contacted local, State and Federal authorities, he received a sympathetic response, but no one was prepared to take any responsibility for this unique piece of the Australian heritage.
After two years of official visits to the site and lobbying for assistance, the local community of Bucketty (180 people) decided to undertake the restoration of the convict-built monuments themselves.
Paul’s vision was (and still is) large – to create a 240Km ‘museum experience’ of convict engineering, pioneering history, pristine bush environments and aboriginal culture along the Great North Road. This road runs from Sydney to the Hunter Valley (Newcastle) and was built by convicts between about 1826 and 1836.
Within this multi-million-dollar project, the CTP has restored bridges, culverts and retainer walls; the Convict Trail Project has produced a Management Conservation Plan and developed and installed a large-scale signage project along the entire road. They have produced a video, books, full-colour brochures (in association with Tourism NSW and the RTA) and maps (in association with Australian Geographic and the University of Newcastle).
Through a genealogy project led by the Royal Australian Historical Society, called ‘Adopt-a-Convict’, dozens of people from historical societies are tracing the personal history of the 1,000-plus convicts who were involved in building the Road.
Their activities have engaged the interest of local, national, and international media – the project has been featured on the BBC, NHK and Lonely Planet.
As with all volunteer activities, it is essentially a team effort and this is the part that Paul indicated he enjoy so much. He gets great pleasure from working with his friends in Bucketty and his teammates in the Convict Trail Project.
But, he said: ‘..you know me – and the one with the biggest mouth gets the award’.
He also hopes that this award will signify to other communities that it is possible to take control of one’s own destiny and make things happen. As well as the Convict Trail Project, Bucketty, with its 180 residents, operates a Wombat Rescue Project and they organised the first Cool Off Day, in September 2002 – aimed at encouraging local communities to prepare themselves for the upcoming fire season. He believes this is another project worthy of being duplicated all over the country.
After more than 25 years, Paul retired as chairman of the Convict Trail in 2019.