Beth Williams OAM, celebrates her 90th Birthday

Lynne Hosking, NPA Armidale Branch

Born and raised in country NSW, Beth and three younger brothers were home-schooled by their mother through Blackfriar’s primary school correspondence course. To attend high school, Beth boarded at Hay War Memorial High School, going home to the family property during school holidays.

In 1951 she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in Botany from Sydney University. She married John Williams in 1956 and they moved to the Northern Tablelands to take up positions in the Botany Department of the University of New England. They made Armidale their life-long home with their much-loved family.

Beth is deeply committed and concerned for the preservation of native flora and fauna in healthy landscapes, terrestrial and riparian. Her activism began in the 1960’s with concern over a road proposed through New England National Park. She also became concerned with the plight of northern NSW rainforests threatened by logging in places such as Terania. She and John joined NSW National Parks Association (NPA) and in 1974 became founding members of the Armidale Branch, which owes much to their dedication.

Beth is Armidale NPA’s most indomitable submission writer. Her persistence, thorough research skills and commitment is legendary. Beth has always been willing to share her knowledge and skills, be it on countless trips identifying birds and plants, researching and writing submissions, preparing displays or lobbying politicians and bureaucrats. Beth transforms her conservation zeal into logical and objective submissions that often result in government departments adopting her suggestions. During the last forty four years as member of Armidale Branch, Beth has served as President, Vice-President, Secretary, Newsletter Editor, Campaign Officer and State Council Representative.

There are myriad issues that Beth has been involved including: Native Vegetation Conservation Act and implementation; its repeal and replacement by the Biodiversity Conservation Act; regulations and codes o practice for permitting clearing of paddock trees and endangered ecological communities; Transgrid; water reform and mismanagement; hydro scheme proposals on the Apsley and Styx Rivers; Gunnedah charcoal plant, and the preservation of western woodlands, particularly the Pilliga area threatened by Santos’ proposed 800 coal seam gas wells; protecting the values of travelling stock routes and reserves; and coal and coal seam gas developments. She has helped achieve new reserves in the Northern Tablelands including Torrington SRA (braving hostile local meetings to advocate floral protection) and additions to others including Oxley Wild Rivers NP.

Through the Regional Forest Agreement process in the 1990s Beth made submissions on a large number of specific north-eastern NSW forests, and many became additions to, or new, national parks and gained protection from logging.

The many local publications that Beth has contributed to include Family Outings Around Armidale. With Peter Metcalfe she co-authored Environmental Values of Travelling Stock Routes and Reserves in the Armidale District. Leaflets were also produced with grants from Save the Bush, NPA and Society for Growing Australian Plants.

Following this came the Regent Honeyeater mapping project and Beth became a member of the Regent Honeyeater Recovery Team. As an active member of the recovery program, Beth has inspired local school children to plant ironbarks.

She is also active in BirdLife Northern NSW and is, with Andrew Ley and Damon Oliver, co-author of a number of scientific papers. She received the BirdLife Australia Distinguished Service Award 2016 for the Bundarra-Barraba Regent Honeyeater Recovery program.

Her personal effort and dedication was recognised in 2001 by the Australian Government with the Order of Australia Medal for her contribution to conservation and the environment. It is well deserved.
Armidale NPA members consider ourselves fortunate in having such a treasure as Beth. She provides inspiration as she continues to harness her admirable intellect, striving to protect Australia’s natural values and sharing her knowledge, passion and appreciation of our special places so that they remain intact heritage for present and future generations.

Beth of the Bush a poem by Lynne Hosking

Glance back to the 30’s round Cootamundra way

where yellow wattles gently sway, we may see on a

Winding path on the property Glenlea, a little girl

Toddling, picking daisies, smiling brightly.

A move west to Tabbita among sheep and wheat

Young Beth rides her pony and each week, by sulky

Collects the mail, while keeping firm check on

Three younger brothers at play, studying their

Primary school lessons from Black Friar’s

Correspondence, without giving cheek.

Over these hot plains farmed by sweat of a day

Sense the sigh of the trees, native bird calls ringing,

At night hear the music flow from Mother at piano

Family chatter and games and hear Father singing.

Then goes away a young girl to high school at Hay

Boarding at Butterworth Hostel, the matron strict.

Missing her family, her pony, Beth’s a little homesick

Until finding friends and sport, and at her studies exels.

Gains a scholarship so the University of Sydney

beckons – exciting new world, Beth graduates

With a Bachelor of Science with Honours and a

Linnean Macleay Fellowship for further study while

Romance blossoms with a fellow teacher in Botany :

A shy handsome man, John Williams shares her

Love of flowers, of scholarship, reading and music.

The pair elegant at their wedding in ‘56, they soon

Move to the tablelands for work at UNE in Botany

Settling into Armidale, creating gardens and a family.

As decades roll on from the ‘50’s till the present, Beth

Always found time amidst family and work to strive

To keep forests standing, rivers running, birds singing,

Travelling stock routes and rural communities alive.

Campaigns for conserving and preserving habitats nearby

Or afar, not by « locking on », but always « plugged-in »

To myriad issues agin’ and agin’ with letters to the ed or

Braving hostile public bush meetings, fronting doubters…

Her forte? Legendary well-researched submissions,

Confronting trembling bureaucrats and incredulous politicians.

It’s unlikely they know that for many years she’d also

Delivered Meals on Wheels, delighting in Opera, the

Dulcet sounds of Mozart and Classic ABC FM as

Background to hard-hitting pro-preservation papers –

Never daunted, always pointed, nothing can stop her !

And all through the battles, the melees & campaign words

Weaves the scent of the bush and the song of the birds…

Alongside dedication to conservation and to community

Her love and pride for her husband, son Ian and his boys, for

her brothers, their families, loyalty to friends young and old

Speaks volumes for her humanity.

And thanks to Beth and dedicated birdo stalwarts

Regent Honeyeaters still find some ironbarks to nest

While National Parks Association members find her inspiring

(and wonder sometimes when she found time to rest) !

We thank you Beth for your vision, fortitude and strength

Your soft caring heart and yes! strong quirky character !

Whilst the challenges of our world keep growing in number,

At 92 years you retained a sense of wonder, of

reverence for all creatures great and small, tiny flowers or

Trees majestically tall, and because of your efforts

Continuing into nine decades long

We can still wander the bush, hear birds call and hope,

By working together, we’ll keep our heritage strong.

Lynne Hosking  23 May 2021

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