Vale Beth Williams

Lynne Hosking, President, Armidale Branch NPA

Beth was 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.

In that same decade Beth and botanist husband John Williams joined NPA, the National Parks Association of NSW, and in 1974 they became founding members of the Armidale Branch, which owes much to their dedication. 

Beth, an Honorary Life Member of NPA, became Armidale Branch’s most indomitable submission writer. Her persistence, thorough research and commitment is legendary. Beth was always willing to share her knowledge and skills, be it on countless trips identifying birds and plants, researching and writing submissions, or lobbying politicians and bureaucrats. Beth transformed her conservation zeal into logical and objective submissions often resulting in government departments adopting her suggestions. 

During the last forty seven years as a member of Armidale Branch, Beth served as President, Vice-President, Secretary, Newsletter Editor, Conservation Officer and State Councillor. She was also willing to give a hand with the nitty-gritty of Branch activities by helping with displays and participating on NPA stalls at community events. 

Since the 1970’s Beth worked with others including Walcha and Tamworth NPA Branches to achieve new reserves in the Northern Tablelands including the creation in 1986 of Oxley Wild Rivers National Park; Torrington State Conservation Area in 1996 (where she braved very hostile local meetings to advocate floral protection); Cunnawarra National Park linking OWRNP with New England NP 1999; and additions to these and other reserves. Cunnawarra is now part of the New England Group of the World Heritage Site Gondwana Rainforests of Australia and added to the Australian National Heritage List in 2007.

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

There are myriad other issues that Beth has been involved in including: protecting habitats from a major new Transgrid power line; 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 forest threatened by Santos’ current operations and proposed new 850 coal seam gas wells; many other coal and mining developments; and passionate advocacy for protection of the natural values of travelling stock routes and stock reserves. 

With Peter Metcalfe she co-authored Environmental Values of Travelling Stock Routes and Reserves in the Armidale District. Several educational leaflets were also produced with grants from Save the Bush, NPA and the Society for Growing Australian Plants. 

The many local publications that Beth has contributed to include two editions co-published by Armidale NPA of Family Outings Around Armidale, produced mainly by the efforts of Alan Jackson, Shirley and Brian Hardaker. 

Beth represented the Armidale Branch in many NPA State Council meetings and liaised with our State Office. Her knowledge and approach to issues and NPANSW policy development is much appreciated. 

The whole NPA membership feelings are well expressed by Grahame Douglas President NPA NSW :
‘ It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to Beth. She was a force for conservation and had a voice to match but always gracious. She took me under her wing at my early times at NPA State Council meetings. Her contribution was only exceeded by her dedication. NPA has lost and the community at large has lost a champion for nature conservation and protected areas. Time to relax Beth.’ 

Beth was passionate about preserving bird habitat and biodiversity. She was involved in the Regent Honeyeater mapping project and became a member of the Regent Honeyeater Recovery Team where, as an active member of the recovery program, Beth inspired and organised Kingstown school children to plant ironbarks for Regent Honeyeaters. She participated in regular field surveys and helped Ph.D students with fieldwork and research.

She was also active in BirdLife Northern NSW and, with Andrew Ley and Damon Oliver, co-authored  a number of scientific papers. She was Conservation Officer with Birdlife NSW and long-standing member of the Executive Committee. She received the BirdLife Australia Distinguished Service Award 2016 for the Bundarra-Barraba Regent Honeyeater Recovery program which contributed to the survival of this critically endangered species.

Her personal efforts and dedication were 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 most fortunate in having such a treasure as Beth. 

She will forever provide inspiration as she continued in her nineties to harness her admirable intellect, striving to protect Australia’s natural values and sharing her knowledge and passion for special places so that they remain intact heritage for present and future generations. 

Beth of the Bush (May 2021)

Lynne Hosking, President, Armidale Branch NPANSW

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 while 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 her 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 in 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 study excels.

Gains a scholarship, so the University of Sydney 

beckons – an 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, delighted 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 & struggles & 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 of 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,  that by working together, 

We’ll keep our natural heritage intact and strong.

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