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Isaac, Cyril Everett (1884–1965)

by Libby Robin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Cyril Everett Isaac (1884-1965), schoolteacher, politician and conservationist, was born on 14 October 1884 at Brunswick, Melbourne, son of Abraham Isaac, a Congregational clergyman, and his wife Mary, née Judd, both English born. Educated at Maldon and Lake Rowan state schools, in 1900 Cyril was sent as a student-teacher to Lee Street State School, North Carlton. From his earliest days there, his ideas on education were entwined with his love of horticulture. A former pupil remembered him as the teacher who 'dug a garden bed in the asphalt grounds of the school and taught the children . . . how to plant seeds and bulbs'. Isaac was subsequently posted to numerous Victorian primary schools, including Ten Mile, near Jamieson, where he met Elizabeth Brown whom he married with Congregational forms on 3 September 1907 in her mother's home at Kevington; they were to have seven children.

Wherever Isaac worked, his schools regularly competed for the annual school garden prize, established in 1903 by the Australian Natives' Association. In 1909 he suggested that teacher enthusiasts in the Bendigo inspectorate should exchange plants; Frank Tate, the director of education, became interested, and in August 1910 the Victorian State Schools' Horticultural Society was launched. Isaac was its first executive-secretary and full-time supervisor (1913-22) of school gardening. He founded the State Schools' Nursery at Hughesdale to provide plants for school gardens and to educate children in horticultural principles. From 1916 he organized a series of flower days that raised £32,309 for the War Relief Fund.

On 14 December 1916 Isaac enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He served with the 58th Battalion on the Western Front from December 1917, was commissioned in November 1918 and rose to lieutenant before his appointment terminated on 10 November 1919 in Melbourne. Resigning from the Education Department in 1922, Isaac opened Flowervale Nursery at Noble Park. Elizabeth, a passionate horticulturalist who later propagated a new, variegated lilly pilly (Acmena smithii var. Elizabeth Isaac), supported him. Isaac was honorary horticultural adviser (from 1934) to Melbourne's Royal Agricultural Show; he was also active in the Victorian Nurserymen and Seedsmen's Association (president 1936-37) and in Associated Nurseries Pty Ltd (chairman 1932-65). In 1928-31 and 1937-40 he was a Dandenong shire councillor.

As the United Australia Party's candidate, in June 1940 Isaac won the Legislative Council seat of South-Eastern Province. He supported the teaching service bill (1946) to ensure sufficient well-trained staff to meet increasing student numbers. His most important work, however, was in forest conservation. Inspired by Judge Leonard Stretton, who had investigated the State's disastrous bushfires in 1939, he had initiated in 1944 the Save the Forests Campaign with the support of Sir Herbert Gepp and the Forests Commission of Victoria. In 1949 the S.F.C. opened a nursery to support community tree-planting days and in 1951 was incorporated as the Natural Resources Conservation League of Victoria. Isaac also pressed parliament to set up a royal commission in 1946 to inquire into forest grazing. His conservation messages were heard on Victorian radio throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

In 1952 Isaac—with Sir Clifden Eager and Sir Frank Beaurepaire—lost party endorsement for the Legislative Council: all three former U.A.P. members were ousted by younger men who had gained prominence in the Liberal Party's organizational machine. Isaac stood as an Independent, but was defeated. A foundation member of the Victorian National Parks Authority, he was its deputy-chairman (1957-61). In 1956 he was appointed O.B.E. Predeceased by his wife, and survived by three of his four sons and one of his three daughters, he died on 17 September 1965 at Footscray and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Aimer, Politics, Power and Persuasion (Syd, 1974)
  • L. Robin, Building a Forest Conscience (Melb, 1991)
  • Dandenong Journal, 5 June 1946
  • Conservation News, Feb 1956
  • Victoria's Resources, 7, no 3, 1965
  • Educational Magazine, 17, no 8, Sept 1960
  • Herald (Melbourne), 11 Sept 1936, 17 June 1940, 6 Apr 1966
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 Feb 1961, 18 Sept 1965
  • typescript copies of Isaac's radio broadcasts (Natural Resources Conservation League Archives, Springvale, Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

Libby Robin, 'Isaac, Cyril Everett (1884–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/isaac-cyril-everett-10592/text18817, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 October 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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