Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wyatt, Annie Forsyth (1885–1961)

by Caroline Simpson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Annie Forsyth Wyatt (1885-1961), conservationist, was born on 3 January 1885 at Redfern, Sydney, eldest of eight children of George Trotter Evans, an English-born railway superintendent, and his second wife Isabella Anne, daughter of Archibald Forsyth. Annie also had two half-brothers and a half-sister. In 1891 the family moved to Rooty Hill, a fertile district where orchards and vineyards were encroaching on the bushland. After lessons at home Annie, aged 10, became a boarder at the Methodist Ladies' College, Burwood. She admired the headmaster Rev. Charles Prescott, and tried to abide by his dictum, 'be concise'. At the Presbyterian Church, Manly, on 6 December 1913, she married Ivor Bertie Wyatt (d.1958), a salesman and later tea merchant.

In 1926 the family (with two children) moved to Gordon. Dismayed at the total clearing of bushland for home sites and the use of Gordon gully for waste, Annie invited neighbours to her home to share her indignation. This gathering, led by the mayor of Ku-ring-gai, Walter Cresswell O'Reilly, established the Ku-ring-gai Tree Lovers' Civic League in 1927. The influence of the league was widespread. Wyatt was prominent in moves to create and gazette Balls Head reserve, on Sydney Harbour (1931), Dalrymple forest reserve, Pymble (1934), and the A. F. Wyatt reserve, overlooking Palm Beach (1938), named in her honour.

For twenty years Wyatt worked for the Prisoners' Aid Association of New South Wales and was president (1938-41) of the women's section. She regularly visited gaols, where such 'old lags' as Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh regarded her as trustworthy. On friendly terms with the comptroller of prisons, she succeeded in gaining less ugly clothes for the inmates. Horrified at seeing women dampen red-covered library books to colour their lips, she gained permission for them to receive presents of lipstick and face powder.

Annie Wyatt loved old Sydney and the County of Cumberland and spoke with knowledge and enthusiasm on their history. She deplored the ruinous state of two Georgian mansions, Graystanes, Prospect, and Bungaribee, Doonside. The demolition of Burdekin House, Macquarie Street, in 1934 and the Commissariat Stores at West Circular Quay in 1939 (which she described as 'official vandalism at its worst') galvanized her into action. Aware of the work of the National Trust in Britain, at a Tree Lovers' meeting on 11 April that year, she proposed setting up a similar organization in which buildings and landscapes could be permanently vested.

World War II intervened and Annie was occupied with the Prisoners' Aid Association and the Australian Red Cross Society (she was president of the Gordon branch). In 1941 she published a historical romance, Doors that Slam, and gave the proceeds to the Red Cross. Her friends included the historians Charles Bertie and James Watson, an early conservationist Minard Crommelin, and the commissioner for forestry Edward Swain.

At the Australian Forest League's 'Save our Trees' conference in Sydney in November 1944, Wyatt spoke, to acclamation, for a national trust. In April 1945 the National Trust of Australia (New South Wales) was established; O'Reilly chaired the provisional committee (Annie believed that this was not a role for a woman, but she was secretary). She served on the trust's council from its official foundation on 5 November 1947 to her death and was vice-president in 1951-61. She was also vice-president (1947-53) of the Forestry Advisory Council of New South Wales. In 1960 she was appointed O.B.E.

The attitude of (Sir) William McKell's government to a national trust was unenthusiastic, not surprisingly, in view of its plans to demolish Hyde Park Barracks, the Mint and Parliament House to remodel Macquarie Street. The fledgling trust waged a campaign against the forces of government—and won. Public apathy towards the preservation of old buildings now turned to support, especially from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Known to her children as 'Mater', Mrs Wyatt was considered odd: a housewife who struggled to awaken public interest in conservation. She skilfully combined her work—in which her husband took great pride—with her marriage, and endured his camping holidays, concealing from him her lack of enthusiasm. Of medium plump build, with golden hair, blue eyes, and a serious demeanour, she had vision and determination. She died on 27 May 1961 at her home at St Ives and was cremated. Her daughter and son Ivor, who served (1969-73) as president of the National Trust, survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • I. F. Wyatt, Ours in Trust (Syd, 1987)
  • H. Malcher (ed), Women of Ku-ring-gai (Syd, 1999)
  • National Trust of Australia (New South Wales), Bulletin, no 2, 1961
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 May 1938, 2 July 1946, 29 May 1961
  • Sunday Sun (Sydney), 31 Mar 1946
  • Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 24 Mar 1947
  • honours, A463, item 1959/4816 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Caroline Simpson, 'Wyatt, Annie Forsyth (1885–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wyatt-annie-forsyth-12081/text21675, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 19 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Evans, Annie Forsyth
Birth

3 January 1885
Redfern, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

27 May 1961
St Ives, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation