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Lorna Byrne (1897–1989)

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Lorna Byrne (1897-1989), agriculture extension officer and broadcaster, was born on 27 December 1897 at Quirindi, New South Wales, youngest of ten children of James Byrne, schoolteacher, and his wife Margaret, née Crennan, who were both born in New South Wales. Ethel Byrne was her sister. Lorna was educated at Currabubula Public, Quirindi Superior Public and West Maitland Girls’ High schools, gaining a Teachers’ College scholarship to the University of Sydney (B.Sc.Agr., 1921), where she was one of four women admitted to study agricultural science. Part of the practical training was at Hawkesbury Agricultural College. She and Margaret Brebner were the first women to graduate in this discipline at the University of Sydney.

From 1921 Byrne taught for the Department of Education in Sydney and Orange. With the growing recognition of the importance of women in rural life, she was invited in 1927 to join the New South Wales Department of Agriculture’s `Better Farming Train’. Equipped with machinery and farm animals, this train carried agriculture experts to selected venues where talks were given in tents. Byrne lectured on the importance of family life, leadership and community involvement, ideals to which she remained committed all her life. In August that year she was officially transferred to the Department of Agriculture as organiser, women’s section, agricultural bureau, the first woman on the permanent professional staff of the department. She continued to travel, lecturing, advising and encouraging rural women. Attractive, enthusiastic and with an affinity for people on the land, she became well known and liked.

Byrne gave talks (1923-24) and made regular broadcasts (1932-36) for the department, and compèred two programs (1939-40) for the Australian Broadcasting Commission on radio-station 2FC. In 1935 she was awarded King George V’s silver jubilee medal and in 1936 received a grant from the Carnegie Corporation to study rural extension education systems overseas. On her return, influenced by the Swedish model she had seen, she established leadership schools for young country people. The Department of Agriculture later adopted similar schools for its own staff-training program and other organisations followed. Byrne was to be prouder of having set up the schools than anything else she accomplished. Popular with young people, in 1941 she became Rural Queen in the Australian Red Cross Society (New South Wales division) Queen Competition and finished second overall, having raised £13,660.

In World War II Byrne had joined the Women’s Australian National Services, acting in an advisory capacity to the land section in 1940. On 18 November 1941 she entered the Australian Women’s Army Service. Appointed assistant-controller to Sybil Irving in Melbourne, she held the rank of major from 28 January 1942. In May 1943 she was given her own command as assistant-controller, Western Australia. She transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 3 June 1944 and joined the AWAS Association (New South Wales), of which she was to become the `much loved and esteemed’ patron in 1981.

Following her army service Byrne spent six months assisting (Sir) Samuel Wadham who, as a member of the Commonwealth Rural Reconstruction Commission, was writing reports on rural conditions. In 1945 she was appointed head of the women’s extension service of the New South Wales Department of Agriculture. On 4 August 1948 at St Augustine’s Church of England, Neutral Bay, Byrne married Stanley Ward Hayter, a 68-year-old retired master mariner. Devastated when he died in 1951, she travelled overseas extensively. She had given some talks for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1950 and resumed broadcasting as Lorna Byrne in 1953. Her `Country Women’s Session’ ran for fifteen minutes one day a week, replacing the popular serial `Blue Hills’ for that day. For a while, she received `the most insulting letters’ for `daring’ to supplant `Blue Hills’. Her voice was criticised as `harsh and masculine’, but with her outgoing personality and professionalism she soon developed a rapport with listeners. From 1964 the program was called `Farm and Home’; she gave her last broadcast in 1966.

While with the ABC Mrs Hayter acted as public relations officer for the State division of the Australian Red Cross Society. In 1958 she led a delegation of Australian women on a tour of China. Describing the trip as `one of the great experiences of [her] life’, she visited factories and farms and met Mao Zedong. She worked as women’s editor of The Land newspaper in 1961-71, then performed the same role with the North Shore Times for eight months. Later she spent several years carrying out historical research on country towns for the Bank of New South Wales. In 1975, as a member of the Farm Writers and Broadcasters Society, she represented rural journalists at an international conference in Milan, Italy.

Hayter was a member (1969-75) of the standing committee of the University of Sydney convocation, and president (1972-75) of the university’s Agricultural Graduates Association. She was also a member of the State committee of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science, of which in 1969 she became a fellow. In 1978 she was appointed a fellow of the Hawkesbury Agricultural College. She was involved in other organisations including the Country Women’s Association of New South Wales, of which she had been an early member; the Young Women’s Christian Association, for which she worked as general secretary for four years; the Society of Women Writers; and the Journalists’ Club. Her publications included radio scripts and newspaper and journal articles.

Hayter helped to improve the lives of people in the farming community, especially women. In 1980 she was appointed CBE. She died on 15 July 1989 at Mona Vale and was cremated. On 24 September a memorial service was held at Hawkesbury Agricultural College, where trees were planted in her memory. Trees were also planted at her childhood home at Currabubula. The Australian Institute of Agricultural Science & Technology (Eastern New South Wales branch) sponsors the Lorna Byrne leadership awards for students in agriculture in New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Lofthouse (compiler), Who’s Who of Australian Women (1982)
  • J. Black, The Country’s Finest Hour (1995)
  • Smith’s Weekly, 29 Oct 1927, p 20
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 31 Jan 1936, p 9, 20 Mar 1937, p 11, 2 Apr 1937, p 5, 20 Nov 1958, p 63
  • Australian Federation of University Women (New South Wales), Newsletter, Nov 1989, p 14
  • H. de Berg, interview with Lorna Hayter (transcript, 1978, National Library of Australia)
  • series B884, item N278216 and series SP1762/1, item 23/1 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

'Byrne, Lorna (1897–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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