The National Trust of Australia is celebrating its 75th anniversary this week, so it seemed like a perfect time to talk about the inspiring woman who made it all happen.
The National Trust of Australia is oldest conservation charity and is committed to the preservation and protection of our built, natural and cultural heritage. The Trust was founded in Sydney in 1945 and now has branches around the country. Based on the heritage conservation organisation that began in the United Kingdom in 1895, it came into being in Australia at a time of great change and development to raise community consciousness of widespread destruction of the Sydney’s built and natural heritage.
Annie Wyatt, the woman who led the movement to establish the Trust, was a feminist and humanitarian who wanted to make a difference to her community.
She was born at 90 Cleveland Street in Redfern in 1885 and in 1891 her family moved to Rooty Hill, where her love for bushland and history developed. She married Ivor Wyatt in 1913, and in 1926, the couple and their two children moved to Gordon in Sydney’s leafy northern suburbs.
In 1927, in response to the destruction of much of the natural environment around Gordon, Annie Wyatt set up the Ku-ring-gai Tree Lovers’ Civic League. The women who belonged to the League were protesting the dumping of rubbish, land clearances and subdivisions and the sale of public bushland. The League existed for 45 years and was very influential. Thanks to the group’s activities, Balls Head was reforested as a public area in 1931 and bushland at Palm Beach was retained.
In the 1930s and 1940s, big changes in the city centre in particular meant that key old buildings, like the Commissariat Stores at Circular Quay and Burdekin House on Macquarie Street, were being demolished with little regard for their historical importance and heritage value. Wyatt noticed these and looked for a way to protect and conserve the built environment and heritage she loved as well as natural places.
At the 1944 Australian Forest League’s ‘Save our Trees’ Conference in Sydney, Wyatt, representing the Tree Lovers League, presented her case for the need to form a national trust in Australia. Her enthusiasm was infectious and on 6 April 1945 the national trust subcommittee of the Forestry League was formed.
Wyatt was involved with the National Trust until her death in 1961. Her membership ticket, the first to be issued, recognised her instrumental role in the organisation.
Many of the colonial buildings and structures we value today still exist because of campaigns that began directly on the Trust’s formation. Hyde Park Barracks and the Mint, St James Church, the 1815 Military Hospital at Observatory Hill, and Cadman’s cottage, Old Government House at Parramatta, Elizabeth Farm House, Lennox Bridge, and the cemeteries at Camperdown and Parramatta were all included on their first list of properties to protect in 1946.
Annie Wyatt really shaped the start of Sydney’s heritage movement. Her passion and enthusiasm for Sydney’s history, community and natural environment made a huge difference to how we live in this city today.
Annie Forsyth Wyatt is commemorated by a reserve at Palm Beach, an azalea named after her, and a stone seat in the Swain Gardens in Killara, as well as the Annie Wyatt Room at the National Trust headquarters at Observatory Hill .The house which was built for her and her family in Gordon has been heritage listed and is known as Annie Wyatt House.
Head to the Dictionary to read Julie Blyth’s entry on the life and achievements of Annie Wyatt: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/wyatt_annie
While the National Trust’s celebrations for the anniversary have been postponed for the moment, head to their website (https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/75years/) and follow their social media streams to keep up with their great 75 Stories campaign and to hear the latest about their plans for future festivities.
Dr Lisa Murray is the Historian of the City of Sydney and former chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust. She is a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of New South Wales and the author of several books, including Sydney Cemeteries: a field guide. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Lisa, for ten years of unstinting support of the Dictionary! You can follow her on Twitter here: @sydneyclio