John Noble, Beecroft’s naturelover and pioneer bush regenerator 1916 – 2011
John Noble described himself as a man with ‘an ongoing interest in things of nature and the need for care of our environment’.
In 1949 John Noble and his wife Grace moved with their children to a new house he designed and built in what is now Fiona Road, then Mary Street. Their little daughter’s health would, a doctor suggested, be improved if they moved away from Kurraba Point to a healthier climate. The block of land, 75 feet by 264 feet (23 metres by 81 metres), was heavily timbered and John and Grace decided not to have a lawn but to ‘leave the trees’ and encourage native vegetation. John and Grace had long been keen bushwalkers, members of the Wildlife Preservation Society as well as The Sydney Bush Walkers, founded by conservationist Myles Dunphy in the 1920s.
John had a particular interest in Beecroft Reserve, close to his home. He was concerned in the early 1960s by the growth of weeds in the reserve after the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage &Drainage Board disturbed the bushland when they put sewer lines through the area.
When the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust was formed in 1964, John Noble, Marie Byles,and her brother Baldur, then the area’s notable conservationists, became members of the first committee, impelled to join in part by a desire to promote the preservation of the local bushland. John became the convenor of a Civic Trust subcommittee carrying out ‘management of the local bushland’ for the Council. Their duties were to prevent people dumping rubbish, removing bush rock and destroying flora and fauna in the reserve. In 1965 john formed the first bush regeneration group, meeting on the first Sunday in the month to weed in the reserve. The group he founded worked along Devlins Creek until 1969 and John continued to work in the bush on his own for many years. In 1987 he inspired the formation of a new group led by local botanist Jenny Lewis and she continued the scientific methods applied by John which are now emulated throughout Hornsby Shire in their bushcare program which began in 1989. In 1991 Jenny’s group started working in Chilworth Reserve at John’s request and this group is still working in 2012. John Noble remained convenor of the sub-committee until the 1980s and he remained an active member until the end of 2001. He believed that the people of Beecroft became more supportive as the years went by of community efforts to improve the condition of the local bushland. In 1999 he was made a life member of the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust.
During the late 1980’s John also turned his attention to Observatory Park and its use. He observed that there were still surviving native plants, including orchids, close to trees, despite regular mowing. In November 1988 he and Jenifer Lewis conducted a survey of the remnant vegetation, noting that there were many interesting and valuable plants. John wrote to the Council seeking their support to regenerate a section of the park and to cease mowing that area. Soon afterwards he began, two or three times a week, to remove weeds in the section set aside for regeneration and persevered despite opposition from some local residents who thought it looked untidy. John continued to work alone until a new volunteer group formed to help him in 1997 when he was aged 81. The number of species listed in the park increased rapidly from 45 in 1988 to over 115 in 1999 when the area under regeneration was expanded. Observatory Park is now recognized as an important remnant of Endangered Blue Gum High Forest. A plaque was placed in Observatory Park by the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust to honour his work at a ceremony in November 2005 which John was able to attend then aged 89.
John had a long held interest in photography. He contributed photographs and assisted with illustrations for ‘Beecroft and Cheltenham: the shaping of a Sydney community to 1914’, produced and published by the Beecroft Cheltenham History Group Inc in 1995. In the 1990s his interest in photography led him to send one of his photographs of a beautiful huntsman spider to Mike Gray at The Australian Museum in Sydney. This led to a fruitful relationship, and John, as an official collector for the Museum, began sending specimens of spiders collected within a few hundred metres of his home to Mike Gray and found many, he says, that had not previously been identified.
Bush regeneration has flourished in Beecroft and Cheltenham since John Noble pioneered the craft in the 1960s. Traversing bushland paths in the area, walkers cannot fail to observe and enjoy the efforts of local groups of regenerators.
John’s quiet determination has left Beecroft with a wonderful legacy. Noble by name and noble by deed, John lived for 95 rewarding years, undoubtedly inspiring many others to value and preserve our bushland heritage.