John Noble and the Bush in Beecroft

John Noble and the bush in Beecroft

John Noble was a pioneer in the preservation and management of the local bushland of Beecroft and Cheltenham. He was a mechanical engineer by profession but already had a keen interest in the natural world when he moved with his wife Grace and family to Beecroft in 1949. The area was then still quite rural and his original address of 46, Mary Street was later redesignated 30, Fiona Road due to several undeveloped gullies along the line of the original Mary St.

John was a keen bush walker and as a member of the Wildlife Preservation Society he had a passionate commitment to the conservation of bushland in Sydney and NSW. After his move to Beecroft he took a particular interest in the bushland associated with Devlins Creek including the area known as Chilworth Reserve. This 5 acre area of bushland had been donated to the Wildlife Preservation Society by Ida Byles, the mother of Marie Byles, in 1938.  The following background is taken from “Australian Wild Life”, the Society’s journal, published in June 1946 which John had kept in his collection of papers.

“The Chilworth  Flora Reserve ….came into our charge through the kindness of the donors, Mr and Mrs C.B. Byles during 1938. It ranks in importance in many ways – from the point of view of flora preservation, and particularly from the standpoint of the plant ecologist – with the Angophora Reserve at Avalon. The land is situated at Beecroft, on the rim of the northern suburbs of Sydney, in a beautiful forested gully, containing a large variety of the native trees and shrubs of a district which is world famous for its wonderful and varied sandstone flora.”

Chilworth Reserve was handed over to Hornsby Shire Council by the Wildlife Preservation Society in 1942 with covenants on the title to protect the bushland into the future. The society appealed to members, friends and the general public to do their utmost in co-operation with the Shire Council to see that the conditions were maintained in perpertuity.

John was definitely a member of the Society inspired to do his utmost to carry out this plea.  In November 1959 John and other sympathetic residents petitioned the State Government to acquire additional bushland south of Austral Ave to increase the area of the adjacent Beecroft and Chilworth Reserves. The petition was successful, however, part of the area was later to become the M2. 

On the initiative of Baldur Byles, in 1960 a large notice board was erected at the foot of Welham Street near the Scout Hall. The wording was:-

                                                      PRACTISE GOOD MANNERS  IN THE BUSH.

                                                      YOU ARE WELCOME

                                                       Private Property

Baldur Byles was Marie Byles brother. He lived at 26 Welham Street next to the old family home at 24 Welham Street. His house was and is still called “Chilworth”. The sign was located near the boundary of Baldur’s nearby bushland property of Lot 5, (now 33 York St), with the unformed Castle Howard Road. By 1966 a letter to Council from John Noble requests that the sign be repainted due to wear and tear and passing stone throwing small boys. Graffiti was in the future. The request was for it to be painted with gold lettering on a green background.

In 1961 and 1962 the Metropolitan Water, Sewage and Drainage Board began their works in Beecroft Reserve to install the main sewer lines through the area and connect homes to this very necessary infrastructure. However very little thought was given to managing and protecting the bushland they disturbed and this construction work was to have a devastating and ongoing effect on the health of all the local creek systems. After the work was complete no attempts were made to revegetate or control weed invasion. The problem of exotic weeds and other more subtle changes to the ecology of our local creeks and bushland stem largely from the   construction of a sewer system designed to run all the effluent by gravity out to sea. In 2009 there is only one pristine creek of any size in the whole of the Lane Cove River Catchment and it runs into Byles Creek from Pennant Hills Oval.  John and other residents such as Baldur Byles, who lived close to the area of construction, were well aware of the degrading impact this work was having on the bushland in the area. They  lobbied the M.W.S & D.B. during construction to slightly alter the line of work to minimize the necessity for tree removal. In the following years after construction they wrote a barrage of letters asking for access tracks to be closed off and proper remediation of the areas affected.  There is still an old iron pipe near the Beecroft Scout Hall which no doubt was left there at that time.

In 1964 the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust was formed, notably due to an issue with street trees and the electricity authority at the time.  On 28th July 1964 the Shire Clerk, C.K. Cook wrote to Mr F.R. Barnett, the President of the newly formed Trust. 

“ You will be aware that Council has under its control a large area of Open Space land adjacent to Devlins Creek, between Beecroft Road and the Pennant Hills Golf Club. This area has been left in its present state as much as possible, in order to preserve its natural beauty……you will no doubt appreciate that such areas are extremely difficult for Council to supervise and maintain.

Council has therefore decided to invite your organisation to appoint a committee to supervise the area to ensure that at all times it is maintained and kept in a tidy and attractive condition.”

The Trust responded favourably to Council’s suggestion and formed a sub- committee to carry out management of the local bushland.  John Noble was the convenor of that sub-committee and other members listed in their first report were J.W.U. Burton, Castle Howard Road, K Brown, Castle Howard Road, B.U. Byles (Marie Byles brother) 26, Welham Street, W. P. DeBeuzeville 27 Welham Street, W.E. Goodwin, 1, Mawson Ave and L. Chapple, Austral Ave.   A letter from Council to the Trust in Nov 1964 lists another 23 local residents appointed as honorary rangers, including Marie Byles.

The original duties were to supervise the reserve to prevent rubbish dumping, (including garden waste), destruction and removal of bush rock, wild flowers and birds and animals. The volunteers organised working parties to remove rubbish and erect signs and this expanded to include weed removal, particularly Crofton Weed.  A letter from Baldur Byles in Oct 1964 to Council details work done by the volunteers and suggests a sign near the junction of Kirkham St and Castle Howard Road with the wording:-

“                                 BEECROFT RESERVE



In 1965 the subcommittee members formed what would have been one of the first bush regeneration groups in Sydney. They surveyed Devlins Creek from the Golf Course down to the Murray Farm Road Bridge. They proposed working on the first Sunday in the month from 9.00am to 12 noon and to cut Privet at ground level and poison the stump leaving the roots intact.  They also proposed sending a suitable letter to each property adjacent to or opposite the reserve in order that the residents be informed of what is going on, the history and significance of the reserve with an indication of its boundary and asking for help from those willing to assist.

Proposed wording in John’s handwriting:-

“This Reserve is being cleared of small patches of Lantana, Privet and noxious weeds adjacent to the creek by a small group of Trust members. Visit the Reserve, stroll along the many tracks and enjoy natures surroundings so close to your home. We hope your visit might encourage you to help the Trust finish the job. Mr J. Noble will be pleased to hear from you, 84 4497, if you can help any time between 9.00am and noon on the first Sunday of the month, holidays excepted.”

The first meeting of the group was on the 9th May 1965 when nine volunteers came along to work and they continued to work in June, July, October, November and December 1965. In April 1966 Hornsby Council  organised some insurance for the Trust and the volunteer group.The group  worked seven times in 1966 but the numbers gradually began to  dwindle to mainly John Noble and a Mr Thornton and very occasionally Baldur Byles. However this smaller group worked on every month for ten sessions during 1967.  During 1968 only four sessions were managed and four more in 1969.  There are no more recorded sessions after that period but John continued to do more work on his own and with help of other willing residents including a Mr Ivan Lewis of 37, Lynbrae Ave who built a house in a new subdivision there in 1964. Ivan later married Jenny Lewis in 1983 and Jenny went on to start her own bush regeneration group in 1987.

The subcommittee continued on with John as its convenor until the 1980’s and as a member until the end of 2001.      There was never a shortage of issues relating to the bushland in the area for the attention of the sub-committee in the following years.  Some of the main issues were:-

NEW ROAD. From 1965 on there was increasing concern and correspondence regarding the proposal to build a new road through the Devlins Creek bushland. Long letters were written by John to the Minister for Lands Mr T Lewis passionately expressing his fears for the bushland of the area.

FURTHER LAND ACQUISITION.   In October 1967 lots 10 and 11 formally belonging to Beecroft Public School, where their septic tank was located, were added to Chilworth Reserve. In January 1969 the unformed Mary Street between the formed end and York Street was added to the reserve.

On 17th April 1972 Baldur Byles wrote to Hornsby Council saying that he and his wife were considering giving his bushland block Lot 5 of 2r.29.25p to Council as an addition to Chilworth Sanctuary. However he wished to know what legally enforceable restriction rested on Council concerning the use of the land. This was followed by another letter in July 1972 expressing concern that Council proposed to seek a lease for a Girl Guide Hall over part of the reserve, previously Mary St. He sought assurance that Council not agree to any diminution of the Devlins Creek and adjacent reserves by making any parts available for buildings such as Scout or Guide Halls, bowling greens or such like.  It is a great tragedy that he must not have been reassured because he never went ahead with the gift of Lot 5 which would have connected the northern part of Chilworth Reserve with its southern section down to Devlins Creek. This Lot is now 33 York St.

In 1982 Lot 945, 693.4 m2 of the reserved Mary St adjacent to York St was revoked from the reserve in exchange for the similar portion of the 1st Beecroft Scout Hall land.


In 1974 the subcommittee embarked on the ambitious project of preparing a proper plan of management for Pennant Hills Park. The list of 24 direct contributors to the plan included:-

John Noble                                  Cartograghy/ Entomology

Florence Dwight                           Botany

Robyn Buchanan                          Botany

Tony Lewis                                  Cartography

Marie Byles                                  History/Protection

The Plan of  Management for Pennant Hills Park was published by the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust in 1976 but it was never formally adopted by Council who decided to wait until they had produced one of their own many years later.

Elouera Bushland.  John and the subcommittee were certainly supporters and possibly contributors to the plan of management published for the park in 1983. A draft copy with his name on it is amongst the subcommittee papers.


The list of contributors to the Plan of Management for Pennant Hills Park refers to another of John’s passions, entomology and in particular spiders. He developed an interest in spiders using macro photography and developed an ongoing relationship with the Australian Museum, to such an extent that the Museum made him an Associate and colloquially described him as their ‘spider man of Beecroft’.  The Museum has a full collection of his photographs and has even credited him with the identification of new species. He collected over 2,000 different species and gave talks to organisations such as the Hornsby Conservation Society.  The spiders he collected were mostly from the local Beecroft area with some from his retreat at Jamberoo. John was also a keen photographer of plants  and over the years built up a large collection of photographs.


The Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust became a member of the Union at its inception in 1983.  Other members were:-  Hornsby conservation society, Ku-ring-gai Bushland and Conservation society, Lane Cove Bushland and Conservation Society, Pennant Hills Civic Trust, Ryde-Hunters Hill Flora and Fauna Preservation Society, South Turramurra Environment Protection Society (STEP), Thornleigh Area Bushland Society and Willoughby Environment Protection Society.  John was a regular delegate from the Civic Trust’s subcommittee until the late 1980’s and a member of the subcommittee continued to attend the meetings of the Union until it was wound up in 2005.


John took a keen interest in the history of Observatory Park and its use from the 1960’s and 70’s.  In the 1980’s he was aware that there were still surviving native plants growing at the base of the trees where the mower couldn’t reach and he knew about the survey that Robyn Buchanan had done in 1979. In November 1988 John and Jenny Lewis did another survey of the remnant vegetation and John wrote to Council explaining its significance and seeking support for him to try and regenerate an area of the park. In January 1989 a meeting was arranged with Council staff and after referral to the newly formed Bushland Management Advisory Committee an area was set aside where mowing would cease and for John to start a regeneration program. This involved John going up to the park on his own for 3  or 4 hours two or three times a week and removing weeds growing in the regeneration area. John weeded in a sequenced checkerboard pattern of 3-4m2 until he had covered the whole designated area. The weeds were mainly small plants such as Plantain, Catsear, Dandelion, Ehrharta, Parramatta Grass and Paspalum. There were only a very few other weeds such as Asparagus, Privet and Ochna.  By careful observation John allowed the native seedbank to revegetate the area entirely by natural regeneration.

His efforts were not without trial as the Council mowing contractors did not always remember where not to mow and a few local residents thought it made the park look untidy.  In fact there was quite a campaign of opposition by a group who organised a roster to water the Kikuyu grass growing in the mowed area.   John quietly carried on his work.

It was through his perseverance and hard work that the NSW Scientific Committee and the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney recognised Observatory Park as an important remnant of Blue gum high Forest.  In 1999 Hornsby Shire Council published John’s book  “Red Hill Observatory Park, Its History and Regeneration”.  In 1996 others were inspired to help John in the regeneration of the park and a group was formed to work on the first Saturday morning of the month. They included Ron Leslie,  who now co-ordinates the group, Bere Hill, Masako Piper, Jim Shellens, Dinah Hodge and Sheila Woods.  Jenny Lewis and Pat Pike continued to monitor the  vegetation and they recorded an amazing increase in species from 45 in 1988 to 115 by 1998. In 2002 Jenny had a paper published on John’s work in the park in Cunninghamia entitled  “Regeneration of remnant Blue Gum High Forest vegetation following the cessation of mowing.”  

At a ceremony which John was able to attend in November 2005 the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust unveiled a plaque in Observatory Park to honour his work.

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. 


Sheila Woods  2012