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Byles, Baldur

Baldur Unwin Byles BScFor (Adel), LLD (ANU) FIFA OBE [1] (1904-1975) was born in Manchester, England. His parents were Cyril and Ida Byles and his early life is described in the separate articles on this website for his parents (Cyril and Ida Byles) or his sister (Marie Beuzeville Byles). He arrived in New South Wales with his family on the Anchises in 1912. His parents were very proud when at the age of 14 years, he was awarded, in 1922, a scouting medal for leading the Beecroft First Troop.

He married in 1935 Janet Clark (daughter of John and Ada Clark) a school teacher from Bellevue Hill, and they had one son (John Peter).

After school, Baldur enrolled in the only forestry school at that stage in Australia, at the University of Adelaide. A fellow student later re-called that Baldur was always the fittest student in his year, steadfastly persevering with any arduous field exercises long after his fellow students had collapsed under the shade of a tree.

After graduating with a BScFor from Adelaide he worked for the next two years as an assistant forester at Tumut. In total he served in the NSW Forestry Commission from 1926 to 1969 with a break between 1927 and 1932 when he served (together with M R Jacobs and A D Lindsay) in a fledgling Commonwealth Forestry Bureau. Initially at the Bureau he did much exploratory work in the Snowy Mountains, work that suited his pioneering spirit.

In 1931 he went on a study tour of Europe to look at possible sources of commercial softwood – visiting such places as Corsica, Italy, France, North Africa and the Canary Islands. The reports on his findings were subsequently published as Research Bulletins by the Bureau [2].

In 1932, Byles in his role with the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau undertook a study looking at the catchment of water in the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers. Unfortunately the funding was not renewed but in the work that was completed, Byles looked at the impact of deforestation on water flow [3].

In 1935 he was one of six signatories to the Articles establishing the Institute of Foresters of Australia, the professional body for Australian foresters.

His position within the Commonwealth Bureau was made redundant during the Great Depression and, in 1933, he took a role as a ‘temporary probationary forester’ or plantation labourer back in Tumut. He continued to work in Tumut until he became district forester in Wagga in 1940. In this role he oversaw the constantly expanding pine plantations in Tumut, Batlow and Tumburumba together with the surprisingly productive River Red Gum forests along the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers: where he also conducted a research programme.

He was instrumental in establishing the Kosciusko State Park and in 1944 became the Forestry Commission representative amongst the trustees – a position he retained until the Trust was replaced by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Another of the inaugural trustees was Garfield Barwick. Barwick wrote in his memoirs: ‘[In Kosciusko I] rode with Baida Byles, a forrester and grand fellow, particularly in the Alpine Ash areas of the mountains’ [4].  

Byles was a fit, well-built man of slightly above average height, quietly spoken, courteous, a stickler for punctuality and sometimes (according to a colleague, George Baur) excessive forward planning, imbued with incredible energy and seemingly immune from physical discomfort – he was known to swim, albeit briefly, in the mountain streams around Batlow in winter. He had supreme confidence in the absolute rightness of his own views. In around 1948, as a senior forester, he led a group of students around some forestry operations near Tumut – talking through the practical implications of what they were seeing and encapsulating much of what they had learnt. Near the end of his study the exhausted students had to get from a mill (down on the edge of a creek) up to the top of the hill where their truck was waiting. Baldur made it to the top first and recorded the names of those who made it after him – some of whom had waited a little longer for the lumber trolley to make it to the top. In their presence. he noted in his book, after all had joined the group at the top, “eight lazy buggers and six others” to which an anonymous student responded “six silly buggers and eight others.”

Baldur and his family transferred back to Sydney in 1952 where he built a family home on what had been his parents chicken yard – it is now 26 Welham Street. He called this home Chilworth, just as his parents had called their home – now next door, and still called Chilworth. He retained a spare block of land for what he called his ‘wood block.’

In his new role he managed a team who considered the use of vacant Crown land and leases throughout forested areas of the State and evaluated their suitability for being declared as State forests. As a result large areas of forest came under the control of the Commission, of which much was subsequently transferred to the National Park and Wildlife Service in later years. He ultimately became Deputy Chief, Division of Forest and Timber Resources.

In 1965 he was seconded to the Lands Department for twelve months where he worked on developing the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

In Beecroft, Baldur became active in the Civic Trust, who he regarded as ‘right minded people’ ie people who agreed with him. He would regularly walk the length of Welham Street picking up pieces of paper or similar rubbish and even manufactured a spike-tipped stick to aid him in this task. Once, when he saw a neighbour light some raked leaves at the base of a gum, he asked the neighbour “How would you like it if someone lit a fire at your bottom?” He developed a trench in which he burnt garden rubbish: air was dragged in from one side, giving a remarkably clean but hot fire. The system attracted some interest from local government and fire authorities. He always worked in his garden and along the street while wearing one of his old suits.

He and Janet had a large mulberry tree in their backyard to which they would invite the local children, in season, to pick from the plentiful crop.

He retired in 1969 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from the Australian National University and then in 1975, an Order of the British Empire.   

Byles died 16 August 1975 survived by Janet and his son John. John had also commenced as a forester but subsequently became an officer in the Salvation Army.

[1]      The majority of this article derives from information supplied by George Norton Baur, also a forester and a one-time neighbour of Baldur who had lived in Mary Street Beecroft.

[2]      Sydney Morning Herald, 15 September 1931 p.8

[3]      Sydney Morning Herald, 23 August 1932 p5; 20 April 1936 p.7.

[4]      Sydney Morning Herald, 3 June 1944 p.4; G Barwick, A Radical Tory (Federation Press, Annandale, 1995) p. 155.