A life of outstanding service to country and community
With the passing of Margaret Thorsborne we mourn the loss not only of our (Wildlife Preservation) Society’s patron and one of its longest-serving members, but also one of Queensland’s most revered and beloved champions of our wildlife and natural heritage.
Born on 3 June 1927, Margaret was the daughter of Constance (nee Keys) and Lionel Kemp-Pennefather, both of whom had given extraordinary service in the most horrific arenas of the first world war: her father with the AIF and her mother with the Australian Army Nursing Service.
Their influence on Margaret imbued her with a great compassion for others, a respect for life in all its forms, and a deep love of nature – and with this came an immense sense of responsibility.
Inspired by such figures as artist and conservationist Kathleen McArthur and naturalist David Fleay, Margaret and Arthur became active members of the newly-formed Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. She was soon involved in early state-wide campaigns to protect the reef and rainforests, in practical projects conserving local habitats and encouraging community enthusiasm for native flora. The Pine Ridge Conservation Park at Runaway Bay, which today still protects an area of mostly vanished wallum country, is an early example of the Thorsborne legacy.
In 1964 the couple made their first visit to North Queensland to camp on Hinchinbrook Island, which they knew only from a few photographs. This was a life changer. Hinchinbrook had stolen their hearts and, after returning again and again on holiday, in 1972 a little cottage in the forest, just outside the coastal town of Cardwell, became their permanent home. Once again Margaret dedicated herself to protecting the wildlife and natural habitats of her new surroundings and promoting the conservation ethic within her local community. Her growing knowledge and love for the region made her only too aware of the damage that unchecked human activity, greed or thoughtlessness might do.
The Thorsbornes’ desire to increase awareness of Hinchinbrook’s exquisite beauty, wilderness and wildlife values resulted in the publication of Hinchinbrook Island: the land time forgot in 1988. It is one of the most eloquent and comprehensive books of its kind and, three decades later, remains the definitive work on the Hinchinbrook region. But within a few years of Arthur’s death in 1991 she was to face her greatest challenge in resisting the threats posed to her beloved island, its waters and wildlife, by the “Port Hinchinbrook” marina/resort development which was growing like a boil on the shores of the Channel. Her courage, determination, resourcefulness and resilience were quite simply outstanding while her gentle smile and unfailing courtesy concealed a steely resolve. In a desperate attempt to prevent the destruction of mature stands of mangroves within a marine park she spent day after day in searing November heat trying to halt the bulldozer’s onslaught. At the same time she never ceased her polite but impassioned appeals to those in power to fulfil their national and international responsibilities to protect this area of the world’s heritage.
While her defence of Hinchinbrook and the North Brook pigeon colony might be considered Margaret’s most significant, indeed heroic, achievements there have been so many more. She worked unceasingly for threatened species not just in her own area but far beyond – the endangered bilbies and hairy-nosed wombats of western Queensland had a special place in her heart – and to protect and restore habitat wherever she could. The couple had long ago donated their own property to the national park estate and had played a major role in the creation of two national parks in the area. Much later her determined advocacy is credited with saving a vital area of woodland that was to become essential for early research into the endangered mahogany glider. And at every opportunity Margaret, a regular volunteer at community nurseries, was collecting seeds and nurturing seedlings for revegetation projects throughout the region.
Margaret’s extensive and dedicated efforts brought numerous awards culminating in her investiture as an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2011. She became WPSQ patron in 2001, a most worthy successor to the Society’s founder, the late Judith Wright, and has been granted life membership of many environmental organisations.
As likely to be found planting trees as composing submissions or attending meetings, Margaret has always been both practical and visionary. Consequently, her environmental passion has been linked with concern for people whose lives or livelihoods might be affected by conservation measures. Her work yielded no financial reward and often came at considerable personal cost yet, even after the traumatic personal impact of cyclone Yasi which destroyed her home of 40 years, she persevered: striving to protect those species whose homes were also devastated.