With the passing of Margaret Thorsborne, Wildlife Queensland mourns the loss not only of the 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.
Seeing herself as a “protector, not a protestor” Margaret Grace Thorsborne (3 June 1927 – 16 October 2018) spent more than six decades in the frontlines of coastal conservation in Queensland.
“She was indefatigable in her defence of all wildlife species and their habitats, particularly those most vulnerable to human pressures,” said friend and fellow WPSQ member, Liz Downes.
The nurse-become-naturalist was imbued by her parents, both veterans of the First World War, with great compassion for others, respect for life in all its forms, and a deep love of nature with which came an immense sense of responsibility.
Margaret’s marriage to schoolteacher Arthur Thorsborne in 1963 created the enduring partnership that was to become famous in conservation circles. And in 1965, 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.
In 1964 the couple made their first visit to North Queensland to camp on Hinchinbrook Island and fell in love with it, moving to live permanently on the banks of Meunga Creek where they were instrumental in the establishment of national parks to protect the natural values of the area, including the 1980 donation of 23ha of their own land to the Edmund Kennedy National Park.
There the Thorsbornes were the first to bring attention to the plight of the Torresian imperial-pigeons being shot out of existence at their breeding colony on North Brook Island, beginning what has become one of the world’s longest-running wildlife population surveys. This remarkable story is told in the 2015 documentary The Coming of the White Birds.
It was not until after Arthur’s death in 1991 that Margaret faced her greatest challenge in resisting the threats posed to her beloved island, its waters and wildlife by the ‘Port Hinchinbrook’ marina/resort development.
“Her courage, determination, resourcefulness and resilience were simply outstanding while her gentle smile and unfailing courtesy concealed a steely resolve,” said Liz Downes. “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 fulfill their national and international responsibilities to protect this area of the world’s heritage,” she said.
Margaret continued to work unceasingly for threatened species and habitat, and in 2001 became Wildlife Queensland’s patron, a most worthy successor to the Society’s founder, Judith Wright. Margaret’s extensive and dedicated efforts brought numerous awards culminating in her investiture as an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2011.
“Throughout her life, Margaret displayed moral and physical courage, unflinching resolve and remarkable generosity and hospitality,” said Liz Downes. “Her advocacy was always honest, courteous and meticulously researched.”
She was respected by governments, decision-makers and the media, and constantly engaged with the community, its organisations and indigenous people, working as a self-effacing team member and imparting her message with patience and understanding. Her talents as a writer and artist conveyed the conservation message far and wide.
Accepting the Vincent Serventy award in 1998 Margaret said, “I think it’s time older people didn’t leave it to the young. We aren’t the last generation on earth but sometimes we act as if we are, with no thought for the future.”
Society President Peter Ogilvie attended Margaret’s funeral in Cardwell on 25 October. “The funeral was extremely well attended with many people having to sit and stand outside,” he said. “There were representatives from all northern branches of Wildlife Queensland.”
“It was a fitting farewell for an extraordinary person who achieved an immense amount in terms of protecting the natural world. She also inspired many others to support similar objectives, and several of those people were at the funeral,” he said.
“Following the service and the wake, there was an open-air meeting of many attendees near the Cardwell jetty to voice their very strong objection to the government’s call for expressions of interest to privatise locations in three national parks, one of which is the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island.
“An ABC reporter and cameraman were present for the funeral and the meeting, and some of the information captured was presented on ABC television news on 27 October,” said Ogilvie.
The Thorsborne legacy lives on through Hinchinbrook: The Land Time Forgot, the definitive book on the area, and in the Thorsborne Trail, the world-renowned walking track running the length of Hinchinbrook Island.