10 January 2022
Authors: Daryl Dickson, Liz Downes & Carol Muller, Cassowary Coast & Hinchinbrook Branch
Vale Suzie Smith 1952–2021
Suzie Smith, founder and long-time office-bearer of WPSQ’s Cassowary Coast and Hinchinbrook Branch, died peacefully in Tully hospital on 27 December after a long struggle with cancer – and so we lost one of the north’s truest, most abiding champions of our natural and cultural heritage.
Suzie was a beloved and respected figure in the north, and beyond, enriching lives as a teacher, a dedicated voice for the environment and a kind, loyal and generous friend. No greater example of this can be found than in Suzie’s friendship and support for our late patron, Margaret Thorsborne, through very difficult times – Arthur Thorsborne’s death, the turbulent Port Hinchinbrook campaign, the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi and Margaret’s own failing health. It was nothing short of magnificent.
After arriving in Tully in the mid-1970s as a young English and History teacher, Suzie met her life partner, fellow teacher Pat Turner, going to live on his family property at Murray Upper. Surrounded by the great natural diversity of the Wet Tropics, Suzie developed her passion to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the area.
With Pat, Suzie made enduring connections with the people of the Murray Valley, and living on country was how she saw her place there. She established Yabullum Nature Refuge, which is now an Indigenous Protected Area.
In 1980, inspired by WPSQ’s co-founder and first president, Judith Wright, Suzie called a meeting that led to the formation of the Tully Branch (now the Cassowary Coast & Hinchinbrook Branch), with Pat as inaugural president. It became a dynamic force on the local scene.
From the outset, Suzie was an inspiration and driving force behind the branch’s activities and achievements and, for over 40 years, she remained a committed executive member, whose ability to write concise, factual and compelling letters and submissions was especially valued. Well-supported by other key figures, notably local canegrower Joe Galeano and conservationists Arthur and Margaret Thorsborne, Suzie formed invaluable friendships and networks and developed an approach to campaigning based on consensus, teamwork and community involvement that served the branch well.
The branch’s first campaign was to protect the entire catchment of the Hull River from source to sea, including the historic Kennedy Bay and its pristine lowland rainforest – an achievement realised in 1991 after ten years of campaigning. Suzie also led the branch in supporting the wider campaign for the tropical rainforests, seeking protection locally for the endangered cassowaries and working with farmers to protect riparian vegetation. In 1991, Dr Steve Van Dyck’s rediscovery of the mahogany glider, in lowland forests south of Tully, prompted the campaign that was to become a major branch focus.
Always a good friend of other northern branches, Suzie was a constructive participant at the annual Northern Branches Get-Togethers from 1986 to 2005. Until her cancer reappeared in 2019, she had talked of bringing the remaining branches together again.
Suzie’s involvement with the Cassowary Coast & Hinchinbrook Branch did not stop her from volunteering her time and skills to other organisations. At the time of her death, she was the current president of both the Alliance to Save Hinchinbrook and the Friends of Ninney Rise, working tirelessly with the latter to establish and manage this important heritage site, birthplace of the twin campaigns to save rainforest and reef.
In 2011, Suzie joined the National Mahogany Glider Recovery Team, serving as chairperson for the last four years. This involved Suzie in a close working relationship with Terrain NRM. And, as a trustee of the Thorsborne Trust, she was dedicated to ensuring the future of the annual pied imperial-pigeon counts on the Brook Islands.
Despite the personal heartbreak of Pat’s death in 1998, Cyclone Yasi’s destruction of her orchard in 2011, and her own cancer surgery and treatment, Suzie remained deeply involved with conservation projects and issues, at both a planning and a hands-on level. And she never forgot how important it is to get out in nature and enjoy all it has to offer us.
The body of Suzie’s work, extending over decades of committed service to her community and the environment, was rightly recognised through a Wet Tropics Cassowary Award, a Cassowary Coast Regional Council Australia Day Award and WPSQ’s Margaret Thorsborne Award.
Suzie was an inspiring teacher inside and outside the classroom, and a precious and constant friend and colleague. She will be remembered for her passion and compassion, her kindness and courage, and for her remarkable inner strength, seemingly endless capacity for hard work, and straightforward manner (often laced with humour). These qualities were the foundation of Suzie’s significant legacy. She will be sorely missed.