Student volunteers provide fresh eyes on archival discoveries

A donated suitcase and the help of volunteers have led to the unearthing of Annie Wyatt's original handwritten notes from the first meeting of the National Trust in 1947.

In 2003, former President of the National Trust, Ivor Wyatt, donated two Bakelite suitcases that were originally owned by his mother, founder of the National Trust, Annie Forsyth Wyatt. Amongst the suitcases were personal notes, letters and a memo book.

When student volunteers recently took a closer look at the suitcase’s contents, they made a startling discovery in the memo book. It turned out to contain Annie’s handwritten notes from the first National Trust meeting in 1947 – bringing to light new insights into Annie’s work and the interesting characters she worked with during the formation of the National Trust.

A start in volunteering and the environment

Annie Wyatt founded the National Trust of Australia (NSW) in 1945, with the help of a committee of dedicated volunteers. She was a committed conservationist and humanitarian, establishing the Ku-ring-gai Tree Lovers’ Civic League in 1927, and later volunteering with the Red Cross and Prisoner’s Aid Association of NSW during World War II. However protecting the natural environment remained her passion, with her 1937 notebook revealing her commitment to the emerging conservation movement:

“I used to lie awake and wonder desperately what could be done about the destruction. The great essential of course was permanence. That could not be found in either Government or Local Government bodies, as however sincere the intentions of the members when they accepted Trusteeship, they have no power to control beyond their own term of office. It had to be some new organization pledged to perpetual responsibility. Moreover, it had to arise among the people themselves.”

Deciphering the notes

The recently-discovered minutes from the first National Trust meeting in 1947 were frantically written by Annie, perhaps reflective of never having taken a shorthand course to equip her for quick note-taking.

Annie Wyatt’s original meeting notes

Student volunteers have been assisting National Trust Archives & Library Manager, James Bosanquet in transcribing the notes, and there is still much more to uncover. However legible details so far confirm the time and location of the historic meeting: “1st meeting of the Council of the N. Trust of Aust. held at 3.30pm Tuesday 4th Feb 1947 at the Conference Room of the Chamber of Manufactures 12 O’Connell St.”

Annie Wyatt. Image: National Trust Archives

The notes go on to discuss approaching politicians and local members to enlist their interest in the National Trust, and even setting the price of National Trust membership, noting: “Mr. Ash fee for corporate members. Mr. O’Reilly moves £2. 2nd Mr. Cramp.”

Another notable discovery was the attendance of famous Sydney personality Julian Howard Ashton (1877 – 1964), son of the founder of Sydney Art School in The Rocks. Mr Ashton was a journalist, critic and artist who led a colourful life including suggesting the formation of the first Sydney String Quartet.

Also appearing in Annie’s minutes was Marie Byles (1900 – 1979), who would later bequeath her home, Ahimsa to the National Trust. Daughter of a Suffragette, Marie’s inherent sense of justice drew her to feminism and her admission as the first female solicitor in New South Wales. Marie attended the first-ever Ku-ring-gai Tree Lovers’ Civic League meeting in 1927.

Volunteers lend a hand

National Trust Archives & Library Manager James Bosanquet mentors and assists early career professionals who want to make these discoveries in the National Trust archives. He says student volunteers bring a new interest and fresh perspectives on archival practice.

“It’s great seeing the next generation in the early stages of their careers,” says James. “They are engaged and they are challenging their learning, as well as making decisions that will shape their knowledge about archives. It is a privilege to be able to mentor and assist these early career professionals and see the same enthusiasm that drew me into archives 20 years ago.”

Stacey Sinclair, Student Volunteer from Charles Sturt University, helped discover the meeting notes while volunteering in the archives.

There are volunteering positions available at all National Trust properties across New South Wales. Available positions include collection care, connecting with National Trust members, marketing and events, and administration. Volunteers can give a few hours, half a day or a whole day – weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Amongst many benefits, volunteers receive free access to National Trust properties in New South Wales and receive a written reference after six months of contribution.

Become a student volunteer

If you love heritage conservation and want to gain real-world experience at the National Trust (NSW), apply to become a volunteer.


Call to action section

Subscribe to our newsletter

Be the first to find out about our latest news, events and special offers from the National Trust NSW.