Marie Byles

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Marie Beuzeville Byles
Marie at Graduation, University of Sydney
Born (1900-04-08)8 April 1900
Ashton upon Mersey, Cheshire, England
Died 21 November 1979(1979-11-21) (aged 79)
Cheltenham, New South Wales, Australia
Residence Cheltenham, New South Wales
Nationality Australian
Education Presbyterian Ladies' College, Sydney
Pymble Ladies' College
Alma mater University of Sydney (BA 1921, LLB 1924)
Occupation Solicitor and author
Known for First practising female solicitor in N.S.W, mountaineer, explorer, feminist, author and conservationist
Religion Buddhist

Marie Beuzeville Byles (8 April 1900—21 November 1979) is known as a committed conservationist, the first practicing female solicitor in New South Wales (NSW), mountaineer, explorer and avid bushwalker, feminist, author and an original member of the Buddhist Society in New South Wales. She was also a travel and non-fiction writer.[1]


She was born in 1900 in Ashton upon Mersey in what was then Cheshire, England to progressive-minded parents who valued individuality. Marie developed a respect for self-discipline and the environment. Marie's mother Ida was a suffragette, vegetarian, tee-totaller and artist, who encouraged Marie to be economically independent and to develop her mind. Her father, Cyril, was an ardent campaigner against fenced land in England which prevented public access for recreational walks. He involved his children in these protests.[2]

In 1911 the Byles family arrived in Australia[3] where her father took up a position as railway signal engineer. They found a block of land situated near bush land at Beecroft to build their large house, 'Chilworth', named after the village in Surrey where their family business was located. Two years later, Marie chose to be educated at the Presbyterian Ladies' College, Sydney at Croydon from 1914–1915. In 1916, the Presbyterian Ladies' College, Sydney opened a second campus in Pymble due to over-crowding, and Marie was selected to become a founding student of the new college (now known as Pymble Ladies' College). She excelled, and became prefect and dux in 1916, and Head Prefect and dux in the following year.

First female solicitor[edit]

Marie was one of the growing number of women to attend the University of Sydney. In 1921 she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and in 1924 a Bachelor of Laws. In 1924 she became the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor in NSW,[4] and in 1929 the first woman to establish a legal practice. Marie operated two successful law practices — one in Eastwood and the other in the city — until she retired in 1970. During this time she gave young women opportunities to participate in the legal profession. 'The business in Eastwood built up because she had the reputation of getting things done so quickly and that was almost unknown in a legal office, she was notorious.' (Employee, Ruth Milton, interview with Gillian Coote 1983).

In 1932 she joined The Women's Club, which was created in 1901 to provide a place where women interested in public, professional, scientific and artistic work could meet. Although Marie's law practice was general in nature, she wrote articles against women changing their name on marriage so as to protect their financial assets, and also worked to ensure just divorce settlements for female clients.


From her family's holiday retreat on Sunrise Hill at Palm Beach, Marie would look out through her telescope across Broken Bay at the imposing coast and bushland around Maitland Bay, then known as 'Boat Harbour', on the Central Coast. With her friends, Marie found ways through the bush where they set up camps on the beautiful shores of Maitland Bay. By 1929, there was an increasing focus on organised recreation for the growing city and suburban population. Marie joined the two-year-old 'Sydney Bushwalkers Club', which was one of the few walking clubs to admit women. In 1930, a new name for Boat Harbour was proposed by the Club. Bushwalker Dorothy Lawry suggested Maitland Bay after the shipwrecked steamer rusting at the northern end of the beach.

Over the next five years, with the support of the Federation of Sydney Bushwalkers Clubs, Marie successfully campaigned in the press for the area to be placed under public ownership. The creation of Bouddi Natural Park in 1935 was a landmark achievement for the early conservationists.


In 1927, Marie had saved enough money from working as a law clerk to take off on a Norwegian cargo boat to begin her journey around the world. This included climbing mountains in Britain, Norway and Canada. From this journey she authored her popular book, By Cargo Boat and Mountain, in 1931. Later, she led expeditions to Mt Cook in New Zealand in 1935 and to the 20,000-ft peak, Mt Sansato, in Western China near the Tibetan border, in 1938. At times her party in China traveled with 15 mules, porters, an interpreter, cook, two servants, three riding ponies, and occasionally military escorts to protect them from bandits. Due to the poor weather, the expedition failed to reach the summit and Marie was bitterly disappointed.


During her travels through Burma, China and Vietnam in 1938, Marie often chose to stay in temples instead of simple inns, and traveled through remote villages. These experiences brought her into direct contact with non-European cultures and religions. On her return, Marie renewed her interest in the teachings of Gandhi, and began exploring Buddhism. No longer able to walk far or to climb her beloved mountains due to a collapsed foot arch, she became more interested in spirituality and meditation as a way of dealing with her pain.

During the 1940s Marie also became interested in Quakerism — and was friends with local Quakers who lived nearby and who had meetings at her house. Due to her ongoing interest in Buddhism, she was refused membership. Over the following years she made spiritual journeys through India and Asia. She spent a year in India, including the Himalayas, and made three trips to Burma and two trips to Japan. From these experiences she completed four books on Buddhism and was significant in introducing and promoting Buddhism in NSW.

Byles' home[edit]

By 1938 Marie left her family home Chilworth at Beecroft and built her own house on crown land in nearby Cheltenham. The large verandah is primarily where Marie slept and lived in preference to the interior rooms. The four-room prefabricated fibro and sandstone home was called 'Ahimsa' after the term used by Gandhi meaning "harmlessness". In addition to the house, Marie wanted to have a place on her land for groups to meet for discussions and meditation. By 1949, the Hut of Happy Omen, which was designed as an open sleepout with bunks and a large sandstone stone fireplace, was complete.

In 1970 Marie bequeathed her property to The National Trust of Australia (NSW), which she had helped in 1946 when she was the consulting solicitor who drafted the organisation's constitution. Her decision to give her home to The National Trust was based on her faith in the Trust to help preserve the native bushland around her home and to help protect the surrounding reserves.

Death and legacy[edit]

Marie died at 'Ahimsa' in 1979.[2] In 1985 a dramatised documentary, A Singular Woman, based on Byles' life was made by Gillian Coote using text from an unpublished autobiography written by Byles.[5]

See also[edit]


  • By Cargo Boat and Mountain (1931)
  • Footprints of Gautama the Buddha (1957)
  • Journey into Burmese Silence (1962)
  • The Lotus and the Spinning Wheel (1963)
  • Paths to Inner Calm (1965)
  • Stand Straight without Strain (1978)


  1. ^ Presenter: Lorena Allam (22 August 2010). "Adventurous spirit, Marie Beuzeville Byles". Hindsight. Radio National.
  2. ^ a b Radi, Heather (1993). "Byles, Marie Beuzeville (1900–1979)". Australian Dictionary of Biography 13. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 1 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Solomon, Jonathan (2008). "Byles, Marie Beuzeville". Dictionary of Sydney. Dictionary of Sydney Trust. 
  4. ^ "Woman solicitor - first in state - law recruits". Evening News (Sydney). 4 June 1924. Retrieved 1 November 2014 – via National Library of Australia. 
  5. ^ Fox, Judith (27 January 1986). "Sepia and voice-overs illuminate an indomitable life". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 1 November 2014 – via Google News Archive. 


  • Adelaide, Debra (1988) Australian women writers: a bibliographic guide, London, Pandora

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