May 25 - 31, 2014: Issue 164

Narrabeen Lagoon and Northern N.S.W.'s Environment Champion Jim Somerville 

A Tribute

 Jim Somerville - “There’ll be a bridge right here” - photo courtesy Tony Carr

 Jim Somerville AM
12 July 1915 - 21 May 2014

Pittwater and Warringah have lost one of their champions of the environment and common sense this week. Tributes have been flowing, all extolling the contribution this lively gentleman has to Narrabeen Lagoon’s environment and keeping this for everyone as well as the work he undertook to save the rainforest of Grady’s Creek and be part of the team that helped prevent the destruction of areas near Mount Colong in the Blue Mountains.

It is Jim’s perseverance in Narrabeen many here will remember him for:

Lagoon Pathway a reality
Friends salutes Jim Somerville for his successful championing of a multi-use pathway around Narrabeen Lagoon. A $4m Federal Grant, awarded last month, will enable the pathway to be built. As former Warringah Administrator Dick Persson said, “Without Jim’s persistence, this project would have never got off the ground.”

Here, in Jim’s words, is the inside story …
“The idea of a multi-use path around Narrabeen Lagoon has been around for about 20 years. Tom Webster and David James were strong advocates. Opposition came from the Sydney Academy of Sport. Ironically, their Mission Statement says 'We want more people, more active, more often!'

It was only when I was able to convince the NSW Government Whip Gerard Martin that with three cabinet ministers in favour, their Sports Minister was mistaken in supporting the Academy, that we got some action. Gerard Martin ordered a site visit for March 3, 2008 - Minister West was so impressed with presentations by Rob Stokes, Brad Hazzard, Dick Persson, David James, Judith Bennett and Tony Carr, that he over-ruled his Academy staff.

Warringah Council should be congratulated - the initiative of Suzy Lawrence and David Kerr secured the $4m Grant from the Federal Government. With funding assured, the path will at last become a reality – but don’t hold your breath! With pedestrian bridges needed over Deep, Middle and South Creeks, it will not open until 2011.”

From: News from Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment, Newsletter, June 2009

The full story of this campaign may be read in Jim's account - Narrabeen Lagoon Circuit  - A History by Jim Somerville  (November 2012) at: (1.33MB)

Jim's earlier involvement in a campaign which would culminate in a World Heritage listing of the Border’s Ranges National Park you may read Jim’s account  - SAVING THE RAINFOREST - The NSW Campaign 1973 – 1984 by James G. Somerville, 2005 at: (736 kb)

Preface from this document in Jim’s own words ( with kind permission of son Lindsay):
Although I joined the Coast and Mountain Walkers Club in 1936, my interest in the conservation of our bushland only began in 1944 when, aged 29, I was appointed by the Minister for Lands as a bushwalker representative on the Heathcote Primitive Area Trust of which Myles Dunphy, widely recognised as the father of conservation in Australia, was the indefatigable Secretary. Apart from my duties as Treasurer, this involved six meetings and six field trips a year until, in 1967, the Trust was taken over by the newly constituted National Parks and Wildlife Service whereupon we became members of an Advisory Committee.
During much of this period I was a member of the National Parks Association (NPA) and for 12 years served as Treasurer of the Nature Conservation Council (NCC), but it was through the dynamic Colong Committee, set up by the Total Environment Centre (TEC) that I became associated with Milo Dunphy, the radical activist son of Myles. At his invitation I attended the inaugural meeting of the Committee in May 1968, which was formed to oppose the quarrying of 50 million tons of limestone near Mt Colong in the Blue Mountains. After an exciting seven year campaign, the battle against Blue Circle, the world’s largest cement company, was won, but rather than disband the members of the Committee decided to campaign for a large rainforest National Park on the NSW/Queensland border.
On my 60th birthday on 12 July 1975, I retired from Qantas Airways Ltd after a lifetime spent improving the financial efficiency of Australia’s international airline. Two weeks later, while holidaying in Alaska beside the mighty Denali, the highest mountain in North America, I decided that my main retirement activity would be to prevent the NSW Forestry Commission from logging the virgin rainforest on Levers Plateau which was a mere five percent of the Border Ranges National Park proposed by the Colong Committee of which I was now a Director. During a Honolulu stop-over on my way
home, I wrote to Jack Henry, Commissioner for Forests, telling him of my decision and a month later took him to lunch. To my dismay he told me that my personal project was doomed because the Minister for Forests had recently promised the timber on the Plateau to the local sawmill and the road up to it was about to be constructed.

Undaunted, the Colong Committee campaigned long and hard, but it was the election of a Labor Government led by a sympathetic Neville Wran which saved Levers Plateau. Unfortunately, two years later, in a vain attempt to solve the worrying campaign for a Border Ranges National Park, the same Labor Cabinet decided to log Grady’s Creek Flora Reserve instead and I therefore changed my personal project to saving it.
This record is both a personal ego trip and a comprehensive history of the longest and most important conservation campaign in the history of the State. As a Director of the Colong Committee I was in a unique position to record its progress and I did so initially by writing with Alex Colley a 50 page booklet entitled How the Rainforest was Saved in 1983. Although the campaign has been reported in five books on the Australian environment movement, most have been brief and all lack the detailed documentation which this record provides.
It was once truly said that “success has a thousand parents, failure is an orphan”.
Readers of this account should not conclude that I played a major part; the leading players in the voluntary conservation movement were undoubtedly Milo Dunphy and Peter Prineas, the executive officers of TEC and NPA respectively. In the interest of equity I have endeavoured to name others who played important roles, but with only limited success as the cast was literally one of thousands.
In order to achieve authenticity I have named the authors of all direct quotations. However, because the prose was better than anything I could devise, some descriptive material has been plagiarised. As this account will not be widely distributed, I hope posterity will forgive me!
During the 10 year campaign we were, of course, completely unaware that we were fighting to save forests which, because of their outstanding universal value, were later to be placed on the World Heritage List. Regrettably the official nomination to UNESCO virtually ignores the long hard fight for preservation of rainforest, giving the quite erroneous impression that both State and Federal Governments were sympathetic to the idea of preservation.
Looking back on my long life, saving the rainforest in Grady’s Creek seems now to have been my most worthwhile accomplishment for had I not acted as I did when the situation seemed hopeless, it would have been logged and thus denied its rightful place on the World Heritage List and I would not have received an award (AM) in the Order of Australia for services to conservation.

Australia Day Honours - Member of the Order of Australia  (AM)

JAMES GRAHAM SOMERVILLE, Narrabeen, NSW, for service to conservation.  Australia Day Honours. (1986, January 25). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 12. Retrieved from

Changing Attitudes – P 170 - 171
My grandfather, also James Somerville (1836-1929), was Town Clerk of Kiama and Jamberoo for 42 years in the latter half of the 19th century when the immigrant dairy farmers from Ireland were clearing the rainforest known as the Illawarra Scrub. Any suggestion of saving some for future generations to enjoy would have been considered bizarre, but fortunately one small patch survived by accident. Minnamurra Falls Reserve is now one of the district’s leading tourist attractions, with large amounts being spent by NPWS on broadwalks and a Visitors’ Centre. (In 1935 I was one of a small party of bushwalkers who, using ropes, made probably the first and only perilous descent of the Minnamurra River from the Barren Grounds to the second fall in the National Park – a drop of almost 2,000 feet in less than a mile!)

Not only have the wounds inflicted by the Forestry Commission on the Border Ranges National Park largely healed, but the strident opposition of the local residents has vanished. As one enters Kyogle, the timber town which stood to lose most from the end of logging in the proposed National Park, there is now a large sign – Welcome to Kyogle, Gateway to the Rainforest. The proliferation of World Heritage Rainforest signs throughout the district is indicative of the now recognised value of rainforest in tourism promotion. This reversal is indeed ironic. In a local street demonstration during the campaign, the effigy of a conservationist hanging from a gibbet carried on the back of a truck was loudly cheered! Several mills are operating in the area using nearby plantation hoop pine – the very timber which the Forestry Commission strenuously denied being available.

Obituary and Tributes from the Community

JAMES SOMERVILLE (1915 - 2014)

Passed away peacefully at Narrabeen on 21 May 2014, aged 98 years.
Loved husband of Brenda (dec), father of Lindsay and Jan, father-in-law of Janet and Peter, proud grandfather of Emily, Kate, Jane, Ian and Andrew, great grandfather of Cameron and Jerome. Loved brother of Margaret and Stuart. Privately cremated.
Memorial service to be held in July. For details
Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on May 24, 2014

Vale – Jim Somerville AM
Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes today expressed sorrow at the passing of life-long community advocate Jim Somerville AM.
Mr Somerville was a passionate supporter of Pittwater’s natural environmental and played a pivotal role in the protection of the Narrabeen Lagoon catchment and the ongoing construction of the Narrabeen Lagoon Multi-Use Trail.
“Jim was a true gentleman and a relentless advocate for our local environment,” Rob Stokes said today.
“There are very few people in our community that shared Jim’s passion, drive and determination.
“Jim never shied away from a challenge and refused to leave an issue unresolved.
“Jim’s intimate knowledge of our community’s natural history and was widely respected – as was his willingness to share information and advice with others.  
“Jim was constantly looking towards the future and was a true believer in preserving our natural environment for future generations.
“I strongly believe consideration should be given to naming the Narrabeen Lagoon Multi-Use Trail after Jim – whose passion ensured it came to fruition.
“Jim’s wisdom, enthusiasm and gentle nature will be missed by many in our community and I offer my condolences to his family, friends and loved ones,” Rob Stokes said.
Hon. Rob Stokes - MP for Pittwater

Jim Somerville, one of our treasured members, passed away last night aged 98 (nearly 99).
He was an active campaigner and letter writer at all times even very recently. He has contributed a huge amount to conservation over his lifetime – helping win the fight to establish National Parks in the border ranges in northern NSW, very active in the Colong Foundation and the National Parks Association.

Over many years he has assisted campaigns to protect the natural areas of the Northern Beaches and around Narrabeen Lagoon and its catchment in particular.

It is a great disappointment that his time to depart came before the walking track around the Narrabeen Lagoon was completed as he jokingly called this his "Last Great Campaign" but he was certainly influential in getting it all approved.  You may remember seeing a photo of him turning a sod with the Mayor for one of the stages of this pathway.

Although he, himself, argued that he would not want it called "Somerville Circuit" his son assures me his family would all be delighted for this to happen.

Judith Bennett
Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment

I remember in March 2010 we had an Asparagus Fern Out day on Narrabeen Headland. Jim insisted on helping despite having really fragile skin. He ended up covered with bleeding scratches but was absolutely undaunted.

Jim had been an environmental activist way beyond Pittwater. eg the late 1970s struggles for the northern NSW rainforests such as Terania Creek, part of the Big Scrub and now in Nightcap Range National Park.
Wonderful chap.  
Marita Macrae
Pittwater Natural Heritage Association

Jim Somerville was one of our longest serving members having been the club’s auditor for many years. His regular attendance at our meetings was often marked by insightful questions from the floor.

Jim was born in Murwillumbah and worked as an accountant with Qantas. He joined our club in 1985 and as to be expected was our most senior member.
For many years Jim was a strong campaigner on local issues and he recently spoke at one of our meetings on his long standing interest in Narrabeen Lagoon. Jim was instrumental in negotiating the circular walking track around the Lagoon and when completed will be one of his lasting legacies to our area.

Pittwater Mens Probus Club

 Narrabeen Lagoon from Bilarong Reserve.

 Copyright Somerville Family, 2014.