*The following are excerpts from the 19th Romeo Lahey Memorial Lecture presented by Steve Noakes – the full lecture is available on the NPAQ website.
The 2021 Romeo Lahey Memorial Lecture was the 19th such presentation of a tradition that commenced over a half century ago – in 1969 – to honour the memory of Romeo Watkins Lahey who served as founding President of NPAQ for three decades, from 1930 to 1961.
Romeo Watkins Lahey was born in Pimpama in 1887, attended Brisbane Grammar School from 1901 to 1903 and worked as a clerk with the Australian Mutual Provident Society in Brisbane before completing his Engineering degree at the University of Sydney in 1914.
It was a few days before 19,000 hectares of the new Lamington National Park was gazetted, that Romeo enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, 11th Field Company on 26 July, 1915.Before he went off to the Great War in Europe, in October 1915 Romeo delivered a lecture to the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia Queensland Branch titled ‘Some reasons why national parks should be established in Queensland, with special reference to Lamington National Park’. In that address he not only called for other large areas of Queensland to be reserved as national parks but also called for an extension of the state forest system. 105 years later this remains a similar message from today’s NPAQ!
For almost six decades up to the 1970s, he was instrumental in convincing successive Queensland Governments to declare many of the state’s national parks. At the first NPAQ meeting in 1930, Romeo Lahey was elected President and Arthur Groom the Secretary. Romeo was also co-founder of Binna Burra Lodge, located within the world heritage listed Lamington National Park.
A biography on Romeo held by the Australian National University notes: ‘Small but dynamic, modest but self-assured, quiet but tenacious, Lahey was in Arthur Groom’s words ‘a thorny problem to many who have not seen eye to eye with him’. Let me make a comment about the historical context of why our venue was selected for this 19th Romeo Lahey Memorial Lecture.
The European settlement of Queensland started with a penal colony in Redcliffe in 1824. Due to the scarcity of food and water, about one year later, the site for the penal encampment was moved along the Brisbane River to where the Brisbane CBD now exists. Over 100 years later, on 8 April 1930, this Brisbane City Hall was officially opened by then Governor Sir John Goodwin. One week later, Governor Goodwin returned to this building along with almost 100 people to attend the inaugural meeting of the National Parks Association of Queensland – held in the Lord Mayor’s Reception Room – on 15th April, 1930.Today, a similar number of people – with more casual attire – who have crossed over into this new millennium have come together in the same building for another significant NPAQ event.
At the inaugural NPAQ Romeo Lahey Memorial Lecture held in 1969, Mr R. Allen Clelland said:
‘Queensland Holiday Resorts was established on 3rd March 1934 by members of the National Parks Association for the sole purpose of giving the public access to that end of Lamington. It was not long after that Queensland Holiday Resorts became known as Binna Burra Lodge and its connection with NPAQ is reflected in the original objectives of the company which included reference to ‘the ideals of the National Parks Association of Queensland’.
The original lodge building at Binna Burra was Leighton House built in Canungra in 1902 and owned by the Lahey family. When the Spanish Flu reached Australia after the First World War, the house was used for patients who were impacted by the pandemic.
In 1934 it was transported piece by piece on horseback up the track to Mt Roberts and became the initial central building of Binna Burra Lodge. Over the years it was adapted to become the Binna Burra Lodge reception, lounge and small shop until it was burnt down in the bushfires on Sunday 8 September 2019.I am sure that the people of the generation represented by Romeo Lahey who formed the National Parks Association of Queensland at a meeting held in this building in 1930 would be comforted to see its evolution now as Queensland’s oldest non-governmental environmental organisation.
In 2021 we can all celebrate the 91 years of advocacy for Queensland’s protected areas by the NPAQ – driven by science, professional expertise, impartial scrutiny and trusted relationships.