Ahimsa | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage

Heritage

Ahimsa

Item details

Name of item: Ahimsa
Other name/s: Ahimsa, The Hut of Happy Omen, Sentosa
Type of item: Landscape
Group/Collection: Landscape - Cultural
Category: Historic Landscape
Location: Lat: -33.7522177245 Long: 151.0841223880
Primary address: 67 Cobran Road, Cheltenham, NSW 2119
Parish: Field Of Mars
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Hornsby
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOTA DP393708
LOTB DP393708
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
67 Cobran RoadCheltenhamHornsbyField Of MarsCumberlandPrimary Address
Day RoadCheltenhamHornsby  Alternate Address
130-146 Malton RoadCheltenhamHornsby  Alternate Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
National Trust of Australia (NSW)Community Group 

Statement of significance:

Ahimsa and surrounding landscape stand as a testimony to Marie Byle's life and vision as a feminist and a conservationist. These subjects are of increasing interest to contemporary Australians and are helping to share our culture. Aesthetically, the small scale understated buildings fit unobtrusively into the Australian bushland. The peaceful atmosphere of the property gives visitors an insight into the character of the woman who gave the property to the National Trust. The bushland and topographical features, and the property's close proximity to the state reserve next door, form an intact natural area indicative of the appearance of this area prior to human occupation. (Levins 1995)
Date significance updated: 27 Jan 10
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Designer/Maker: Marie Byles
Builder/Maker: Marie Byles
Construction years: 1937-
Physical description: Ahimsa has an area of 1.348 hectares and is contiguous with a much larger area of Bushland, Pennant Hills Park, to the north (Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust 1976). The vegetation is described as dry sclerophyll (hard leafed) Bushland on Sydney Sandstone and is typical of the flora associated with the Northern Hills District of Sydney.

The northwest, northeast and part of the southeast boundaries are delimited by unmade road reserves, Malton Road (part) and Lyne Road (also known as Cobram Road). It is located on a small ridge, formerly and unofficially called Native Rose Ridge, on the inside of a sharp curve in a creek draining the Beecroft Cheltenham area. This creek subsequently joins Devlins Creek. The upper parts of Ahimsa are relatively flat but the groundslopes off in a series of small Hawkesbury Sandstone cliffs in a NNW direction to the fire trail and towards Pennant Hills Park. There are many flat sandstone outcrops and small cliffs.

Buildings: The buildings include Ahimsa, The Hut of Happy Omen, the toilets, which were all built before the land was sold to the Trust, Sentosa, a detached bedsitter which was approved in principle in November 1975. A carport was built onto The Hut in 1977.

Ahimsa is a small one-bedroom house built of unpainted fibro, oiled timber and random rubble with a pitched roof of glazed terracotta. There is a brick fireplace in the living room and a large north-facing open verandah looking over the gully.

The Hut of Happy Omen is basically an open shed built of unpainted fibro with a roof of corrugated fibro. At some time it has been extended to incorporate a kitchenette and a shower stall. Sentosa is an open plan bedsitter also constructed of fibro with a skillion roof of corrugated fibro.

Marie Byles design principles are best expressed in this quotation from her: 'No Painting whatever anywhere - Any woodwork to be treated with linseed raw oil (saves unkeep): External walls are to be fibro; Corrugated (sic) fibro (long experience has shown fiber to be lasting, with no upkeep).'

Paths were made by volunteers and Marie Byle's bushwalking friends. (Levins 1995)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical condition is good.
Date condition updated:27 Jun 00
Modifications and dates: An absorption trench was constructed in 1975 to contain surface run off from properties adjacent to Ahimsa as the Trust was afraid that excessive run off would encourage weed growth.

One cave has been altered an an attractive two metre high Hawkesbury Sandstone retaining wall was constructed many years ago near the path from the northern gate.

Despite her wish that no plants foreign to it, even from other parts of Australia, should be planted several native plants not indigenous to Ahimsa have been planted. (R Maini)
Current use: Residence/Meditation meeting place
Former use: Residence/Meditation meeting place

History

Historical notes: In 1935 Marie Beuzeville Byles purchased three and a half acres of land on the outskirts of Cheltenham. A few years later she designed and built a small one-bedroom house. Perched on a large rock and built of unpainted fibro, oiled timber, random rubble and with a roof glazed terracotta the structure melds well with its Bushland setting. Except for a vegetable garden near the house, the remainder of the site was left in its native state.

Marie Byles shared with Walter Burley Griffin the objective of integrating structures with the natural landscape and vegetation. Although there is no documented record to prove that Griffin's work influenced her, it seems highly likely that she was favorably impressed by the houses he designed for her friends and sought to incorporate some of their qualities into Ahimsa.

Marie Byles was not an architect and, not surprisingly, her work as a designer is less accomplished than Griffin's. Some specific differences are that he preferred flat roofs while her house has a more conventional terracotta pitched roof; Griffin experimented with prefabricated building materials where as Marie used fibro (even in the 1930's this was a very conventional material); but they shared the goal of building small scale, understated and low cost houses which fitted unobtrusively into the Australian bush.

Born in England in 1900, Marie Byles studied law at Sydney University graduating in 1924 to become the first woman in NSW to practice as a solicitor. She was a remarkable woman who was passionately involved in preserving wilderness areas. She was a keen mountaineer and travelled to Norway, China Canada and New Zealand in search of unclimbed peaks. In 1938 she led an all women team in an attempt to scale a 6,100-metre peak, Mt Sansate in Western China. The expedition failed due to adverse weather conditions. In Australia her determined, active nature led her to become an early lobbyist for what we now know as National Parks.

Marie Byles was one of the early members of The Sydney Bushwalker Club and was responsible for drawing the attention of the Lands Department to the wilderness area around Maitland Bay on the central coast north of Sydney. She was appointed Trustee of Bouddi Bouddi National Park and organised working bees amongst the bushwalkers to maintain the area.

The Beecroft-Cheltenham Civic Trust was established by her as a 'non-progress association' which worked for the closure of roads in the area and the planting of native trees and shrubs. She worked with the Bradley sisters (Joan and Eileen) to rid the bush of weeds around her property, and practiced organic gardening techniques all her life. She always slept outside on an open verandah, never drove a car, and walked everywhere, usually with a rucksack.

In 1941 while on a bushwalk, where one of the members was taken ill, Marie shouldered his pack, his carriers and her own, and in consequence her feet were permantley damaged. From that time onwards she could manage short bushwalks only, and mountain climbing became impossible.

Always interested in eastern religions, in particular the ideas of Gandhi, her disability gave her more time to research and write. In the late 1940s she took up medication and later traveled to India and Burma to undergo instruction. In the 1950s Marie Byes built a hut in her garden called the Hut of Happy Omen, which she made available to meditation groups. By this time she had adopted the most ascetic form of South East Asian Buddhism.

The name Ahimsa is derived from Gandhi's teachings and means peace or non-violence.

One night in 1966, while sleeping on her open verandah Marie Byle's was physically assaulted and sustained serious injuries including a fractured skull. She declined to charge her assailant. After a period of convalescence she returned to live alone on the estate still sleeping out in the open air. Miss Byles gave up her legal practice in 1970 four years after the attack.

In 1970 Miss Byles gave the property to the Trust, remaining in residence as Honorary Curator. Concerned that the one-bedroom house might be too small for her successor, she developed a plan for an addition comprising a one room detached pavilion.

Marie Byles died at Ahimsa on the 21st November 1979. (Levins, Macarthur, Ecob, Marni, Gilbert 1995)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Building in response to natural landscape features.-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Artists, bohemians and intellectuals squat or gathering point-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Applying architectural design to utlilitarian structures-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Country estates - visiting, enjoying-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Ways of life 1950-2000-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Living in a bushland setting-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Living on the urban fringe-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Holidaying in hill stations and mountain retreats-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Outdoor relief-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Climbing mountains and peaks-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Visiting lookouts and places of natural beauty-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Gathering at landmark places to socialise-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Religion-Activities associated with particular systems of faith and worship (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Religion-Activities associated with particular systems of faith and worship Practising meditation-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups (none)-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin architects and landscape architects-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Marie Beuzeville Byles, solicitor and designer-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The history of the property is very much the culmination of the ideology practiced by Marie Byles. Marie Byles has been one of the foremost protagonists of National Parks as a mechanism to conserve nature. She was one of the early members of Sydney Bushwalkers Club joining it in 1929 being a keen bushwalker. She was also the first woman lawyer in Australia, which gave her a certain amount of confidence. This confidence coupled with her interest and dedication to the cause of nature conservation became an asset to the nature conservation lobby in Australia. The creation of the Bouddi National Park is identified as a result of the unrelating efforts by Marie Byles. (R Maini)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The small scale understated buildings fit unobtrusively into the Australian Bushland. The peaceful atmosphere of the property gives the visitors an insight into the character of the woman who gave the property to the National Trust. The Bushland and topographical features, and the property's close proximity with the state reserve next door form an intact natural area indictive of the appearance of this area prior to human occupation. (Levins 1995)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The buildings and their landscape stand as a testimony to Marie Byle's life and vision as a feminist and a conservationist. These subjects are of increasing interest to contemporary Australians and are helping to shape our culture. (Levins 1995)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The property as the only example of a manifestation of the concern for environmental issues and sustainable development in Australia. Ahimsa is an important active part of the ecosystem of Lane Cove National park due to the topography of the property. Ahimsa is important as a soft visual edge to Lane Cove National Park and as a part of its visual image. An example of dry sclerophyll bushland on Sydney sandstone in the Northern Hills Region. (Maini)
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
Uniqueness of the property as the only example of an early manifestation of the concern for environmental issues and sustainable development in Australia. Uniqueness of the property as the only example of the early efforts to introduce various sections of the society to living in harmony with nature by creating a physical focus (Hut of Happy Omens) and encouraging its use. (Maini)
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
The property is representative of the beliefs of Marie Byles as a collection of rudimentary buildings in a Bushland setting. (Ecob, Macarthur 1995)
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0149401 Mar 02 541449

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Ahimsa View detail
WrittenMaini, Rajeev Conservation Management Plan
WrittenNational Trust of Australia (NSW)2000State Heritage Inventory form
WrittenPeggy James2015The Eco-Buddhism of Marie Byles View detail
TourismTourism NSW2007Ahimsa View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5051253
File number: H00/00225/001


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