Romeo Watkins Lahey

Small in stature, Romeo Lahey was regarded as a giant of the environmental movement who, before he was a soldier, had fought to protect the natural heritage of south east Queensland.

It seems ironic that a son of the Lahey sawmilling empire should become one of the founding fathers of Lamington National Park.

But before answering the call for King and Country, Romeo had campaigned for four years for the Queensland Government to establish Lamington National Park, achieving victory when the park was proclaimed in July, 1915.

That battle won, he enlisted in the army that month, following his younger brother, Jack Lahey, who had joined up in May. Only five foot five (165 centimetres) Romeo, almost 29, and with an engineering degree from the University of Sydney, gave his occupation as civil engineer, and was posted to the Third Division Engineers, 11th Field Company.

He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in December 1915 and left South Australia on the HMAT Suevic in May 1916. He arrived in England in July before proceeding to France via Southhampton in November.

On December 27 his family, living at their Wonga Wallen home at Corinda in Brisbane, received a telegram to say he had been wounded in action, although not seriously.

A few days later, Romeo was promoted to Lieutenant.

While serving on the Western Front, Romeo fought at Zonnebeke, Passchendaele, the Somme and Villers Bretonneux and was among the Australians who pursued the Germans back to the Hindenburg Line.

“Romeo campaigned for four years to establish Lamington National Park.”

Throughout the war, Romeo had carried a lock of Sybil’s  hair over his heart.

While waiting to return to Australia at the end of the war, Romeo took advantage of an opportunity to further his education and completed a town planning course at London University’s School of Architecture.

He then won the prestigious Lever Prize for redesigning a section of road between Charing Cross and Euston Station damaged by German bombing.

In May 1919, he returned to Australia and in February 1920 married Sybil Delpratt, in St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane.

Throughout the war, Romeo had carried a lock of her dark auburn red hair, tied in a tiny white ribbon, over his heart.

In the years after the war, a pet project for Romeo was the construction of St Luke’s Church, Canungra, as a memorial to his brother, Noel Lahey, who had been killed on the Western Front.

Romeo and Sybil had three children, David Delpratt Lahey, Alison Sybil Lahey and Ann Leuyns Lahey. Like so many sons of World War One veterans, David, born in February 1922, served in World War Two.

Romeo Lahey was also back in uniform during the second world war and served with the Royal Australian Engineers from 1940-1943, reaching the rank of Major.

In 1960, Romeo Lahey was awarded the MBE. He passed away on October 26, 1968, aged 81.

He left a legacy of national parks and the Binna Burra Lodge that he established with Arthur Groom and others in the 1930s, and the many acres of land he donated as national park.

Not only had he made his mark on the landscape in the roads he designed to transport timber in the Beechmont area, Romeo Lahey had also been a trailblazer for the conservation movement.

Romeo Lahey (right) photographed in London in 1916 with his sister, artist Vida Lahey, and brother Noel (centre). Vida had travelled from Brisbane to London to establish a base for her brothers and cousins while on leave during the war.

(Image: Australian War Memorial)


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