Smith's Weekly, 26 June 1926
Smith's Weekly, 26 June 1926 (A1, 1926/9335, p.56)

From Dublin to Canberra

Ruth Johnstone Pollexfen was born in Ireland in 1885. She was trained as an artist and embroiderer by her cousins and uncle in the Yeats family. One of her cousins was the Irish playwright and poet William Butler Yeats.

Charles Lane Poole was born the same year into an academic English family. He spent his youth studying in Dublin and France, then worked as a forester in Africa.

Ruth Pollexfen and Charles Lane Poole were married in Dublin in July 1911. She remained there while he took up a post as Sierra Leone's Conservator of Forests. Their first child, Charlotte, was born in England in 1913. In 1916 they moved into their first home together, in the Perth suburb of Cottesloe, after Charles was appointed Conservator of Forests for Western Australia. Their second child, Mary, was born in Perth in 1918.

When Charles resigned the Western Australia post in 1921, Ruth returned to Ireland with their two daughters. She lived there for the next three years while he was employed on a survey of the forests of Papua (then a Commonwealth territory) and then New Guinea (then the responsibility of Australia as a territory under the mandate of the League of Nations). Their youngest child, Phyllis, was born in Ireland in 1922.

The Lane Pooles set up their second home together in the Melbourne suburb of South Yarra in 1925, after Charles was appointed as the Commonwealth's Forestry Adviser. Both Charles and Ruth turned 40 that year. They had been married 14 years, though they had shared a home for only five.

The move to Melbourne was the start of a very busy period in their lives. Charles Lane Poole was developing a national forest policy and setting up the Australian Forestry School and the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau in Canberra. Ruth Lane Poole worked with Victoria's Arts & Crafts Society and published articles on interior design.

Early in 1926, she was commissioned 'Furniture Specialist' responsible for furnishing the new Canberra residences for the Prime Minister and the Governor-General.

The Lane Pooles moved to Canberra at the end of 1927 and early in 1928 moved into Westridge House in Banks Street, Yarralumla. Charles continued his forestry work as principal of the Forestry School and Head of the Forestry Bureau. For the next 17 years both Ruth and Charles Lane Poole were active in developing the social and cultural life of the national capital.

Their eldest daughter, Charlotte (nicknamed 'Charles'), finished her secondary schooling at St Gabriel's, later Canberra Girls' Grammar School. The two younger daughters, Mary and Phyllis (nicknamed 'Cookie'), also attended St Gabriel's. Charlotte followed her father's interests and established a plant nursery at Yarralumla in the 1930s, while Mary started a florist business in the Manuka shopping centre.

Ruth Lane Poole's bonds with the Yeats family were maintained by her daughters' lengthy visits to England and Ireland. Mary was in Dublin when World War II started and went to England, serving in an ambulance crew in 1940 and 1941, during the German blitz on London. Charlotte joined the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) in 1942 and Phyllis joined the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) the next year, both serving until the war ended.

When the war ended in 1945, Charles and Ruth Lane Poole moved to Sydney. By then Charles had retired and they lived in Manly until his death in 1970. Ruth Lane Poole died four years later.

Ruth née Pollexfen

Ruth Lane Poole, c. 1900
Ruth Lane Poole, c. 1900 (Courtesy of Phyllis Hamilton)

Ruth Johnstone Pollexfen was born at Limerick in Ireland in 1885, one of the 11 children of Henrietta and Frederick Pollexfen. Frederick's older sister Susan married painter John Butler Yeats and had four children. Three of them became artists and the fourth was celebrated poet and playwright William Butler Yeats.

Dublin designer

Ruth Pollexfen was 15 when her parents' marriage ended and she became a ward of her cousin, Lily Yeats. She was immersed in the artistic world of the Yeats family, her widower uncle John and her cousins, painter Jack, watercolourist and printer Elizabeth (Lollie), and embroiderer Susan Mary (Lily) Yeats. The family was then living in London, where Lollie had trained in printing at William Morris' Kelmscott Press and Lily had been taught embroidery by May, the daughter of William Morris.

In 1902 Ruth Pollexfen returned to Dublin where Lily and Lollie Yeats were founding partners of the Dun Emer Press workshop. Lily ran the embroidery section with Ruth's help. In 1908 the sisters founded Cuala Industries, where Ruth helped teach young women crafts such as embroidery to enable them to earn a living. As well as working at Cuala, Ruth designed interiors for wealthier Dublin homes.

Ruth met Charles Lane Poole in these artistic and intellectual circles in Dublin. She joined his family on holidays in the Irish countryside, where she and Charles enjoyed shooting and other outdoor activities.

In early 1910, Charles proposed to her by letter from the Transvaal in southern Africa and she accepted. She was estranged from her father and it was her cousin William Butler Yeats who gave her away when she and Charles were married in Dublin in July 1911.

By the time they were married, Charles had resigned his position in the Transvaal for another in Sierra Leone. After their wedding Ruth stayed in Ireland while Charles worked in Sierra Leone for five years, with periods of home leave. He was with Ruth in 1913 when their first daughter, Charlotte, was born in England.

The Lane Pooles' first family home was in Western Australia, where they lived in the Perth suburb of Cottesloe from 1916 until 1922, while Charles was the state's Conservator of Forests. Their second daughter, Mary, was born there in 1918.

When Charles resigned the Western Australia post in 1922, Ruth returned to Ireland with Charlotte and Mary. A third daughter, Phyllis, was born there in 1923. Ruth and the girls lived in Ireland for the next three years while Charles worked first in Papua and then in New Guinea. Intending to reunite in Australia once Charles' work in the territories had finished, in 1923 Charles had unsuccessfully requested payment from the Australian Government for Ruth and the children's passages to Australia.

Australian arts & crafts

After nearly three years in Ireland, Ruth brought their three daughters back to Australia in 1925, when Charles was appointed Commonwealth Forestry Adviser. They lived in Punt Road, South Yarra, Melbourne, in a flat designed by their neighbour, architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear, who was a leading member of Victoria's Arts & Crafts Society.

In September 1925, Ruth Lane Poole designed a widely acclaimed display, a room featuring craftwork in Australian timber and wool, for the Society's exhibition in Melbourne Town Hall. The same month she began contributing articles on interior decoration to the Australian Home Builder, renamed in November that year the Australian Home Beautiful. For the next three years she wrote regularly on interior design for magazines and newspapers.

Creating Canberra

The transfer of the seat of government to the national capital at Canberra in the mid-1920s meant hundreds of new houses were being built there. Public servants would be required to move from Melbourne, the temporary seat of government, to the 'city in a paddock'. Even the most imposing new public buildings were set in bare landscapes where unmade roads were marked only by rows of tiny new trees. Among them were residences for the Governor-General and the Prime Minister.

The former Yarralumla homestead on the Molonglo River was being transformed as the Governor-General's residence when construction of a new two-storey house for the Prime Minister started in January 1926. Ruth Lane Poole was acquainted with both Lady Stonehaven, wife of the Governor-General, and Ethel Bruce, wife of Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce, when she was approached in early 1926 to design the interiors of the two residences. The Federal Capital Commission officially engaged her to furnish both houses on 29 March 1926.

As well as being appointed official 'Furniture Specialist', Ruth Lane Poole instantly became the Federal Capital Commission's unofficial publicist. Her popular articles in 1926 and 1927 describing the domestic delights of Canberra appeared in Melbourne newspapers and journals, often illustrated with photographs also used in official publications.

Her commission covered everything – designing the interior colour schemes, selecting and ordering all the furnishing materials, and designing furniture and supervising the furniture-making. Her responsibilities grew as the tasks multiplied. She specified and supervised the decoration of every room, planned and ordered all the napery, glassware, tableware for dining rooms and kitchens, all the household linen and goods down to light switches and bellpulls.

With an immovable deadline, much of Ruth Lane Poole's time from March 1926 was devoted to ensuring both residences were ready for their occupants by May 1927. Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce and Ethel Bruce moved into The Lodge just five days before the ceremonial first opening of Parliament in Canberra on 9 May 1927. Lord and Lady Stonehaven and their children moved into Government House in time to welcome their first state guests, the Duke and Duchess of York. The interior design task had included furnishing a suite of rooms in Government House just for this brief royal visit.

In March 1927, when she was still occupied with the pressing tasks of finishing the Canberra residences, Melbourne's Myer Emporium engaged Ruth Lane Poole to advise their clients on interior decoration. Among the Melbourne houses she decorated was the Toorak home of grocery magnate, Leslie Moran. The Lane Pooles were among the many public service families who left a comfortable life in Melbourne for the more rudimentary facilities of the brand new 'bush capital'. When they moved to Canberra late in 1927 they stayed in temporary accommodation until Westridge House, the residence for the Forestry School principal, was ready early in 1928. Ruth worked closely with the architect – her Melbourne friend Harold Desbrowe-Annear.

Shaping Canberra

In the 17 years she lived in Canberra, Ruth Lane Poole was prominent in developing the social and cultural life of the new national capital. Her daughter Mary was a close friend of Ariel and Ava, the younger daughters of Lord and Lady Stonehaven. Ruth Lane Poole was frequently at Government House when the Stonehavens were in residence. The Lane Pooles shared the Stonehavens' fondness for golf and riding. They were keen bushwalkers and pioneers of Canberra's skiing, and Charles Lane Poole was the founding president of the Alpine Club. Ruth organised tennis parties and balls for the students at the Australian Forestry School, creating celebrated decorative schemes for the annual balls. After her daughter Mary went to England in the late 1930s, she ran Mary's flower shop in Manuka until 1943.

Ruth left Westridge House when Charles retired in 1945 and the couple moved to the Sydney suburb of Manly. In 1974 Ruth Lane Poole died aged 89, four years after the death of her husband.

Charles Lane Poole

Charles Lane Poole in a Norfolk Island pine forest, from his 1926 'Report on the Forests of Norfolk Island'
Charles Lane Poole in a Norfolk Island pine forest, from his 1926 'Report on the Forests of Norfolk Island' (A2430, 1933 POL 13 PT 1, p. 22)

Charles Edward Lane Poole was born in England in 1885 to a widely travelled academic family. His father, Stanley, a historian and Egyptologist, was a professor at Trinity College in Dublin. His uncle, Reginald, was Keeper of the Archives at Oxford University.

After a childhood in England, Charles completed his schooling in Dublin when his father was appointed to Trinity College in 1901. It was there he met his future wife, Ruth Pollexfen. He started studying engineering in Dublin, but lost his left hand in a shooting accident when he was 19. Instead of continuing with engineering, he secured a place at l'Ecole Nationale des Eaux et Forêts de Nancy (the French National Forestry School at Nancy) under an exchange scheme between the United Kingdom and France. He graduated in 1906. At Nancy, he learned a forestry based on strong national policies, of management by a professional and scientific elite, and the long-term conservation of natural forests. He asserted these principles zealously throughout his professional life.

In Africa

In 1906, the British Colonial Forest Service sent Charles to the Cape Province of South Africa where he spent several months under the direction of an experienced forester, DE Hutchins, before he was appointed District Forester in charge of Woodbush forest in the Transvaal Province. He maintained his friendship with Ruth Pollexfen during his time away and in 1910 proposed to her by letter. She accepted him. Soon after, however, Charles disagreed with Transvaal's forest and appointment policies. He felt that managing the natural forests should be given greater emphasis than establishing plantations to supply the mines. Under the Transvaal Premier's postwar reconciliation policy of appointing Boers to the public service, Charles was sent an assistant who was not fully qualified. Furious, Charles resigned from the Transvaal service.

The British Colonial Forest Service sent him to another British African colony, Sierra Leone, where he drafted the Forest Ordinance, set up the Forestry Department, surveyed new state forests, started an arboretum (a botanical tree garden) and collected botanical specimens for identification in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in England. He travelled to Dublin to be married in mid-1911, but returned to Sierra Leone alone soon after. His first daughter, Charlotte, was born during this time away in Africa.

To Western Australia

On the recommendation of DE Hutchins, Charles was appointed to the more important position of Conservator of Forests for Western Australia in 1916. Ruth and Charlotte came to Western Australia where they set up a home together in the Perth suburb of Cottesloe. With great energy, Charles drafted the new Forests Act 1918, reorganised the Forestry Department, introduced forest management plans on sustained yield principles and publicised the need for forest conservation.

In Western Australia, Charles Lane Poole made friends with people who shared his love of forests and were impressed with his knowledge and ability. They included the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson (later Lord Novar), the Western Australian politician and future senator, Walter Kingsmill, and the industrialist, Russell Grimwade.

Charles actively supported an emerging national view on science and resources, including forestry. A series of Interstate Forestry Conferences from 1911 had brought state forestry officials together to share experiences and discuss policies. The 1916 conference recommended the establishment of a national forestry school – something that Charles strongly supported and a project that was to occupy many years of his later life. At the fourth conference held in Perth in 1917, Charles urged the permanent reservation of state forests, their management on a sustained yield basis, and the establishment of plantations to replace imports of softwoods.

In 1920, Charles attended the First British Empire Forestry Conference in London as one of two Australian delegates. He joined with Lord Novar in moving for the establishment of the British Empire Forestry Association. It did much to establish his international reputation, cemented in 1928 when the third conference came to Australia.

In 1921, Charles disagreed with the Western Australian government's decision to renew a large forest concession to a British company. He felt strongly that it compromised the independent professional management necessary to ensure the sustainability of future forest yields. For Charles Lane Poole, this was a matter of conscience that caused him to resign again.

Work for the Commonwealth

After Senator Walter Kingsmill put it to Prime Minister SM Bruce that the Commonwealth should make use of his talents, Charles was engaged from 1922 to 1924 to conduct the first thorough forest surveys of the territories of Papua and New Guinea. Meanwhile, a pregnant Ruth returned to Ireland with their children, Charlotte and Mary.

In 1925, Charles became the Commonwealth's Forestry Adviser, based in Melbourne. His family, including their third daughter, Phyllis (born while he was in Papua), joined him again in Australia. In 1927, he was appointed as the Commonwealth’s Inspector-General of Forests and in that role he drafted the Commonwealth's Forestry Bureau legislation, eventually passed in 1930.

After another move, this time to Canberra, Charles set up the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau and became the Acting Principal of the Australian Forestry School when it too moved to Canberra in 1927. The Commonwealth Forestry Bureau conducted forestry investigations on behalf of the Commonwealth in conjunction with various states. Charles also gave expert evidence to major inquiries. Strongly principled, Charles' uncompromising ways introduced some bitter personal feuds to the often difficult relationships between the Commonwealth and the states. However, under his guidance and from very small beginnings, the Australian Forestry School gained academic accreditation from state universities and acceptance by most states as the premier national institution for the professional training of foresters.


Charles Lane Poole retired in 1945 at the age of 60, but continued to work as a forestry consultant for several years. A medical history taken when he tried to enlist in Australia's Voluntary Defence Force during World War II, only three years before he retired, reveals that at that time he was still in good health.

Charles Lane Poole died in 1970 at age 85, his death preceding Ruth's by four years.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018