Woman in Goulburn Local Court on murder charge

Dr Mary White at Wollongong University graduations. Photo: Hank van Stuivenberg for Lisa Sewell

Dr Mary White at Wollongong University graduations. Photo: Hank van Stuivenberg for Lisa Sewell

Former Canberra woman Barbara Mary Eckersley has been charged with the murder of her 92-year-old mother who was in a Bundanoon nursing home.

Eckersley did not appear in the Goulburn Local Court when her case came up on Thursday afternoon and did not enter a plea through her solicitor Sam Rowland. Nor did she apply for bail and Magistrate Geraldine Beattie formally refused it.

Eckersley, 67, was charged with murdering her mother Mary White. Dr White was a formidable figure in the world of paleobotany and conservation in Australia and worked at the Bureau of Mineral Resources in Canberra until the 1980s.

Police said in a statement before the court hearing that at about 9.35pm on Sunday, August 5, they were called to an aged care facility in Bundanoon, in the Southern Highlands, after the death of a 92-year-old woman at the complex.

On Wednesday, August 8, Eckersley was arrested at the Southern Highlands police station.

In court in Goulburn on Thursday, solicitor Mr Rowland said it was a “complex matter.”

“I have spoken to her in the cells,” he said. “I am instructing that defence barrister Hugh White, will be appearing on her behalf tomorrow for a release application.

“This is her first time in custody.”

The barrister Hugh White is not related to the alleged victim, Mary White.

Magistrate Geraldine Beattie adjourned the matter to the Goulburn Local Court for Friday, August 10, where Eckersley will appear by audio-visual link.

Dr White was born in South Africa and raised in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), fascinated by nature since childhood.

She attended the University of Cape Town, where she received a Master’s degree in paleobotany - plant fossils and prehistory.

Her lifelong interest in the plant life of Africa meant she travelled extensively through the wild with her husband and young children.

She moved with her family to Australia with her husband in 1955, and until the 1980s, she worked as a consultant to the Bureau of Mineral Resources in Canberra, reporting on field collections of plant fossils.

She also worked part-time as a consultant to mining companies, and as a research associate to the Australian Museum, where she curated the plant fossil collections.

She eventually became a full-time writer and lecturer, publishing several award-winning books on climate change, among them After the Greening: The Browning of Australia, which received a Eureka Prize in 1994.

In 2009, she was award the OAM “for service to botany as a researcher and through the promotion of increased understanding and awareness of the natural world”.

She also received a Lifetime Conservation Award from the Australian Geographic Society in 2010, two honorary degrees, and the Riversleigh medal for services to Australian paleontology.

Throughout her latter career, she published numerous books and papers, and in 2003, she bought at Johns River near Port Macquarie, where she established a covenant on the land to maintain biodiversity.

She also developed it as an education centre, welcoming groups who wanted to learn more about the natural environment and how to protect it.

She sold the property in 2013, and had been living in Bundanoon ever since.

Dr White was also a patron of Sustainable Population Australia, an advocacy group for a sustainable Australian population.

The group’s vice-president Jenny Goldie is a long-time friend of Dr White, and said she saw her and her daughter just weeks ago.

She said that Dr White had been in a “vegetative state” due to dementia for some time.

“She was much admired within our organisation, and it has been a source of terrible sadness that in the last four years she was unable to contribute mentally,” she said.

“She was the perfect patron until she got sick.”