Dr. Mary Margaret Chattaway

By Helen WolffMarch 9th, 2023

Dr. Margaret Chattaway was a senior member of the research staff of the Division of Forest Products.

Dr. Mary Margaret Chattaway was born in Harrow, England, in 1899. Her father was a lecturer in chemistry at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.

In 1923 she obtained her botany degree at Oxford and subsequently BSc, MA and DPhil degrees.

She worked in the Imperial Forestry Institute throughout the 1930s where she performed wood research ranging from trade inquiries about suitable wood for different work, to identifying charcoal from prehistoric caves. She published many papers independently or in collaboration with Dr Laurence Chalk.

During the Second World War, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). She was a driver for three years and then became staff officer in charge of ATS education.

In September 1946, she arrived in Melbourne to take up an appointment with Eric Dadswell in the Division of Forestry Products, with a long experience of wood anatomy received under such authorities as Dr. L. Chalk of the Imperial Forestry Institute at Oxford, and the Professor S. J. Record of Yale School of Forestry.

She worked mainly on eucalypts and studied, among other problems, their bark anatomy and its relation to wood anatomy, their adaptations to growth under difficult conditions (such as the development of lignotubers in some species) and the mechanism of heartwood formation.

Margaret reported important observations and theories such as increased metabolism at the sapwood/heartwood boundary (first reported 1949), the development of tyloses, morphological and  functional variations in the rays of pored timbers, and development of horizontal canals in rays. Then began studies on the bark anatomy of several woody plants. Her papers were often accompanied by her excellent artistic drawings of the features involved.

Up until her retirement in 1959, she was on the Executive Committee of the Soroptimists Club of Melbourne and held office as Vice-President. She was also appointed representative of a sub-committee to work in conjunction with the Good Neighbour Council to ‘Bring out a Briton’.

Through the Victorian Women Graduates’ Association, of which she was a Committee member, and the British Federation of University Women, Dr. Chattaway was a good friend to many women graduates from overseas and boosted Australia on many occasions.

Dr. Chattaway’s other interests included her active association with the Victorian Field Naturalists Club, having served on the Council for some years and acted as Vice-President and President during her earlier association with the club.

Margaret Chattaway developed a deep love for the Australian flora, particularly wildflowers and the beauty of the landscape. She elected to retire at aged 60 in 1959, and commenced her happy retirement at her 8 acre “bush” property, Koombala (the Aboriginal name for gumtrees), at Olinda in Victoria. In September of the same year, she was made an Honorary Member of the International Association of Wood Anatomists (IAWA).

She was a member of the executive of the British Federation of University Women and was also a member of the Royal Australian Ornithological Union.

She died on 7 December 1997 at Centennial House, Windsor.

Honours and awards


1936 Doctor of Philosophy (Oxford)
1959 Honorary Member of the International Association of Wood Anatomists (IAWA)

Related information

Hillis, Ted. “Obituary Mary Margaret Chattaway (1899-1997).” IAWA Journal 1998.3 (1998): 239-40. Web.

Chattaway, M. Margaret, 1899-1997 & Borschmann, Gregg (Gregg John), 1955- (1993-07-03). Margaret Chattaway interviewed by Gregg Borschmann in the People’s forest oral history project.  [sound recording].


Adapted from a submission to CoResearch, CSIRO’s staff newsletter (no. 4, July 1959)