Australian Wildlife Society - Movements Throughout History

  • The Wild Life Preservation Society of Australia was formed on the 19th May 1909 in the Royal Society's Hall, 5 Elizabeth Street, Sydney. David George Stead, a member of the Naturalist's Society, initiated such a formation.
  • The Honorable Frederick Earl Winchcombe, MLC (1855-1917) was the first President of the Society.
  • David George Stead (1877-1957) was one of four Vice-Presidents of the Society and would play a prominant role in the activities of the Society over the next sixty years.
  • The Society was successful in obtaining official protection for the koala first in 1911 and 1912, in New South Wales.
  • The Society was greatly concerned at the growth of the plume trade and traffic in wild birds and as a result took action, including through the State and Federal Government, in the matter of prohibiting import and export of plumes.
  • In 1911, it was decided that the Society should draft a Bill for introduction to Parliament to take the place of the current and complicated Act to protect native Birds and animals. However, the Bill was not enforced (see 1920s).
  • In 1926, the Society expressed regret and dissapointment that the prohibition on the exportation of wild birds was not being enforced. Until, in 1948, the Fanua Protection Act was introduced (see 1940s).
  • For many years the Society was one of the prime movers in action towards the preservation of native plants. During 1926, a Bill to make provision for the regulation an control of the picking of wildflowers and native plants was brought into Legislative Council and in 1927 became law. In this law, provision was made for the notification of any wildflower or native plant to be protected throughtout the whole State of New South Wales. As was the case with the Birds and Animals protection Act, the Wild Flowers and Native Plants Protection Act, 1927 was based upon a Draft Bill prepared by the Society.
  • A perusal of the Society's Annual Reports and past issues of Australian Wild Life indicate that a large number of sanctuary areas in various parts of Australia were set aside wholly or partly as a result of the efforts of the Society, especially in the first forty years of teh Society's exisitence. For example, the Society's Annual Report for 1927 contained a reference to an effort by the Society to have a significant reserve set aside - Mount Tomah Botanic Garden and in 1928, Mount Warning was set aside as a National Park as a result of the efforts of the Society.
  • The Society's 'modest journal' was issued for the first time. David Stead was the Editor of the Journal. This publication was produced once a year and the bulk of it was occupied by the Annual Report. 

  • The Society effectively brought to an end the export of koala fur, to the United States, under the guise of other species.
  • The Society had a continued interest in parks and reserves and purchased a small reserve near Manly, NSW called Angophora Reserve. The reserve contained the Sydney red gum, Angophora costata. After a few years it was found to be impracticable for the Society to exercise adequate supervision over the Angophora Reserve so, following negotiations with Warringah Shire Council, the area was placed in its custody.
  • The Society also took interest in Ball's Head Reserve, on the shores of Sydney Harbour, commencing with the first official tree planting there on Saturday 25 July 1931. Annual tree plantings by the Society continued for many years.
  • The Society participated in a successful campaign to protect Hinchinbrook Island, most of the Island being declared a national park to become Australia's largest island national park.
  • In 1937, the Society reported its concerns regarding the use of firearms by people shooting protected birds and other wildlife for sport. The Society would keep fighting for a tightening up of the law.
  • It has been part of the Society's policy to support allied conservation groups over many years of its existence. This support includes a presence and a voice at conferences wherever the wildlife conservation message is being promoted. An early example of this kind was the Society's attendance at the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science Congress in New Zealand in 1937.
  • The Society recieved its first Corporate member - St. Georges Girls' High School. 
  • When the Society was informed, in 1941, that that a number of splendid Eucalypts had been cut from the Hazelbrook Gully Reserve, the Society took action and got intouch with the Hazelbrook Group of Blue Mountinas and with the Forestry, Lands and Chief Secretary's Departments and suggested to the first-mentioned body a line of approach with a view to further action. Discussions and correspondence went on until June 1943. The most important result was that the movememnyt for the Great Blue Mountians Nature Park was given a very definite push forward; and in the meantime, the Minister for Agriculture and Forests agreed that ' the whole area would be exempted from the operation of timber licenses'.
  • In 1945, the Minister introduced into State Parliament and Amending Bill, relating to Wild Flowers and Native Plant Protection.
  • In 1948, the Fauna Protection Act was passed. The Society had played a significant part in wildlife protection long before  legislation became a factor in preservation. Allen Strom, Secretary of the Society, was elected as a member of the Fauna Protection Panel. Most important was the action of the panel to prevent export of fauna (see 1960s).
  • The Society advocated for the establishment of a Commonwealth control and coordination of conservation measures, where the administration of wildlife conservation matters should be controlled by the Commonwealth Governement. The Society pointed out that differences in legislation between States led to considerable abuse and it was quiet ridiculous to expect flora and fauna to respect political boundaries (see 1970s).
  • Thistle Harris-Stead, president of the Society (1949-1952), represented the Society in a move to decalre a Primitive Area within the Kosciuszko State Park. The Society had long been working actively for the elimination of grazing from the alpine areas in Australia (see 1960s).
  • Vincent Serventy, a member of the Society and President of the Western Australian Naturalists' Club, decided to revive the natural history exhibitions. He called his first one the "Wild Life Show" and it proved a great success.
  • At the Wild Life Show in September 1953, a boy brought a small tortoise to Vincent Serventy, asking for identification. 'A long-necked swamp tortoise', Vincent said with confidence. 'Mine's got a short neck', the boy replied. A public appeal, following the re-discovery of this tortoise, saved the swamps on the farm where the tortoise had been found and a concerned governement saved those that were left to become the Ellenbrook Nature Reserve
  • Shark bay, north of the Abrolhos Islands in Western Australia, had been a place of special interest for Vincent Serventy and he was anxious to see it preserved in as pristine a state as possible. Vincent wanted Shark Bay to become a World Heritage listed site. Vincent spoke to Sir Thomas Wardle, owner of Dirk Hartog Island who wanted the Island to become a nature reserve, the Federal Government, State conservation departments and helped in the production of a film on Shark Bay. The film was a successful venture which helped the conservation cause with an increase in public interest for World Heritage Listing.
  • The Society expresses and emphasise its stance on the production of educational material relating to Nature Protection and Conservation be incorporated in the curricula of primary and secondary schools, universities and technical colleges and that the Departments of Natural Resources be established in centres of higher learning.
  • The fight against the export of fauna was fought on several fronts by the Society. David Stead wrote a letter to the Private Secretary to the Queen and at the 1952 ANZAAS (Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science) Congress in Sydney, the Society submitted recommendations for the cessation of export of fauna, except under certian stringent conditions. But apparently they were too much for the preliminary committee of Congress to digest, as that body did not pass them on. At the 1955 ANZAAS Congress in Melbourne the same motion came up for discussion and was passed.
  • In 1957, the Society prepared a statement for the Director-General of Education, New South Wales, which subsequently appeared in the Education Gazette. This drew attention to the necessity for care in the protection of both plants and animals by children and teachers engaged in fieldwork, which was becoming increasingly popular. A circular was sent to all Inspectors of Schools in New South Wales, asking for their assistance in interesting schools in conservation (see 2010s).
  • In March 1957, Australian Wild Life contained an article by Vincent Serventy titled 'The Requirements of a Conservation Programme'. Vincent Serventy referred to the need for modern and flexible legislation (to protect fauna from destruction by farmers or 'sportsmen') and to tighter control over reserves.
  • In August 1957, David Stead died, aged eighty and a memorial fund was established in his honour.
  • In 1958, a very successful Conservation Conference was held in Sydney. The Conference decided to ask the Organising Committee to delegate to montions passed to the appropriate bodies for action. The Society was asked to deal with the export of fauna, indiscriminate rubbish dumping, amendment to the Fauna Protection Act, organising a conservation exhibition and promoting a list of protected birds.
  • In 1959, Roy Bennett, Past President, wrote a comprehensive report to mark fifty years of conservation work by the Society.
  • Attempts were made to set up an Education Committee to get the Society's message across to schools and young people, however the project never got off the ground.
  • In 1962, Land was acquired at Bargo, New South Wales, on which a memorial sancturary for David Stead was established, Wirrimbirra Sanctuary (see 2010s).
  • In 1964, Vincent Serventy inaugurated the world's first Conservation Day, to celebrate and promote the importance of conservation of the total environment.
  • In 1966, Vincent Serventy became President of the Society and Thistle Harris-Stead was Vice-President.
  • It was Thistle's love and concern for alpine areas which occasioned the interest of the Society in this area for many years. Thistle continued her visits to Kosciuszko and campaigned against the destruction being caused by engineering works allowed by the Snowy Mountains Authority and was awarded the Australian Natural History Medallion by the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria.
  • In 1966 it was announced that, in the future, the Annual Report would be a seperate publication and Australian Wild Life would appear twice during the year with factual material intended to be of general interest to members. In addition, another publication, Nature in Australia, appeared towards the end of 1965. This was to repleace the old well-known and useful Australian Naturalist, the publication of the Naturalists' Society of New South Wales, which by this time had amalgamated with the Society. However, Nature in Australia ceased publication with the April 1967 issue, being replaced by Wildlife in Australia. Wildlife in Australia covered aspects of wildlife conservation for the whole of Australia and this comprehensive outlook was supported by Vincent Serventy, who was Editor for sixteen years. During this time Carol Serventy was Assistant Editor.
  • In June 1967, Thisle and Vincent went to Tasmania to lend their support to the 'Save Lake Pedder' campaign and they gave evidence at a Parliamentary Enquiry into the Gordon Scheme. Thislte wrote to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources seeking their support.
  • In 1967, the National Parks and Wildlife Act was introduced. For many years, the Society had lobbied the NSW Government and made a significant contribution by its submissions and letters during the critical formative period. The President of the Society, Vincent Serventy, was appointed to the Advisory Council. Both the Fauna Protection Act and Wild Flowers and Native Plants Protection Act, came under the new administration of the National Parks and Wildlife Act.
  • With the passing of the National Parks and Wildlife Act, Kosciusko became a National Park, but it was not until 1969 that all grazing within the boundaries of the Park ceased.
  • Other conservation projects during this era consisted of Conserving Dee Why Lagoon, the rainforests of Wyrrabalong National Park and protecting the Great Barrier Reef from oil drilling and mining and strongly urged for the whole province of the Great Barrier Reef to be classified as a National Park. 
  • The matter of Commonwelath coordination was still a concern for the Society in 1972 when a letter was sent to the Prime Minister (Hon. W. McMahon). He assured the Society that the Office of the Environment would be included in the Department of the Vice-President of the Executive Council and that Governement would go ahead with a plan for a National Advisory Council. The coming to power of the Whitlam Government was an environmental watershed.
  • In December 1975, it was reported in Australian Wild Life that there were still tree plantings being carried out by the Society. November 1978 appears to be the last recorded tree planting ceremony by the Society.
  • Thistle Harris-Stead was awarded a member of the Order of Australia (AM)  for services to wildlife conservation.
  • On 5th July 1990, Thistle Harris-Stead passed away, aged eighty-seven. All her assest and the Wirrimbirra Sanctuary were left to the National Trust of Australia so that David Stead's memorial could be looked after in perpetuity. 
  • The publication Wildlife in Australia was revamped and titled Australian Wildlife. The magazine recieved a new attractive and informative format with Patrick and Suzanne Medway being the Editors.
  • In 2003, the Society could not believe that only 4.6% of the Great Barrier Reef was highly protected. A coalition was formed by concerned environmental groups, including the Society, to ensure the protection of the Great Barrier Reef for future generations by increasing protected zones and marine sancturies. The coalition agreed to lobby for fifty perecent total protection, but finally accepted a compromise of thirty-three perecent.
  • In 2004, President Patrick Medway and the Executive Director, Suzanne Medway, attended the Australian Wildlife Management Society's Annual Conference along with representatives of the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF), and together they were able to observe first-hand the status of the koala there. AKF presented a submision to the Federal Environment Minister asking for the koala to be listed as a vulnerbale species and, in 2005, called on the South Australian Minister for Environment and Conservation, the Hon. John Hill, to conduct an urgent review of the science underpinning koala number estimates on Kangaroo Island. 

In 2019:

  • The Society continues to advocate for the protection of Australia's wildlife by writing letters to businesses, writing to and meeting with Ministers in person, attending and presenting at a variety of events, educating the general public through social media, Australian Wildlife magazine, attending events and speaking with them.
  • The Society reached its 110th Birthday and celebrated it by partnering with Design Centre Enmore TAFE NSW to create a special birthday video.
  • The first National Office Manager, Ms Megan Fabian, was employed.
  • The Society formed the NSW Platypus and Turtle Alliance to protect air-breathing aquatic wildlife from drowning in enclosed yabby nets, by having them banned in NSW.
  • The Society's online presence increased, on a number of social media platforms, and so did the Society's followers.
  • The Australian Wildlife magazine reached new heights.

  • The Society offered complimentary membership to NSW Government School students, in hopes to encourage the younger generation to explore and develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues, engage in problem-solving, gain skills to make informed decisions and take action to improve the environment.
  • Wirrimbirra, now known as Australian Wildlife Sanctuary, continues today under the ownership of The National Trust of Australia (NSW) and new operators The Australian Wildlife Foundation. The Australian Wildlife Sanctuary will be committed to the conservation of the natural environment, cultural heritage and education. 
  • The Society inaugurated 'Australian Wildlife Week' which was included on the Calendar of Environmental Events. The event was create in hope to raise awareness and inspire all Australians to explore and develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues, gain the necessary skills to make informed decisions and take action to improve the environment.

Presidents of the Society Since 1909

The Hon Frederick Earle Winchcombe, MLC (1855-1917)

Sir Joseph Hector McNeil Carruthers, KCMG LLD (1856-1932)

Walter Wilson Froggett (1858-1937)

Richard Hind Cambage (1859-1928)

Ernest Arthur D'Ombrain, MB BSc (1894-1944)

Henry Charles Lennox Anderson, BAMA (1853-1944)

David George Stead (1877-1957)

Frederick Lynne Rolin, BA, no records

David George Stead (1877-1957)

Captain Roy Frederick Bennett (1895-1972)

William George Kett, DSc (1887-1962)

Mrs Thistle Yolette Harris-Stead (1902-1990)

Walter Henry Childs, MVO (1892-1964)

James Gordon McKern, BEng (1888-1975)

John Trevor Bennett (1920-2010)

Dr Vincent Serventy, AM BEd BSc DSc (1961-2007)

Patrick Winston Medway AM BA MEd JP (1940-)

Suzanne L Medway AM (1950-)

Members of the Society Since 1909

Fifty members were enrolled on the evening of 19 May 1909 and, within a week, this number had been raised to over one hundred.

165 Members

349 Members

409 Members:

99 Life Members

264 Annual Members

30 Corporate Members

4 Corporate Life Members

7 Student Members

5 Honorary Members

719 Members:

456 Annual Members

4 Honorary Members

51 Junior Members

16 Student Members

387 Members

It should be noted that in the early 1970s the Queensland branch of the Society incorporated and became an independent conservation group. The Australian branch based in New South Wales lost over one hundred members to the Queensland group.

320 Members

473 Members

Approximately 500 Members

The largest majority of members came from the over fifties age group, were long0term members and very loyal and generous with their donations.

The University Students Wildlife Research Grant project was introduced, with the cirteria that all applicants must be members of the Society. Since that time, the majority of new members were in the under thirties age group

Approximately 700 Members

The demographic age of membership changed dramatically to a younger generation.


The biggest change in recruitment of new membership is through the Society's website and the majority of new applications are now being received through this medium.

X Members

X Individual Members

X Family Members

X Concession Members

X Corporate Members

X E-Mag Members 

X Associate Members

X Life Members

X Student Members