Australian Wildlife Society



Australian Wildlife Society

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Australian Wildlife Society (AWS), formed in 1909, is a national not-for-profit conservation organisation. Our mission is to conserve Australia’s wildlife (flora and fauna) through education and involvement of the community. We are dedicated to the conservation of Australian wildlife in all its forms through environmental education, political lobbying, advocacy and hands-on conservation work. AWS is a registered company limited by guarantee with ASIC and is responsible for complying with all its regulations. AWS is funded through membership fees, sponsorship, partnerships and donations. The Society is managed and controlled by an elected board of ten volunteer directors. We hold regular monthly meetings, on the first Wednesday of each month in Sydney, to discuss important wildlife conservation matters and make a number of significant decisions.

Furthermore, we act as a watchdog and provide advice to government agencies and institutions regarding environmental and conservation issues concerning all aspects of wildlife preservation. Our Society has always known that a battle is never really won until the victory is enshrined in legislation. We have always tried to convince politicians of the necessity to include the preservation of Australia's wildlife and its vital conservation habitat in all their planning and environment issues and discussions.

The Society offers four annual awards - Serventy Conservation Award, Community Wildlife Conservation Award, Wildlife Rehabilitation Award and Youth award. Our Society is aware that many organisations and thousands of volunteers are working tirelessly to save threatened species as well as the humble and more common Australian species and the precious wildlife habitat in which they live. We are aware of the wonderful work being carried out by conservation organisations and volunteers across the country. We are very proud to acknowledge and reward these individuals or conservation groups and encourage them to continue their good work on behalf of the whole community. Another highlight is the awarding of our ten University Scholarships offered to honours or postgraduate students at Australian universities. Each year, ten $1,500 grants are awarded. Grants are available for research projects of direct relevance to the conservation of Australian wildlife – flora or fauna. We also award three special scholarships at University Technology Sydney, University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University.

Our Australian Wildlife magazine is the flagship of the Society and has proved to be extremely popular amongst all of our members. We invite members to distribute copies to family and friends and to invite them to become members. Our fortnightly E-newsletter is distributed nationally (and internationally) and has also proven to be very popular with our members and we encourage them to forward the newsletter on to their family, friends and associates to help spread the importance of wildlife conservation.

The Society introduced FREE membership to all students in Australia in 2019, which enables students to receive access to the quarterly E-magazine Australian Wildlife, fortnightly E-Newsletter, and access to the members portal which provides students with current information, resources and wildlife photographs for use in projects. Furthermore, students stay informed of the collective work being promoted nationally. Students may be able to contribute wildlife-related material to one or both publications by emailing We hope that providing FREE membership to all students across Australia will allow students 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.

The Society also hold a Threatened Wildlife Photographic Competition. This is a national competition that rewards and promotes the conservation of threatened or endangered Australian wildlife through the medium of photography. The Australian Wildlife Society invites photographers to raise the plight of threatened or endangered wildlife across Australia. Our Society aims to encourage the production of photographs taken in Australia, by Australians, which reflects the diversity and uniqueness of threatened or endangered wildlife.

We also hold an annual national colouring-in competition. The colouring-in competition is designed to inspire the younger generation to learn about Australia’s native wildlife via visual art and creativity. We hope that the experience provides participants with the opportunity to explore and develop a deeper understanding of, and passion for, wildlife and the environment.

The Society has four active social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Please join us!

Managed/contributed to the following campaigns

Type of group


Primary environmental focus

Conservation & Protection

Geographic sphere or activity


Primary location


Known address

PO Box 7336 Mt Annan, NSW 2567, Australia

Website link/s

Founding Year

History of group


Our founder, David Stead, suggested the need for such a group in 1901 in a talk to the Naturalists’ Society of NSW. The Swedish Consul-General for Australia, Count Burger Morner, organised the first discussion in the Consulate on 11 May 1909. Fifty people attended and were enrolled as the first members. Within one week the newborn Wild Life Preservation Society of Australia had swelled to one hundred members.

The Provisional Committee worked hard and in the same year, the inaugural meeting adopted a Constitution and elected the first chairman, the Hon. F E Winchcombe, head of a large firm of woolbrokers, skin and hide merchants. There were six women on the first Council of twenty-five people, and some that were later to become famous as naturalists.


Protection Laws
Our Society pioneered the recognition of the need for legal protection for our animals and plants. David Stead, being in charge of fisheries and fauna, was in an ideal position to influence State Ministers. He continued this work on his retirement. His third wife, Thistle Stead, later became President of the Society.
The Wild Bird Plumage Trade
WPSA has played a major part in the banning of the use of wild bird plumage, particularly for women’s hats. It became unfashionable after the Society wrote to Queen Mary (wife of King George V of England) asking for her support. She said she would not wear the plumage of any wild bird. The wife of the Governor-General, Lady Denman, was even more radical. No woman guest would be welcome at any vice-regal function if wearing such plumage. The battle took some time to win, although the trade finally disappeared.
The Koala
The protection of all marsupials was part of the Society’s early work. The saving of the koala was a long fight. Skins labelled ‘wombat’ were being exported to the United States. Stead discovered this and wrote to US President Herbert Hoover, who agreed to ban all skins, however, labelled. This was a major victory, and the koala trade, robbed of its most important market, soon ceased.
World Conservation Union
In 1928 the International Union for the Protection of Nature was founded. At the time it was only a small step. In 1947, at an international conference attended by eighteen countries, with many non-government organisations, it was decided to reform the organisation. Dr J H Westermann of Holland, one of our councillors, represented our Society at the time. The organisation is now called the World Conservation Union and is the world’s largest conservation group. The WCU not only watches for species in danger but also recommends the kinds of habitat conservation needed for this modern age. Our Society was the first non-governmental organisation to join.
World Conservation Day
We are proud to have started the world’s first Conservation Day. In 1964 one of our members convinced the WA State Government that such a day should be held, in spring, to embrace the older Bird Day which had fallen into disuse. Some years later the United States followed with Earth Day, and we then began to use their more catchy title.
Gould Leagues
The first League was formed in Victoria even before our Society was established but we helped to form leagues in other states. In the 1950s we canvassed all state groups to change their aim of protecting only bird life, to include the conservation of all wildlife, and of habitats. Today every state has its Gould League in the schools and they remain an important educational tool.
National Parks and Other Reserves
Our Society has played a leading part in the reservation of a long list of national parks, including the Morton National Park, Wilsons Promontory, and many islands along the Australian coastline.
World Heritage Areas
Our Society was important in the creation of many of these. Our President of Honour, Vincent Serventy AM, was one of the first World Heritage commissioners. The Commission encouraged state governments to agree to their lands being nominated. This nomination was vital as it gave the federal government legal power to save a region if a state government changed its mind. Lake Pedder was a classic example. Although the Whitlam Government offered an alternative solution, the Tasmanian government refused, and the old Lake Pedder was destroyed. Later, after the southwestern regions were nominated as World Heritage, the state government, which had changed its mind again, tried to destroy the Franklin, but the federal government by then had the legal means to save the river.
Our Society has intervened in world problems at the request of national groups. We have tried, but so far failed, to have set up a union to conserve the Indian Ocean. We will keep trying. We played a major part in the World Conservation Strategy, and the Australian as well as the State Conservation Strategies. We are working for a declaration of environmental rights to complement that on human rights, declared in 1948.

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