Wombats SA was originally the Natural History Society of South Australia which was formed in 1960 by four concerned conservationists: Albert and Marjorie Molineux and Helge and Phyllis Hergstrom. All four were then active members of the South Australian Field Naturalists Society. They were strongly concerned with what they perceived to be a general lack of interest in protecting Australia’s native wildlife, particularly in the context of government sponsored bounty killings of native animals such as kangaroos, wombats and wedge-tailed eagles. In the winter of 1960 the group visited areas of western New South Wales and observed the results of unregulated, reward fueled, wildlife killings. With the government of the day announcing intentions of opening more shooting reserves, they were driven to establish a new society with the primary aim of preventing the unnecessary and unregulated killing of our wildlife.
In its formative years, the Society pursued these aims by lobbying the Government through the presentation of positive proposals on many aspects of conservation in this state. To help promote the importance of protecting our native wildlife and vegetation, Helge Hergstrom held regular public slideshow evenings, showing images of natural history subjects. At these meetings, coloured slides of our native flora and fauna were shown, taken during small private expeditions to various parts of the state. The purpose of these meetings was to alert the public to the destruction of our native wildlife.
In November 1965, the Society launched its regular newsletter Natural History, currently published bi-monthly and distributed to all members. This publication provides an insightful history of the activities and interests of the Society members over the years and continues to document our progress and achievements.
During the 1960s, the Society attempted to lobby the State Government to establish a sanctuary in the Nullarbor Plains of western South Australia for the Southern Hariy-nosed wombat – faunal emblem of South Australia. Unfortunately, the government failed to act on this proposal. So, in 1968, during a period of prolonged drought, the Society boldly launched a public appeal and, with excellent publicity from the Sunday Mail newspaper, and tremendous public support, funds were raised to purchase 2,000ha of denuded land near Blanchetown on the Murray River – the Moorunde Wildlife Reserve. Initially 2,000ha and later increased to 6,900ha, maintenance and monitoring of this property now consumes most of the time and effort generously provided by our volunteer members.
Read a newspaper article from The Canberra Times, 23 May 1968, about the public appeal and establishment of the Moorunde Wildlife Reserve.
Two of the Society’s long term members, Alwin and Berna Clements, became involved with the Society through the slide show meetings in the 1960s. Alwin and Berna subsequently contributed many active years to the Society, particularly with the acquisition and ongoing management of the reserves now in our care. The four founding members passed away in the 1980s and 1990s while Alwin and Berna continued actively caring for the reserves and provided a cohesive focus and direction of the Society into the 2000s.
Numerous other members have contributed many years and countless hours of service, at working-bees on the reserves, providing a regular ranger service, surveying and monitoring the wildlife and vegetation regrowth, lobbying government on environmental issues and producing the publication Natural History. Our current longest serving member is Glen Talyor. First involved with the affiliated Natural History Camera Club, Glen became an active member of the Society in 1970. Among the many great contributions Glen has made to the Society is the ongoing Wombat Population Estimation Study, underway since 1970. Glen is our current Head Ranger and has been editor of Natural History since 1993.
From its inception, the Society was managed by an executive group of Fellows, members who had made significant contribution to the society over the years. In 2012 it was decided that management of the Society would change to that of an elected Management Committee, open to any and all current members. Today we are as dedicated as ever to promote, protect and preserve our natural heritage and in particular manage and maintain our sanctuary reserves so that they become and remain safe refuges for our wonderful and unique native wildlife.
In April 2015, we registered the trading name Wombats SA to more accurately reflect our work and we are now in the process of transitioning to that name as we prepare to celebrate our 50th Anniversary in 2018.
The Wedge-tailed Eagle was chosen as the emblem of the Society when, during the 1960s, the Society ran a sustained campaign to prevent the destruction of these birds by pastoralists. It was a common misconception at the time that these birds were killing lambs resulting in major losses for sheep farmers. Society members were horrified at the numbers of eagles killed and the trophy-like way the dead birds were displayed on property fences throughout the state. A study in the 1960s clearly indicated that the eagles contributed negligibly to the loss of lambs, the greatest numbers of which were found to die from starvation, mismothering, and neonatal weaknesses1. A significant portion of the eagles diet was found to be rabbits, an introduced pest species, and one which the eagle helps to control! More recent studies have continued to support these findings2. A feature of the campaign was the sale of bronze Wedge-tailed Eagle badges which Society members and the general public were encouraged to wear to show their support for the protection of these birds. The Wedge-tailed Eagle emblem was also prominently displayed on the cover of our newsletter Natural History from February 1968. Happily, this campaign was finally successful and today the majestic Wedge-tailed Eagle is a protected species.
What’s in a Name?
In 1838, just two years after proclamation of the Colony of South Australia, the original Natural History Society of South Australia was established by naturalist A.H. Davis, “to lobby the government and determine other means to pursue the science of natural history in the colony”. However, a few years later in 1841, during a depression that saw many fledgling enterprises in the new colony fail, the society was disbanded. Some 120 years later, the name of the society was resurrected by the four founding members of our current Natural History Society.
Read some newspaper articles from the South Australian Gazette and Southern Australian, 1838, about the formation of the original Natural History Society of South Australia.
Read a Letter to the Editors of the South Australian Register, 1840, calling for more interest to be taken in the natural history of South Australia!
- Leopold and Wolfe, “Food Habits of Nesting Wedge-tailed Eagles, Aquila audax, in South-Eastern Australia”, 1970, CSIRO Wildlife Research, 1970, 15, 1-17
- Debus, Hatfield, Ley and Rose, “Breeding Biology and Diet of the Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax in the New England Region of New South Wales”, Australian Field Ornothology, 2007, 24, 93-120