We hope to populate this page with the stories of the winners of the best Friends Awards from over the years. The award started in 1991, so this may take some time! In the meantime we will start with some of the more recent awardees.
This year, 2021, we will be celebrating the special 30th anniversary of the VEFN Best Friend Awards (BFA). The BFA provides us with an opportunity to celebrate and promote the outstanding achievements of our environmental volunteers and their Friends groups. In doing so we also raise awareness of the breadth, depth and calibre of all the community members who work so hard and long to care for their special places and species. To mark this special anniversary, we will be holding the awards in concert with Landcare Victoria. Further details of the arrangements will be available at a later date.
Best Friend Award 2021: Selection Criteria and Nomination Form
Young Best Friend Award 2021: Selection Criteria and Nomination Form
Barry Lingham Friends of Ocean Grove Nature Reserve
Barry Lingham, as a member of the Committee of Management of the Ocean Grove Nature Reserve since 1989, was a founding member of the Friends of Ocean Grove Nature Reserve, when established in 1994 (land transferred to Parks Victoria). Since 2000, Barry, has held a number of executive roles, and was the Secretary in 2019. His involvement of 32 years, “is still strong today” and “the connection has never wavered.” – Friends group nomination form quote.
His contribution includes weed eradication programs, planting and maintenance, nest boxes, publications on flora and fauna of the reserve – He is widely considered an expert on this with respected level of expertise and knowledge, and is a Life Member of both Friends of Ocean Grove Nature Reserve and Geelong Field Naturalists Club. He is also a respected panel submitter to planning panels as an expert presenter. Further Barry is a a tour guide for visiting groups, and an active fundraiser for the group.
As a team player, equally prepared to “roll up his sleeves for a manual task” or to “give expert evidence at a hearing panel on the future impacts of development on the Bellarine Peninsula.”
Geoffrey Mitchelmore OAM Friends of Lower Kororoit Creek
Geoff has been an active member of the Friends of Lower Kororoit Creek for over 20 years, and was the founding President of the group from 2001 to 2020. His areas of involvement include group awards and recognition, website development, community support roles, event and tree planting, regional, government and land agency connections and liaisions.
He has represented the Friends of Lower Kororoit Creek on groups including the Melbourne Water Healthy Waterways Strategy, Westgate Tunnel group, Waterways of the West and other local and regional connections, as well as getting sponsorships/fundraising for the group. A recent area of land has been regenerated by the planting of 50,000 trees and is now a community precinct, previously wasteland.
Geoffrey is recognised by the environment community as a community resource, and author of the book Friends of Lower Kororoit Creek, increasing the understanding and appreciation of its history, as part of the Kororoit Creek ecosystem.
Janet Stephens ANGAIR Inc (Anglesea, Aireys Inlet Society for the Protection of flora and fauna)
Janet has been an active member of ANGAIR Inc for at least 21 years, with involvement in the annual Wildflower and Art Show, camping trips to other environmental sites including aboriginal heritage sites, strategy for group advancement, and education tours and walks.
She is the current newsletter editor, to a membership circulation of 600 members, not an easy role. Her further roles include propagation, seed collection and nursery involvement and a long term committee member.
Since 2013, Janet has been the Bushcare Team Leader for Angair, a weekly activity with Parks Victoria Liaision.
Sally and Tony Walker Friends of Scotchmans Creek and Valley Reserve
Sally and Tony Walker joined the Friends of Scotchmans Creek and Valley Reserve in 2004, and have been active committee members in a number of roles since 2005. For a period of 19 years, they have actively complimented each other in these roles as President, Secretary and Treasurer. This reflects their “passion for Melbourne’s flora” and the preservation of the Scotchmans Creek Valley and Reserve.
Their involvement includes planning submissions and threats to the reserve, with the formal declaration of the reserve as a Conservation area by Monash Council in 2020. Other activities include Melbourne Water Liaison and grant writing, waterwatch activities, event planning and organisation, group promotion, community and regional links, and education programs
Their interest and promotion of school and tertiary support programs to students of Conservation and Land Management reflects their ongoing passion for supporting environmental activities in the reserve, alongside their long term involvement with the group.
Inaugural Young Best Friend Award – Matilda Venn
Matilda first started taking an interest in the environment when she attended tree plant- outs for the land-care network Project Platypus with her parents. She was only 3 years old when she attended her first plant out. She has since attended many more, being involved in tree planting, land care, helping with lunches and working as part of a team.
When walking from her home to her school in Pomonal, Matilda started to notice the native orchids that bloomed in the area and became really interested in finding out more about these natural delights. She discovered that there were about 12 varieties of orchids that came out each year in her immediate area, so she started learning more about them. From there Matilda started taking her peers on orchid walks and telling them about her discoveries. By the time Matilda was 12, she started to take larger groups of people on tours to see the orchids as part of Pomonal Native Flower Show.
Matilda’s mother Barb said “Matilda has just always said yes, and put her hand up for things, then all of a sudden there is a group of 20 flower-lovers in a hall waiting for her to take them on a walk.”
Earlier this month, Matilda spoke to crowds on a virtual platform as part of the 23rd annual Wimmera Biodiversity Seminar, supported by Andrea Mitchell from Project Platypus. This was very well received by the people who saw her presentation. “I definitely like sharing my love of plants and orchids” says Matilda.
Stawell had a ‘Biggest Science Experiment’ program under the banner of the Wildlife Arts Museum of Australia earlier this year and Matilda took part, creating a survey to collect information about native orchid species, including numbers and locations that could be used to identify the impacts of a changing climate on the plants. Matilda and her father Matt, developed an app on her phone to support the information she collected. “I wanted to see if the number of species all together would go up or down each year and see how the climate was affecting them” said Matilda. This was featured in the Experiment.
Inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award
Geoff Durham has a lifetime connection with the Wanderslore Sanctuary, and worked over many years with artist Constance Coleman (1903-1990) to save this area of land at Launching Place for future generations – initially saving it from expansion of the Warburton Highway by the Country Roads Board in 1973. It was gifted to the Trust for Nature and today is the home of an active group Friends of Wanderslore. He was a foundation member of the group in1993, Convenor from 2007-2012 and on the Committee of Management of the Sanctuary area until retirement in 2019. He remains an active member of the Friends group and is a valued and esteemed mentor to the group in 2020.
Geoff has been a member of the Victorian National Parks Association since 1959 and remains active despite having retired from conducting Walk, Talk and Gawk in 2019.
From the VNPA history by Don Garden:
“Geoff Durham, a solicitor, brought legal skills and an immense commitment to the VNPA over many years in such areas as bushwalking, Friends Groups, and the administration of national parks. He was President of the VNPA in the difficult years of 1978-81.”
Geoff has been a member of many groups including the Friends of Wyperfield to which he has belonged for over 40 years and for which, in 2001, he authored a publication, Wyperfield Australia’s First Mallee National Park.
Geoff was involved in the earliest days of the Friends movement, promoting the idea, organising conferences, and in due course writing the first VEFN constitution.
As Maelor Himbury said in his introduction: “ And so it goes. Geoff continued for many years on the Friends Network Committee many of those as editor of FriendsNET which had his many acolytes hanging out to discover who or what would be featured in the Groups Grapevine.
And here I’ll terminate this historical badinage with the vision of Geoff at a Friends Conference handing round a bag of licorice allsorts because it takes all sorts to make a Friends Group to which we all say, “Fair enough”
Lorraine Ratcliffe – Friends of Maribyrnong Valley
Lorraine started weed removal and revegetation in the Tea Gardens area of Avondale Heights which led to her becoming a member of Friends of the Maribyrnong Valley. Under Lorraine’s guidance a weekly revegetation program was started growing to a group of regular volunteers working 2 days a week for 48 weeks of the year. Lorraine brings a friendly, inclusive and engaging approach to her volunteer work, attracting like-minded people to follow her model of commitment to restoring the local environment. She is involved with corporate and school community plantings, helping with the setup and distribution of the “boot banquet” morning teas as well as site education for participants.
Lorraine arranged for FMV to work with a number of local school groups, including 100 students from Ava Maria College, educating them on the flora and fauna along Maribyrnong River and why waterways need to be kept clean and protected.
As a member of The Living Museum of the West, Lorraine became involved in the neglected History Garden. She organized a weekly working group including unemployed youth from the Footscray Football Club Sons of the West Project. Lorraine has volunteered on this site for over 15 years.
Lorraine has been on the committee of FMV for over 10 years. She takes on assisting with grant applications, keeping program records and monitoring OH&S. Lorraine’s advocacy work has included a 20 year commitment to the natural environmental assets on the Defence site in Maribyrnong. Working along the Maribyrnong River and in the Maribyrnong Valley Parklands, Lorraine liaises with Brimbank, Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley City Councils as well as Melbourne Water and Port Phillip & Westernport CMA.
Her wider environmental commitment includes the Weedspotters program training, volunteering at the annual Hawkweed survey at Falls Creek, supporter of Project Hindmarsh planting weekends and a member of the Friends of Wilsons Promontory.
Joe van Beek – Friends of Tyers Park
As the works coordinator for FoTP, Joe’s capable and enthusiastic leadership has enabled the group to obtain funding and deliver on many projects that have led to significant improvements within the park.
He has been instrumental in attracting funding for a range of projects including the Wirilda Walking Track. Joe played a key role in managing the group’s involvement in a Conservation Volunteers Green Army project of bridge construction and step erection. He coordinated the group’s input into a DELWP program of erecting interpretive signage and installation of bollards to prevent motor cycles access to the track. Joe also played a major role in applying for, implementing and evaluating a $70,000 three year program of willow removal on the Tyers River. He is an active participant in the Waterwatch Program monitoring water quality of the river. He has arranged for bushwalking clubs to participate in track maintenance and assisted in supervising Green Army volunteers. Joe has either initiated or been closely involved with the supervision of young volunteers conducting track maintenance.
Joe has formed strong relationships and partnerships with many groups including Parks Victoria, DELWP, West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, Gippsland Water, Bushwalking Victoria, Conservation Volunteers Australia, Wirilda Environment Park, Latrobe Valley Field Naturalists, Heart Foundation, Latrobe Community Health Service, Traralgon Historical Society and Four-Wheel Drive Club of Victoria as well as other Friends groups. He has led many walks within the park for bushwalking clubs, school groups, field naturalists and the Heart Foundation.
His commitment, organizational abilities and work ethic have contributed to the impact that he has made on many improvements within the park.
Tony Flude and George Fotheringham – Westgate Biodiversity: Bili Nursery and Landcare
George (right) and Tony (left) make a team of complementary leaders for the group.
George (Past President of Friends of Westgate Park) applies and is generous in sharing his knowledge of flora and fauna, the local environment and design. He applies his practical engineering skills to the many projects which have transformed a degraded landscape into a bio-diverse bushland ecosystem. He can usually be found at the park 7 days a week – designing and managing re-vegetation projects, organising volunteers, spraying weeds or maintaining equipment. He also applies his former professional landscape gardening expertise in running the Nursery.
Tony is Secretary of the merged organisation Westgate Biodiversity. He is responsible for overall administration and applies his former corporate life to managing volunteers: individuals, corporate groups, Work for the Dole participants, school and community groups. Tony manages to attract and retain volunteers (equivalent to 10 full time workers), delegating tasks and including everyone in his plans. He also manages 4 employees and empowers them to contribute to the success of the organisation and their own personal development. At the same time he encourages a team environment through organising volunteer activities including field trips and social activities. He has been very successful in obtaining grants and sponsorship. He drove the successful amalgamation of the Friends of Westgate Park and the St Kilda Indigenous Nursery Cooperative, establishing an organisation now with an annual budget of around $400,000.
This group operates with no “hands on” management from Parks Victoria and all projects are initiated, funded and implemented by the group.
Judy Ingram – Friends of Maribyrnong Valley
Since joining the Friends of Maribyrnong Valley (FMV) in 2007, Judy has worked tirelessly to create change within a section of parkland once degraded through former land use, now restored with expansive plantings, a site stabilised from further disturbance and creating essential habitat for local fauna.
Judy ascribes to the philosophy that, “you can travel faster on your own, but you can travel further with others.” She has worked to establish strong relationships between FMV and Parks Victoria, local government, state and federal politicians, first nations people, schools and other key stakeholders such as Melbourne Water.
These relationships have led to successful collaborations whereby large areas of the Maribyrnong Valley have been transformed.
Over the past seven years, she has successfully applied for grants totalling $270,000 using a staged approach to restoration of parkland. This has required countless hours in preparing grant applications, often within restricted timelines, communicating information between stakeholders, involving other members of FMV, gaining support from the land manager, tracking expenditure and reporting actions as required. The benefit to the parkland is long lasting with seedlings maturing into habitat trees and ground cover stabilising erosion thereby preventing soil from entering waterways.
Involving young people, particularly local schools, in restoring the parkland has been a major focus. FMV’s planting days with schools are now part of the school curriculum. Students receive show bags with Judy sourcing the content for the bags and assembling them at her home with other FMV volunteers.
Judy’s passion and commitment to improving the local environment extend into the broader community. She represents FMV in various forums, raising the level of awareness regarding the pollution and general amenity of the Maribyrnong Valley, seeking funding and a better recognition of the role that the Valley plays from an environmental, conservation and health perspective for local communities. Recently, she has been involved in the Rivers of the West campaign with other Friends groups and stakeholders with the aim of protecting major rivers and tributaries in the west of Melbourne.
While physically unable to work on uneven ground, Judy has maintained absolute focus, passion and dedication over more than ten years. Without Judy’s effort and support from the group, the reserves, parks and riparian zones of the Maribyrnong Valley may not have attracted any funding for conservation works and would have degraded further. Instead there is a great success story.
Graeme Lorimer – Friends of Bungalook Conservation Reserves
Karen Davies, Graeme Lorimer and Lisa Fleming (in Bungalook Conservation Reserves)
Graeme Lorimer has dedicated 30 years of volunteer service to a number of environmental groups that operate within the Maroondah City Council. He is best known for his tireless work as coordinator of the Friends of Bungalook Conservation Reserves (BCR) in Kilsyth South, and guardian of the critically endangered Kilsyth South Spider-orchid, Caladenia sp. aff. venusta (Kilsyth South).
Graeme was the first to discover and document the botanical significance of land that was to become Bungalook Conservation Reserves. Through Montrose Environmental Group (MEG) he ran a successful public campaign to raise funds to purchase land that is now owned by Trust for Nature and forms part of BCR. For more than 10 years, he campaigned to have two neighbouring blocks purchased by Maroondah City Council and added to BCR. Today, sections of BCR are owned by the council, the Trust and Melbourne Water.
From the beginning of this quest, Graeme has actively organised monthly working bees to protect and conserve the land that has become BCR. Working bees include activities such as weed control, revegetation, litter collection, environmental monitoring and guided nature walks. He has been successful in applying for thousands of dollars’ worth of grants that have been instrumental for preserving the reserves’ ecological values, allowing them to be better appreciated by the community. Graeme has dedicated many hours to managing, auditing and reporting on these projects.
Graeme uses working bees not just for getting work done but for sharing his technical knowledge and giving participants a greater appreciation and enjoyment of nature. Young people are particularly welcomed and some students come from far afield to join the activities and build up their skills.
Graeme spends many voluntary hours on a regular basis monitoring and recoding BCR’s flora and fauna species. Since the identification of the previously unrecognised Kilsyth South Spider-orchid, Graeme has been instrumental in getting the species listed as critically endangered under both Federal and State environmental protection legislation. He has been a relentless campaigner with enormous persistence for the conservation of the Kilsyth South Spider-orchid. He has worked with federal, state and local government as well as the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria in relation to preservation and germination trial for the species. This has contributed to advances in conservation science, seed germination technologies and reintroduction methods for spider-orchids more generally.
Graeme’s efforts are not just restricted to the Montrose Environment Group and Bungalook Conservation Reserves. He is an active contributor to many other environment and conservation groups, including the Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association.
Fiona Topolcsanyi – Friends of Ocean Grove Nature Reserve
Since joining the Friends of Ocean Grove Nature Reserve (OGNR) in 2005, Fiona has worked tirelessly to improve the amenity of the Reserve. She has used her network of contacts to focus upon educating the local community about the significant natural values of the Reserve. She has led activities and projects that encourage community groups, especially those working with younger people, to become active in the Reserve.
Fiona is an active member of the committee. She has held the executive positions of President, Secretary and Activities Co-ordinator and has used her organisational skills to manage committee business. Through successful grant applications, she has been able to access more than $8000 to help improve the facilities of the OGNR and create new educational display material. She used her creative talents and research skills to revitalise the Information Centre by designing and producing four large information panels to hang on the walls. These eye-catching displays were complemented by a series of cabinets with trays of interesting items of natural history designed to appeal to the tactile senses of young children. Fiona has worked continuously to introduce local families into the OGNR through her work with preschools, primary and secondary schools. She has encouraged involvement in environmental projects within the Reserve, organised family activity days and attended local events to promote the Friends group. Through the Scouting movement Fiona has visited the Reserve many times and advocated its use at a regional level to a range of other scouting groups. She used a community grant to involve young children in writing a story and designing posters focused on wallabies at OGNR. They created a stylised mascot wallaby to use as a new logo. Over the last four years, Nature Play has been her focus and this has led her to facilitate the introduction of Bush Kinders into the Reserve. Currently six kindergartens, incorporating over ten separate classes, have used the Reserve on a regular basis during 2018. Fiona has presented and published a paper on the benefits of the community connections formed between the Friends Group and the local Early Childhood services. Despite her busy schedule, Fiona has maintained her commitment to the OGNR alongside her role as a teacher, mother of three children and involvement in numerous local community groups.
Jim Stranger – Friends of Tyers Park
Jim was instrumental in establishing the Friends of Tyers Park (FoTP) in May 2007 and has been President/Convenor of the group since then. He has been successful in applying for approximately $100,000 in funding through various grants. This has enabled FoTP to improve walking tracks, develop and install interpretive and track signage, remove willows and other weeds from the Tyers River and provide first aid, chainsaw and construction induction training for members of the group.
Jim has expanded the work of FoTP to include maintenance of the Wirilda Walking Track, which extends beyond the park through DELWP and Gippsland Water managed land and into the Wirilda Environment Park. He has established strong cooperative relationships with all the relevant authorities including Parks Vic, DELWP, Gippsland Water and the Wirilda Environment Park Committee of Management. He arranged for the Green Army to be involved in upgrading the walking track, providing them with valuable work experience. As part of an earlier project to remove willows from the Tyers River, Jim liaised with the relevant parties, including Gippsland Water, Latrobe City and Baw Baw Shire to alleviate any concerns about the impact on water quality of the willow eradication program. Jim also established an on-going Water Watch program, which involves FoTP taking and analysing water samples on a monthly basis from the Tyers River and reporting the results to the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority.
Jim has established a network of contacts with people who have an interest in environmental volunteering, including other Friends groups, historical societies and field naturalists. He has led guided walks in the park for bush-walking clubs, schools and community groups. He has arranged for guest speakers to talk on topics of general interest about the local environment and has undertaken monitoring of rare and endangered species, including the Peregrine Falcon and Spotted-tailed Quoll. He has engaged with bushwalking clubs to assist with track maintenance, and worked with four-wheel drive clubs to remove rubbish from the park. He also helped supervise a group of young international people working with Conservation Volunteers, who did track maintenance and conservation work in the park.
In addition to being a strong advocate for Tyers Park and the Wirilda Walking Track, Jim is an active member of other community groups. He is a regular contributor to a variety of projects aimed at benefiting the broader community. He is selfless in sharing his knowledge, skill and expertise gained in a long career in Primary Industry and Natural Resource Management.
Stanley Barker – Friends of Burke Road Billabong Reserve
Ten years ago Stanley noticed a derelict area of public land on the Yarra River in East Kew and went on to help form the Burke Road Billabong Committee of Management in 2008, serving as Chair since that time. The Burke Road Billabong Reserve, previously the Kew tip, is 10 hectares of one of the last remaining natural billabongs of the Yarra River. Through the efforts of the Friends, it is being rehabilitated with the introduction of thousands of indigenous plants, the control of wandering trad, blackberry and boxthorn. The area serves as prime habitat for owls, parrots, possums and frogs, forming part of a vegetation corridor of the Yarra linking healthy sections together. Stanley publicises the Reserve and opportunities to help through the Burke Rd Billabong Reserve website which he set up. Stanley also helped establish Friends of Herring Island, located in the Yarra River in Richmond Melbourne, 24 years ago in 1992, serving as the Secretary and Treasurer since then. The Friends of Herring Island and volunteers weed and plant native shrubs and grasses on the Island throughout the year. Stanley also volunteers for the Victorian Indigenous Nursery Cooperative (VINC) and the Equipment Recycling Network (ERNI) in Ringwood.
Merrin Butler and Paul Strickland – Friends of Mount Worth State Park
Photographed in the Mt. Worth State Park, Victoria, Australia
Merrin Butler and Paul Strickland have been members of the Friends of Mount Worth State Park for more than 14 years, since 2002. Merrin Butler has been President of the group for the past six years. The Friends of Mount Worth are located 15 km south of Warragul in the western Strzelecki Ranges in Victoria, Australia. Amongst their activities, Paul and Merrin have been responsible for the group’s securing 3 significant grants enabling the planting of hundreds of trees, the replacement of a severely degraded vehicle bridge, the upgrading of a walking track to make it suitable for wheelchairs, and installation of 12 new interpretation signs along the two most popular tracks in the park. Both Paul and Merrin regularly speak to various local groups, making the work of the Friends widely known and successfully recruiting new members and volunteers for the group’s activities. Paul and Merrin are also involved with the West Gippsland Seedbank Association and Darnum-Ellinbank Fire Brigade and have planted more than 20,000 indigenous plants on their own property.
Jane Hollands – Friends of Sassafras Creek
Jane joined the Friends of Sassafras Creek Inc. over 25 years ago in the late 1990s and is currently the Treasurer. The group began in 1991 and are passionate about maintaining and preserving the natural state of the Sassafras Creek Reserve. The group works along the Sassafras Creek and Perrins Creek corridors and their activities include weeding, vegetation, monitoring wildlife, and combating litter and wastewater coming from the road drains that are causing erosion. Jane has overseen many projects including the restoration of a substantial part of “The secret garden” on Perrins Creek, and the top of the walking track behind Sassafras Community Hall, securing substantial grant funding. Jane has also championed the creation of the Community Weed Alliance of the Dandenongs. She personally door knocked every property adjoining the Sassafras and Perrins Creeks to promote and encourage participation in the Melbourne Water Stream Frontage program and talks to local businesses about their weed management and waste water systems.
Terry Lane – Friends of Organ Pipes National Park
Terry first joined the Friends of Organ Pipes National Park 12 years ago in 2004, serving as Convenor since 2005. This national park is located in Keilor in the City of Brimbank greater Melbourne. The Friends of Organ Pipes began in 1972, 44 years ago. Their work has transformed the park from weed scape to an area of botanical significance, an ongoing process that still continues today. A measure of its success has been the successful reintroduction of wildlife such as Sugar Gliders and the natural return of a range of bird species, kangaroos and wallabies to the area. As well as lobbying relevant organizations, the group holds monthly working days open to anyone who is interested in coming along. The group also participates in the protection of several other significant flora and fauna reserves in the Keilor Plains area such as the St Albans Grassland Reserve and the Holden Flora Reserve. Terry co-led the organisation of the Friends of Holden Reserve which has been well supported by Sunbury residents. Terry is also a Waterwatch volunteer, helps with bat monitoring, and was instrumental in setting up a sugar glider monitoring program in Organ Pipes Park as well as involving a local school (Gilson College) to become involved in a long term planting and plant monitoring project there.
Peter Somerville – Friends of Maribyrnong Valley
Peter attended the first meeting 30 years ago in 1986 that formed Friends of the Maribyrnong Valley (FMV). He has been on the FMV Committee since that time and held all positions, currently serving as Vice President. Peter has worked tirelessly to improve and restore the quality of the Maribyrnong River and its surrounding parklands. In partnership with his son Warwick, Peter conducts cruises along the Maribyrnong River on the well-known vessel Blackbird. He has taken politicians and representatives of Councils and government instrumentalities up and down the river highlighting river management issues and the value of the Maribyrnong. Peter supports the FMV to raise public awareness all over Melbourne of the great resource and potential of the Maribyrnong River and to improve the habitat of the river and its valley. Peter was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2012 for services to the environment and community of the western suburbs of Melbourne and was the Maribyrnong City Council Citizen of the Year in 2010.