The Friends Group – History

The beginning

Bird Observation & Conservation Australia formerly Bird Observer’s Club of Australia (BOCA) had worked for many years to save the Helmeted Honeyeater.

BOCA alongside the Victorian Ornithological Research Group (VORG) and the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union (RAOU) were responsible for influencing the State Government to set aside land for conservation which ultimately became the Yellingbo Nature Conservation Area (YNCA). In 1952 Survey Cassidix was organised by BOC (as BOCA was known then) and RAOU. It lasted for ten years and was followed by further VORG surveys. The data from this long term surveying provided the evidence to persuade the Government to take action and in 1967 the first declaration of land set aside for the reserve was announced. BOCA was also at the head of the push to have the Helmeted Honeyeater recognised as the State Avifaunal (Bird) Emblem.

The Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater recognise
the work of BOCA, VORG and RAOU.


Community as drivers for change. Past, present and future

On 23 May 1989, the Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater (the Friends) was born.

It was due to the determination of the late Steve Craig.

Steve knew that the Helmeted Honeyeater needed the
community to know about its plight.
This was a bird heading for extinction, in our lifetime,
if something didn’t change.

Steve organised a public meeting for 23 May 1989, and Victorian’s answered Steve’s call to action. For some of the Friends current members, that first meeting lives strongly in their memories. We are privileged to have members who were there on day 1, and who can tell us about it. We are equally excited to have new members join us today.

The Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater recognise the
vision and determination of 
Steve Craig.



Through the lens of our Presidents. The vision

From 1989 to the present, there have always been two distinct aims, one that would improve the status of the Helmeted Honeyeater in the wild and another that would increase public awareness of the status of the Helmeted Honeyeater.

All that the Friends do is grounded in these aims and our three pillars Healthy Birds, Healthy Habitat, Healthy Organisation. We are key members of the Helmeted Honeyeater Recovery Team.

Bob Anderson, the founding President of the Friends tells us part of the story (the early days, the recent past), whilst Alan Clayton, the Friends immediate past President continues the story (the present and looking to the future).

Bob was recognised with a Medal of the Order of Australia
in the Queens Birthday Honours for his
dedication and commitment to the Friends work

From the earliest days, the Friends have tackled both aims with clear plans and the ability to get things done with the dedication of willing and passionate community volunteers. Key to this has been a collaborative approach to working with community, all levels of government and in recent years, philanthropic support. It hasn’t all been clear sailing, but together, we have achieved much.

#1 Improve the status of the Helmeted Honeyeater in the wild

  • An early priority was to look after what remained of the natural habitat in the Yellingbo area and wherever possible developing revegetation projects to improve or create new habitat. This continues today. At first the Friends were not needed as volunteers in the Yellingbo Nature Conservation Area (YNCA), so the focus of the revegetation group became working with landholders whose land was close to YNCA. A total of 16 landholders allowed the Friends to revegetate with 15,000 plants into fenced off parts of their properties in the first 6 years of the Friends operation. In recent years, our attention again turns to engaging local landholders through our highly successful Beyond Yellingbo Program. Plants and animals don’t stop existing at reserve boundaries.
  • In the years that followed, it became apparent that the habitat restoration works needed to be switched to the reserve. From then, and continuing now, the group annually conducts a number of revegetation and restoration projects. Volunteers include school children from primary through to tertiary age, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, community groups and corporate groups. In recent years, contractors have also been engaged. We estimate close to 2 million habitat plants are now in the ground, and providing refuge for many species.
  • Very early on, it became obvious that the Friends needed an indigenous plant nursery to provide the best possible plant stock. From humble beginnings the nursery at Yellingbo has grown to a medium sized operation that now supplies plants for the Friends, Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water, schools, Yarra Ranges Council, other agencies and local landholders. From a few thousand plants in 1992, approximately 90,000 plants are provided annually today. At the beginning volunteer managers supervised all volunteer workers. It soon became a priority to employ a manager and an assistant. These roles continue today. Volunteer assistance ensures that the nursery is a profitable social enterprise with all profits going directly back into the work that the Friends do. The work associated with the nursery has meant that the Friends have developed an understanding of YNCA which is invaluable for habitat restoration both in the reserve, and elsewhere in our region. Our advice and input is sought after.
  • In 1995 the first release of captive bred Helmeted Honeyeaters from Healesville Sanctuary into the wild at Yellingbo failed (much was learnt). Releases at Yellingbo resumed in 2006, with success, and continue today. Releases meant that supplementary feeding would require a regular group of volunteers. The Friends were actively involved, both volunteering in the field and with coordination. From 2015-2020 DELWP (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) provided funding for the Friends to employ a Coordinator of Volunteers for the Helmeted Honeyeater field program. The Friends grew this program from approx 30 to over 120 volunteers actively involved in the field program each month, across 4 days p/week. This volunteer coordination role has now returned to DELWP. The Friends continue their active involvement in the field program through the Helmeted Honeyeater Recovery Team.

#2 increase public awareness of the status of the Helmeted Honeyeater

  • In 1992 funding was obtained to employ a Community Education/Environmental Coordinator for 1 day p/week for 3 years. This was so successful that the Friends have funded this position since 1995 through sales from the plant nursery, short-medium term grants and in more recent times philanthropic support. The Coordinator is now employed 3 days p/week. An important function of the Coordinator is to obtain funding for habitat restoration within YNCA.
  • Working with people of all ages and backgrounds, the Coordinator opens up opportunity for people to learn about the flora and fauna of YNCA, whilst engaging them in practical programs in the reserve. A particular focus has been with local community groups, schools and businesses. Our Ambassador Program was launched in 2006, with local upper primary school aged children participating in an intensive study of the Helmeted Honeyeater, Leadbeater’s Possum and mentorship. As Ambassadors they are charged with working with their contemporaries to educate them about conservation issues for the State Emblems. Check out the rap song produced one year!
  • In 2021, the Friends expanded their programs into citizen science. A part-time Community Engagement Facilitator has been employed to deliver this program, and help facilitate broader outreach programs across the breadth of our activities. Our events page now brims with ways to get involved with us and connect with threatened species conservation.
  • The publication and display of educational materials has been a high priority. In 1992 Premier Joan Kirner launched the Friends education kit, which was made available to all schools in the Eastern Region. From those beginnings, much more has been published and celebrated. 
  • Despite the significant impacts of COVID-19, from 2020 continuing for multiple years, it brought new ways of operating. The world started embracing online tools of engagement, and we were no exception. Social media, Zoom, webinars etc became the norm. In 2021, the Friends embarked on a year of celebration – the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the Helmeted Honeyeater and Leadbeater’s Possum as Victoria’s endemic faunal emblems. The Acting Premier James Merlino opened a year of events by the Friends on 10/03/21, hosted by Zoos Victoria. The year culminated in an online Symposium and Art Exhibition (originally planned for in-person at our local art centre, Burrinja). The positive with the change in plan was that many more people where able to participate in these events.

Our three pillars, Healthy Birds, Healthy Habitat, Healthy Organisation

A feature of the Friends efforts since 1989 has been the ability of the group to be an advocate for the Helmeted Honeyeater and its special environment. Governors of Victoria have accepted the role of Chief Patron and they have either visited YNCA or received visits from the Friends. Members of State Parliament have visited YNCA as have Yarra Ranges Councillors at the invitation of the Friends. Successes of the group are in evidence when one sees that revegetation projects are maturing and providing new and improved habitat for the Helmeted Honeyeater. In 2006 the Friends joined with Macclesfield Landcare to produce a Local Area Plan (LAP) which was launched by former Premier Joan Kirner. The LAP became the forerunner of a number of initiatives that have provided the stimulus for present day programs that work towards ensuring the habitat for Helmeted Honeyeater and every plant and animal that co-exists with them is maintained and improved. The Yarra for Life (Y4L) program organised by the former Port Phillip and Westernport CMA (now part of Melbourne Water), working with local landholders to improve and increase indigenous vegetation on their properties was successful in part with the strong relationships the Friends fostered, and continue to foster today. The 2021 release of the Yellingbo (Liwik Barring) Landscape Conservation Area 10-Year Plan had its beginnings more than 15 years prior thanks to a united community, led by the Friends and Johns Hill Landcare representatives. This Plan will better manage public land between multiple reserves in the Yarra Valley with the purpose of ensuring future hope for conservation of the Helmeted Honeyeater and Leadbeater’s Possum. A $10M+ budget from the State Government, administered by DELWP, should see significant outcomes.

In addition to working to support their aims, the Friends have assisted DELWP’s Senior Ornithologist, Bruce Quin, wherever possible. Bird surveys, supplementary feeding and record keeping have been the main tasks. In partnership with Bruce, the Friends are able to share their knowledge of the reserve.

The captive breeding program at Healesville Sanctuary receives positive attention from the Friends. Since 1989 when David Middleton set up the program and later when Ian Smales, Iain Stych and Karina Cartwright continued with the project, the Friends have always provided support when required. Close liaison is maintained with Karina and the captive breeding program has become a vital part of the community education program, both for the school Ambassadors and the Friends membership. Over the past years, and in present times, Zoos Victoria’s CEOs have all provided the Friends with much support and encouragement.

Despite the significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic first being felt from early 2020 and continuing into our present, the Friends stays resilient, with the knowledge that we have always operated on the belief that good environmental outcomes are achieved through collaboration and staying focussed on your objectives. As Bob reminds us, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”


  • In 2015 the Friends were awarded Zoos Victoria’s Hall of Fame Honorary Life Achievement Award for the group’s tireless work in the recovery of the iconic Victorian species
  • In 2009 the Friends were nominated for the State & Territory Landcare Awards and were highly commended in the Landcare Community Group Award
  • In 2008 the Friends were nominated for the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) Peter Rawlinson Conservation Award and were highly commended
  • In 2008 the Friends were nominated for the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority (PPWCMA) Landcare Awards and received The Community Group Caring For Public Land Award
  • In 2006 the Friends were nominated for the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority (PPWCMA) Landcare Awards and received The Caring For Nature Award
  • In 2005 the Friends were nominated for the Keep Australia Beautiful Victoria Awards and received the Protection of the Environment Award.

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