Gould League of Birdlovers: the end of an era

Gould League of Birdlovers montage of images.

The Gould League of Birdlovers has recently announced it will disband after more than 100 years of supporting NSW school students.

The league was founded by Walter Finigan, a young teacher from Wellington Public School, and his principal, Edward Webster, in October 1910.

The organisation has had a long and close relationship with the NSW Department of Education and Communities.

Since its inception, successive director-generals have held the honorary position of president.

The league was a forerunner of many of today's existing sustainable and environmental organisations.

"Whilst it is sad that the league is being disbanded, it is also recognition of the tremendous journey we have made in environmental education in the last century," said the department's senior development officer, sustainability, Mark Caddey. 

"We now have a broad range of excellent programs in our schools to guide and educate our students about many aspects of the natural and built environment.

"The winding up of the league in NSW is a good opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved and where we have come from."

A century ago, the most prized possession for adventurous little boys was the egg collections pilfered from the nests of native birds.

The league set out to change community attitudes and educate children and adults that our native birds would not survive if they continued to be killed in large numbers and eggs raided.

"The league instilled in children an ease with their natural world, an appreciation of its wonder and a desire to protect it," Mr Caddey said.

By 1920, more than 92,000 school students were members of the league, and by the late 1950s one in four students were members.

One person with fond memories of being a Gould League of Birdlovers member is Gordon West Public School assistant principal, Jillian Cupitt.

"Being a Gould league member as a child in primary school made me feel like I belonged to a group that was learning about and protecting our native bushland and its wildlife," Ms Cupitt said.

"I have continued to share my passion for the environment with all the students I have taught throughout my 18-year teaching career in the hope they too might experience the joys, wonder and value of learning about the unique Australian environment."

Some of the history of the league has been captured in the recently launched book The Gould League in NSW: From Bird Lovers to Environmentalists.

It contains a quote from the first league president James Dawson, which has maintained its relevance.

"Caring for birds will make us careful too of our trees and forests which are the homes of birds. It makes us better Australians and better men and women to take care of the trees and birds and flowers of our native land," he said.

Find out more about current and future ways students and teachers can get involved with the environment.

Image: provided by the Gould League of Birdlovers.

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