Wildlife Matters

Australian Wildlife Conservancy: celebrating the first thirty years

26 Oct. 2021
Wayne Lawler/AWC

By Dr Hannah Sheppard Brennand, AWC Writer and book Editor

Australia is home to some of the most unique wildlife in the world, from the improbable Bilby with its enormous ears, to the Purple-crowned Fairywren with its loyal partnerships, to the highly social Great Desert Skink. But this wildlife is in crisis. In just over two centuries, over 100 plant and animal species have become extinct and every year Australia’s threatened species list continues to grow. AWC’s mission is to turn back this decline – to effectively conserve all Australian animal species and the habitats in which they live.

The story of AWC began on 2 August, 1991, when AWC Founder Martin Copley AM purchased Karakamia Wildlife Sanctuary in Western Australia. Through the incredible dedication of scientists, land managers, office staff, supporters, volunteers and conservation partners, thirty years later AWC is one of the largest private owners of land for conservation in Australia and works alone or in partnership from the Kimberley to Cape York and from the Coral Coast to the Eyre Peninsula and Sunshine Coast.

Scatterplot Scalingupthroughtime
Starting with only 268 hectares in 1991, through land acquisition and partnerships AWC continues to scale up conservation across Australia.

To commemorate this major milestone – three decades of effective conservation – AWC is releasing a special book. Featuring 40 stories from over 60 authors, including Professors Tim Flannery, Sarah Legge, Thomas Lovejoy, John Woinarski and many others, this book gives evidence of the commitment and passion of all those involved with the organisation, both past and present.

AWC Bookcover
The book cover features a special illustration – An Unexpected Gathering by Peter Schouten AM – created especially for AWC. The artwork features seven species important to AWC’s story.

Here is a sneak peek into the book’s pages:


By Sir David Attenborough

Today AWC’s reserves – all 6.5 million hectares up and down the continent – are looked after by teams of Australians who on occasion have to endure extremely harsh conditions. Sometimes they have to deal with very real dangers from fire, from predators and from many other crises. But they have shown us all, repeatedly and dramatically, that if we take care of nature, nature will take care of us. Long may AWC flourish!

Building a New Model for Conservation

By Atticus Fleming, Inaugural AWC CEO (2002-2018)

In November 2001, while still based in Canberra, I called Martin Copley about a job. Tim Flannery had told me about this English businessman who was passionate about saving Australia’s endangered mammals (to be fair, Tim may have described it as an obsession). Martin’s passion had driven him to set up a non-profit conservation organisation, and he was now on the lookout for its first chief executive.

To those who knew him well, it will come as no surprise that Martin was on the tennis court when I called. We spoke for a while about wildlife and business and some of his frustrations with government. This phone call spurred me to travel over to Perth, where what started as a job interview rapidly turned into a strategy session in which we mapped out the next steps in building a non-profit model for conservation that could help turn back the tide of extinctions.

That night I visited Karakamia, and marvelled at what Martin and his small team had achieved already. Entering the property was like stepping back in time – as the sun set, the fox- and cat-free woodlands came alive with Woylies, Quenda and other small mammals. I recall thinking, ‘This is what the Australian bush should be like.’

Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary: It takes a community

By Danae Moore, AWC National Science Team member & Josef Schofield, AWC Regional Operations Manager

It’s hard to explain in words the feeling we had when the first Mala, or Rufous Hare-wallaby, was released into its new home at Newhaven. A moment in time. A little creature seen in the soft dusty torchlight, nose twitching as it tentatively glanced around, before bounding into the blackness of the spinifex at night. All the years of dedicated relentless work, the wins, the losses and learnings, the commitment we’d all made to each other and to this special bit of country. Such a simple and natural moment, yet loaded with so many layers of meaning and emotion.

The Mala is one of Australia’s most endangered mammals. Once widespread across central and western Australia, there are now no naturally occurring wild populations on mainland Australia. The Mala was once particularly abundant in central Australia, including in the region around Newhaven. By the 1950s, however, its range had contracted as a result of wildfire and feral predators to a small population in the Tanami Desert. For Ngalia Warlpiri people there are many important connections between Mala and the Newhaven region.

Newhaven Mala Wayne Lawler/AWC
An endangered Mala. AWC has reintroduced the species to Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary.


Recovery After Fire: caring for people, place and the Kangaroo Island Dunnart

By Dr Eridani Mulder, AWC Senior Wildlife Ecologist

Over the years I’ve managed to visit almost every AWC sanctuary and partnership site (except for Dakalanta and Yampi Sound Training Area—still!), with many wondrous, challenging and downright amusing situations, including putting Northern Quolls in temporary detention to prevent trap saturation. The organisation has fostered a collective can-do mindset, tethered by the common goal of conserving Australia’s plants and animals and the habitats in which they live. We care about wildlife and wild places, and I am grateful to be able to witness people demonstrating that care every day. It has never been just a job, but always a rare privilege and an inordinate adventure.


AWC’s Mission: A legacy for the future

By Tim Allard, AWC Chief Executive

Ultimately, conservation is nothing without people. Our excellence is the excellence of a team of committed people: from our ecologists and land managers living and working in often challenging conditions, to those who work in the back office making sure the business of AWC operates efficiently. From our volunteers who are incredibly generous with their time, to our supporters who enable AWC to deliver conservation action. And from our Science Advisory Network to our board, whose knowledge and experience forge our path. It truly requires a family unit to deliver the success that we have had at AWC over the past thirty years, and the AWC family will continue to deliver and leave an effective and inspiring legacy for many decades to come.

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Wayne Lawler/AWC
Wayne Lawler/AWC
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