By founding club member and Vice-President, George Broadway
Inspired by the active Maryborough and Bendigo Field Naturalists Clubs, in 1976 Ray Bradfield, local historian and life-long resident of Vaughan, decided it was time that Castlemaine also had one. And so in March 1976 he put a notice in the local paper inviting those interested to a meeting to decide whether to go ahead. The meeting was held in the CHIRP building in Mostyn Street, which had been the S.E.C. building until the local branch was closed down and the building became the home of the Castlemaine Education Centre. There was a large upstairs room which was used for meetings, and on that first night it was rather full. It was decided to form a club with Ray Bradfield as President and Geoff Sitch and George Broadway as Vice-Presidents. George Broadway, Ern Perkins, Rita Mills and Don Walker were all members of the High School staff. Rita was appointed Secretary and Ern was Newsletter Editor. Geoff Sitch was a retired (early) teacher who had set up a native plant nursery on the Maldon road near the Walmer Road. He and Ern both had a detailed knowledge of flora and were able to identify most of the specimens encountered.
It was decided that general meetings would be held on the third Wednesday of the month and Committee meetings on the first Thursday. Outings would be held on the Saturday following the meeting. It was later decided that it would be better to hold the meetings on a Friday evening in order to make it easier for visiting guest speakers.
The next decision was to produce a news sheet. To quote the Minutes from the first meeting: “It was decided to print a news sheet on trial. Printing costs will be 4c a copy. Postage costs make distribution by post uneconomical. Mr Perkins to produce the sheet”. In those days each edition was produced literally by cut and paste, and there were no photographs. Once assembled from the various contributions, the original was taken to the Education Centre, which had a photocopier. The first news sheet was published in April 1976, a mere two months after the club was formed and one month after the first general meeting. By December 1976 members could collect their copy from the Education Centre (above where CHIRP is now) or the market building (Tourist Information Centre now) for 10c.
The first guest speaker was Alan “Curly” Hartup, who ran a motor garage in Newstead. Curly was an expert bird photographer who was much in demand as a judge of photographic competitions. The first field trip was to Basalt, an area near Daylesford; it was led by Maureen Watts of the Daylesford Save-our-bush group. A total of 24 plants were listed, the first of many which were to be added on subsequent outings. Another decision of the first meeting was to have specimen cards printed for members to use to record findings. They were pocket size, with spaces to record the name of the specimen (if known), locality and date. This information found its way into Ern’s computer and eventually into the Castlemaine Flora (Wild Plants of the Castlemaine District) website, which he established. Bird sightings were also recorded and later used to produce the Shire checklist.
Later we were able to use the Canteen shelter at the High School for our meetings. While there we also had a storage cupboard for our belongings which was very useful. When the room became unavailable, meetings were transferred to the Uniting Church Hall.
During the first year the club held a campout in tents in the Grampians. This excursion was led by Geoff Sitch, who had a detailed knowledge of the area because of his plant collecting activities, so we were able to visit some less visited areas. Other memorable campouts include one at the Hattah Lakes and another at a camp called Kangaroobie at Princetown near Port Campbell, where we went to visit the glow-worms at Melba Gully. There have also been some small group trips involving only a few members. These included a camp at Gluepot, another at Terrick Terrick, and one where we stayed in shearers’ quarters in Queensland; while there we attended a rodeo at Windorah and boiled the billy under a Coolibah tree on the bank of Cooper Creek.
In addition to our founding members, one of our stalwarts was Maggie Oliver. She had been Director of Nursing at Maldon before she retired. She was in charge of the tea after meetings for a considerable time, and it was she who organised the shearers’ quarters and visits to the stations, and she always decided when it was time for the afternoon tea on our outings.
In May 2008 a number of members attended the Australian Naturalists’ Network get-together in Darwin, where they were taken to places like Kakadu, the Wildlife Park, Ubirr and the Fogg Dam. They stayed in cabins at the Mary River Campground and saw crocodiles in the river. Other highlights of the early days were the times we hosted meetings of the Western Victorian Field Naturalists Clubs Association and the Victorian Field Naturalists Clubs Association (now known as the South East Australian Naturalists Association) as we did again in spring 2019.