The Save the Bilby Fund was established in 1999 by the late Frank Manthey OAM and the late Scientist Peter McRae. They were known together as ‘the bilby brothers’. They had a shared passion to save the bilby and threw themselves into fundraising to build the predator exclusion fence at Currawinya, so that they could have a chance at rebuilding bilby populations in Queensland.
The accomplished zoologist grew up at Finley in southern NSW where he worked for a time for Peter Menegazzo.
He arrived in Charleville to work with the National Parks and Wildlife Service in 1984, concentrating for a time on yellow-footed rock wallabies before transferring to bilby preservation work.
“Without Peter’s passion and understanding of how tragic it would be to lose these animals, I believe we would have already lost the bilby,” Save the Bilby Fund CEO, Kevin Bradley said.
“He was an inspirational person and the Australian landscape owes him a lot.
“Peter was instrumental in the conservation of threatened species in Queensland, in particular the greater bilby, and because of his dedication and research, conservation in our state has greatly improved,” Queensland’s environment minister, Leanne Enoch commented.
“His contribution to our current knowledge of the ecology of the outback was tremendous, and I would like to acknowledge the significance of his hard work and its outcomes.
Peter was also much loved in western Queensland for his musical talent, particularly as the singer and guitarist for B&S rock band, the Scary Bears, and was always identifiable by his beard and laidback dress code.
Fellow musician and former Murweh shire chairman, Mark O’Brien, said that while many sought out Peter’s friendship in the musical arena, he liked talking with him about politics and environmental matters.
“I often sought him out for advice and some of my best memories are sitting in his kitchen, either with a coffee or a bourbon, depending on the time of day,” he said. “He never shot from the hip – there was a whole heap of sincerity in whatever he did.”
“I remember going to Currawinya spotlighting with my brother and Peter and Tracy, and counting 23 bilbies when we only expected to see three.
“It was a great night for us all because we could see the program was working the way Peter hoped it would.”
Frank tragically lost his wife Eve in 1996 and following her passing, dedicated his time to preserving the bilby, setting up the fund alongside Peter McRae.
Save the Bilby Fund CEO Kevin Bradley said:
“he touched many, many people, he was the kind of person whose passion was palpable.”
“I first became involved with Frank in 2001 and was absolutely taken by his raw passion, horsepower and simplistic view on life.
“He had an absolute sincere love of the Australian bush, the people, the animals, all of it.
“He’s been a mentor to me and many others, he was a huge believer in the importance of education and engaging children as young as possible to learn from some of the mistakes of his generation and mine, made over the last 200 odd years.”
Frank was a former Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger before he established the Save the Bilby Fund, alongside Peter. His dedication to preserving Australian wildlife earned him a number of accolades.
Frank was in 2001 named Australian Geographic’s Conservationist of the Year, for his work with the bilby fund.
In 2005, he was successful in convincing the federal government to recognise the Greater Bilby as an iconic species by declaring the second Sunday in September each year as National Bilby Day.
In 2012 he was bestowed the honour of receiving an Australian Order of Merit OAM award, for service to wildlife preservation, particularly as co-founder of Save the Bilby Fund.
Mr Bradley said when Frank retired from the fund due to health issues in 2014, he stepped up as CEO and had huge shoes to fill.
“Frank was a one off, they threw away the mold with him.”
He said his death marked the end of the ‘Bilby Brothers, but their legacies would live on.
“It’s a tragic loss, these men have done incredible work and have been responsible for putting the spotlight on the issue of not just bilbies, but a lot of outback species facing a perilous threat. They put the issue into the spotlight, raised money and awareness and we are carrying that mission through today with the Bilby Fund 20 years old this year.
“He was a very strong, unique personality, just one of those colourful people in life that leave a true hole. Peter was the same, they were the true odd couple.”
The Save the Bilby Fund is totally committed to continue to work towards Pete & Frank’s vision of preventing the bilby from becoming extinct, which in itself will ensure the survival of many other endangered species in the outback, as was their passion. We miss both of them immensely and will do everything we can to honour their legacy.