Gould League of Bird Lovers of New South Wales membership

Gould League of Bird Lovers of New South Wales membership certificate 1932 (2000-437-1)

The Gould League of Bird Lovers was named after English naturalist John Gould who researched Australian birds between 1838 and 1840. His wife, Elizabeth, a natural history artist, drew them. The Gould League was immensely popular with the children of NSW. 

Membership certificate

In the early years, members would pay one penny each year, or a shilling for adults. In return they received a membership certificate. These were postcard-sized from 1931 and illustrated in full colour with paintings of native birds. Prior to this they were larger in monochrome green then brown.

Gould League of Bird Lovers of New South Wales membership certificate 1933 (2000-437-2)

Pledge

The League’s aim was to protect native birds by reducing the collection of birds’ eggs. On joining, members agreed to the pledge:

I hereby promise to protect all birds except those that are noxious and to refrain from the unnecessary collection of wild birds’ eggs.

Gould League of Bird Lovers of New South Wales membership certificate 1934 (2000-437-3)

Membership badge

From 1928 members could also buy a badge featuring a native bird, a different one each year. These were intended for adults but were very popular with children. Originally costing a shilling, in the early 1950s they cost 1/6 – one shilling and sixpence. Oh, the anticipation waiting for that badge to finally arrive!

Gould League of Bird Lovers of NSW badges collected by teacher FJ Hicks. The 1950 badge features a King Parrot and the 1951 badge features a Peewee, also known as a Magpie Lark.

Gould League Notes

In the early years the Gould League’s Bird Life Supplement was issued for teachers with the Public Instruction Gazette, which became the Education Gazette. Then, every year from 1935 the mailbox would bring schools  copies of the magazine, Gould League Notes, overflowing with bird facts, photographs and competition entries and results. From 1967 it became The Gould Leaguer.

Gould League of Bird Lovers of New South Wales membership certificate 1936 (2021-303)

Founding of the NSW Gould League

On the first Bird Day in October 1911 a celebratory concert was held – the anniversary of when young teacher Edward Webster and headmaster Walter Finigan had stood under a tree in the playground of Wellington Public School in 1910 and decided to launch a Gould League of Bird Lovers in NSW. These co-founders wanted to emulate what Jessie McMichael had started in Victoria the year before.

Membership numbers

The number of NSW Gould League members went from 13 at the first meeting in 1910 to over a thousand by 1912. By 1935 there were over one million student members across over 3000 branches. Over 100,000 membership cards were being mailed out in the 1960s.

Gould League of Bird Lovers of New South Wales membership certificate 1937 (2021-304)

Bird Day events

In October each year, Bird Day concerts featured music, dance, puppetry and bird-call competitions. They were held at night until 1959 when day-time concerts in school hours were permitted. Bird Day became Bird Week held in October each year and concerts and competitions continued.

Bird call competitions

Bird call competition teams competed for the Dawson Memorial Shield whilst individuals for trophy cups. Open for schools across the state, the League paid travelling expenses and organised billeting arrangements. Billeting involved students staying with competing students’ families, a common arrangement for various school competitions to the 1990s.

Gould League of Bird Lovers of New South Wales membership certificate 1938 (2021-305)

Competitions and prizes

Gould League membership encouraged first adults, and then children, to write bird essays, draw birds, take photographs, practise bird calls and record field observations in preparation for competitions and displays throughout the state. Parents were encouraged to participate. Prizes consisted of money and books.

At Wellington, where the League had been born, Maggie May from Nanima Aboriginal Reserve won a book in 1912, 2nd prize of 5 shillings in 1913 and 1st prize of 10 shillings sixpence in 1914 aged 12 ½  for her story ‘An Autobiography of a Jacky Winter’.

In 1936 there were no less than 12 individual bird related competitions with two sections just for adult members. The student competitions asked them to write essays, produce drawings or photographs and complete reports on local bird activities.

Gould League merit badge

A special section awarded a prize of an inscribed Gould League Merit Badge to a member who ‘can induce any Australian Native Bird, other than a pet bird, to alight or perch on his or her person.’ The claim had to be accompanied by an official statement of truth.

Gould League of Bird Lovers of New South Wales membership certificate 1949 (2000-437)

NSW Department of Education support

At least until the 1960s the League’s president was a high-ranking officer of the NSW Department of Education, originally the Chief Inspector of Schools and then the Director-General of Education. The Education Gazette encouraged teachers to motivate and support their students’ active participation in bird study and Gould League activities. Special certificates were provided for schools with one hundred percent membership, listed as honour rolls in the magazine, Gould League Notes. The Gazette listed details of competitions and prizes as well as resources for teachers. 

Impacts

Generations of Australian students were introduced to an appreciation of the natural world through participation in Gould League activities. By 1918, when the first generation of Gould League members were voters, the Birds and Animals Protection Act was passed, followed by the Fauna Protection Act 1948 and the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1967. In 1965 the League’s slogan was ‘Conservation is everybody’s business’.

Card promoting the League’s 1955 membership badge at a cost of one shilling and sixpence. (2021-311)

Broader focus

In 1967  the NSW Gould League merged with the NSW Young Tree Wardens and dropped ‘Bird Lovers’ from its title. Its aim broadened to conservation and environmental education. It aimed “to promote a healthy attitude toward, and an awareness of, the importance of all aspects of conservation and stimulate interest in the preservation and study of most forms of natural life”. (Gould League of NSW minutes, 26 September 1967 in Tribe and Roberts 2011).

The Gould League of NSW’s new pledge was:

Earth is our home and I promise to try to keep it beautiful by learning to understand and conserve its soils, air, water, natural beauty and all its living things.

The League played a major role in establishing field studies centres in NSW. It helped to establish one at Wirrimbirra, Bargo, and funded a classroom at Longneck Lagoon Reserve. The League also played a role in establishing Muogamarra Field Studies Centre north of Cowan in 1971. The League had a spot on children’s television, the Super Flying Fun Show, and launched the Project Environment competition for K-12 students through the Sydney Morning Herald in 1973.

Resources and services

Through the 1980s and 1990s the Gould League of NSW continued to promote environmental education in schools. It became the major supplier of environmental education resource materials and had a comprehensive catalogue of posters, books and resources produced by the national body, as well as other publishers. Schools who were paid affiliates received The Gould Leaguer and newsletters for each teacher. The League also offered environmental education consultancy, professional development and materials to assist in the formation of Gould League clubs in schools. 

The Gould League Pledge and membership certificate 1996

A century of nature conservation education

With a network of 25 NSW Department of Education environmental and zoo education centres successfully running,  and in a world of digital resources, the Gould League of NSW closed in 2010. The Gould Leagues of Victoria and Western Australia still remain active today.

References and further information

Gass, Carole and Wellington Historical Society Inc (2010). Gould League centenary: booklet 1910-2010, Wellington NSW. Wellington Historical Society, Wellington, NSW

Gould League of Bird Lovers of New South Wales (1960), Gould League Notes. Vol. 26, 1960. Sydney, NSW

Gould League of NSW (undated), The Gould Leaguer, Vol. 3, Number 1. Sydney, NSW

Roberts, Paul and Tribe, David (2011). The Gould League in New South Wales: from bird lovers to environmentalists. Gould League of NSW, Winston Hills, NSW