Tributes flow for Ipswich’s bilby man Frank Manthey

It’s safe to say Frank Manthey left the world a better place than he found it.

The Save the Bilby Fund co-founder passed away a few weeks ago on 21 May.

Ipswich’s ‘bilby man’ leaves behind the bilby burrow at the Ipswich Nature Centre, which he lobbied for in the 2000s.

Frank told Ipswich First in an interview last year he bought the first bilbies to Ipswich in 2002 when he moved here from Charleville.

“When I first moved to Ipswich from Charleville, a lot of people had never even heard of a bilby let alone seen one,” he said.

“Ipswich is a major key player in that role. The burrow at the Ipswich Nature Centre is a large size and it’s made out of false rock. It looks like a bilby burrow, not just a box. A lot of thought has gone into creating the best possible home for them.”

Frank dedicated his life to educating children through his conservation work for bilbies, visiting schools across Queensland and beyond.

Frank was a giant in conservation circles. He worked frequently with the likes of environmentalist royalty, Dr Jane Goodall, who is best known for living with chimpanzees in the wild.

Frank first met Dr Goodall when she came to meet one of Ipswich’s famous bilby triplets, which was named after her.

After Frank’s wife, Eve, died in 1996 he set up the Save the Bilby Fund alongside Peter McRae, who died last year.

Before that he had worked as a Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger. 

Dr Jane Goodall and Frank Manthey.

Such was his influence, in 2001 he was named Australian Geographic’s Conservationist of the Year and in 2005 he lobbied the federal government to declare the second Sunday in September each year as National Bilby Day.

Frank was behind fundraising the $500,000 to build the bilby fence at Currawinya National Park so bilbies could live and breed in safety.

In 2012 he received an Australian Order of Merit OAM award for service to wildlife preservation.

He conducted hundreds of presentations across the state with a bilby in hand. 

Environmentalists, organisations and friends have paid tribute to Frank on his Facebook page:

Ipswich Nature Centre Senior Zoologist Nicole Richards described Frank as someone who was able to spark the fire of passion in others.

“Frank was deeply connected with the environment and bilbies, and after anyone watched him talk about them, they would be too,” she said.

Frank’s tireless campaigning has ensured that bilbies have a future in Queensland.

A section of the letter sent to Frank’s family from Ipswich Nature Centre Senior Zoologist Nicole Richards:

For many years you regularly visited the Nature Centre to take ‘Lester’ or ‘Pauly’ on school visits, to teach the kids about bilbies and conservation issues Australia is facing.

You always knew that the most effective method for sparking the fire of passion in others was to show them up close and personally what originally sparked it in you.

The way you were able to develop a connection with the environment and interest in animals for anyone and everyone, was something amazing to watch you do.

How you would sit down with a group of children and captivate them with your enthusiasm and stories, then you would pull out that soft grey, long-eared creature.

To see their eyes light up, including yours, was something truly special.

From the Ipswich Nature Centre team and myself, would like to thank you for everything you have done for us over the years.

For allowing us the opportunity to display, care for and breed bilbies, and for giving the people of Ipswich (and surrounds) the opportunity to see this unique creature up close.

Our bilby burrow, which you helped create, is a major highlight for visitors at the zoo and we will continue to do what we can to educate our visitors on these magnificent animals.

Frank’s family posted on his Facebook page thanking wellwishers:

The final word goes to Frank Manthey. 

He wrote these words in 2014 when he retired from his position with Save the Bilby Fund of which he was a co-founder:

To all my wonderful bilby friends, the time I never wanted to come has sadly arrived. I knew the day would come when I would have to stop doing what I have given a large part of my life to – saving bilbies. I never expected, though, that my health would bring my work to a close this soon.

What an incredible journey it has been! I have many wonderful memories, but one of the most memorable is starting the bilby shows in Charleville. I had no DVDS to play and no merchandise to sell, so the only thing I could tell the 4 people who paid $5 to attend the first show was about the vision of 2 people who wanted to build a very large predator-proof fence to try and save bilbies. The visitors were delighted to see the bilbies running around in their breeding enclosure. In 2002, I moved to Ipswich to be close to the action and placed bilbies at Dreamworld so I could access them easily for my visits to schools and events. I will never forget the joy on the children’s faces when they see their first bilby.

Other memories I will always cherish are achieving National Bilby Day, and having an exhibit at the Sydney Show, our wonderful schools crossword competition….and so very many more. Over the years, the bilby message has been heard by many thousands of people, both here and overseas. This would never have happened without the tireless support of our wonderful staff and volunteers.

I would like to thank you all for supporting us over the years. Our project has been a people project – your involvement has made it and will continue to make it a huge success.

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