The inaugural meeting of the WA Naturalists’ Club was held on 3 July 1924 under the direction of W.M. Carne (botanist), J. Clark (entomologist) and D.L. Serventy (journalist and ornithologist). After a few preliminary venues, most regular meetings were held at the museum between 1928 and 1962, when a hall was purchased in Merriwa Street, Nedlands. The Hall was used for meetings and occasional fund-raising activities and it housed a library of donated books and newsletters. In 1979, the Hall was enlarged and was sold in 1997 to be replaced by the present library and office in Northbridge, and monthly meetings are now held at the University of Western Australia. The club also owns a field station 100km south of Perth at Yunderup, built by members on land vested in the Club by the WA government in 1970.
In 1924 a council was appointed to discuss plans for the future and to draw up rules. It consisted of a president, and secretary/treasurer (separated in 1925), 2 vice-presidents and 5 council members. Recorders were also appointed to name and discuss specimens brought in by members. A constitution, drawn up in 1936, confirmed the composition of the council. This was revised in 1976 when the Club was incorporated. The Club passed through a period of diminished activity from 1932 to 1946 due to personality conflicts followed by the war but rebounded to become an active Club with increasing membership after the war.
From the start, excursions, publications and exhibitions were discussed. Early excursions took the form of afternoon visits to local areas of interest. Although a few one-day excursions are still arranged, most are now 2-3 day weekend excursions and longer surveys to many parts of the State including the Kimberley, the Wheatbelt and the Goldfields. Occasional overseas trips have also been organised (eg to Malaysia, Thailand).
Circulars and leaflets were sent out to members from the beginning to advertise future activities. These led to the publication in 1960 of The WA Naturalists’ News, which continues to give monthly reports on meetings and excursions and other items of interest. Original articles of scientific interest are published 2-4 times a year in a journal, The Western Australian Naturalist, established in 1946 and distributed world-wide. Since 1950, 15 handbooks by members with specific expertise in fauna, flora or ecology have been printed and sold in bookshops.
Exhibitions were held annually between 1926 and 1931, and sporadically up to 1939, to publicise the Club and to raise funds. This practice was re-established after the war as “The Wildlife Show” in various locations in Perth (Perth Town Hall up to 1972, Fremantle 1973, Wanneroo 1979, Herdsman 1990) and subsequently “Arts and Crafts” shows were held (usually in the Naturalists’ Hall in Nedlands) to raise revenue. Other fundraising events have included public lectures, named the “Serventy Memorial Lecture” since 1990 after the contribution of the Serventy family to the establishment and continued support of the Club.
At the first meeting of the Club there were 7 people present and 7 absentees; today there are 600 members. The Club recognized the diverse background of its members and several groups have been developed based on age, interest and locality. Junior members held separate meetings from 1930 and were nominally divided into Juniors (8-13 years) and Intermediates (14-18 years) in 1941. Separate meetings and excursions were held from 1970 until 1992 when Senior enthusiasm and support lapsed. Many of these members have since become professional naturalists. In recent years excursions for Young Nats have been arranged. A “Retired and Leisured” group has met twice a month since 1971.
Interest groups that were founded or encouraged by the Club include Conservation Council of WA (1967), Marine Research Group (1958), Insect Study Group (1970s) and recently fungus and bush-walking groups.
In addition to the Main Club, there are three branches in the Perth region. These are Darling Range Branch (1974), Kwinana, Rockingham, Mandurah Branch (1980) and Northern Suburbs Branch (1985) who hold their own meetings and excursions. Several regional Natural History societies exchange newsletters, as affiliated members, while the close integration between amateur and professional naturalists continues to provide a unique and vibrant Club.