One half of the Bilby Brothers, Peter McRae, passed away suddenly on Friday, aged 67.
The Charleville identity who has been crucial to the survival of the native marsupial, the greater bilby, died following a stroke.
The news has shocked the western Queensland community, which has come together this weekend not only to celebrate its 150th anniversary, but for its annual Bilby Festival.
“Without Peter’s passion and understanding of how tragic it would be to lose these animals, we wouldn’t all be here at the moment,” Save the Bilby Fund CEO, Kevin Bradley said.
“He was an inspirational person and the Australian landscape owes him a lot.
“He was a generous friend to a lot of people as well, and our thoughts are with his partner, Tracy Wattz, and his many friends.”
Peter was instrumental in the conservation of threatened species in Queensland
Queensland’s Environment Minister, Leeanne Enoch, said she was greatly saddened to hear of Peter’s passing and has paid tribute to his work over the course of 34 years with the Department of Environment and Science.
“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,” she said.
“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.
“I would like to pass on my sincere condolences to his partner Tracy, his friends, family and colleagues, and the many people who knew and loved Peter. He will be greatly missed.”
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.
Recognising the importance of acting immediately, Peter and fellow NPWS staff member, Frank Manthey, started the Save the Bilby Fund in 1999 to raise money and awareness.
It has resulted in the very successful predator-proof fence at Currawinya National Park and a captive breeding program.
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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.”
He said that when Peter and Frank were on the cusp of starting the Save the Bilby Fund, Peter asked him for advice on how best to move from their government roles to a separate organisation.
“I was their first chairman, and I did it because Peter asked me to.
“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.”