Wildlife warrior Manfred Zabinskas leads region's Australia Day honours

HONORS: Manfred Zabinskas (left) and Hepburn Shire mayor Licia Kokocinski with young citizen of the year Lachlan Wrigley, Clunes Ceramic's Graeme Johnstone (community event of year) and citizen of the year David Hall.
HONORS: Manfred Zabinskas (left) and Hepburn Shire mayor Licia Kokocinski with young citizen of the year Lachlan Wrigley, Clunes Ceramic's Graeme Johnstone (community event of year) and citizen of the year David Hall.

KNOWN for abseilling down a mineshaft to save a wallaby, outspoken wildlife rescuer Manfred Zabinskas felt there was little he could do to help on fire grounds near the Snowy Mountains. He accepts an Order of Australia medal in hope such recognition helps highlight widespread work in animal welfare.

THERE are mixed emotions for wildlife rescuer Manfred Zabinskas in accepting his Order of Australia medal in Australia Day honours - particularly while out, trying to do what he does best, in "confronting" fire-affected communities at the foot of the Snowy Mountains.

Mr Zabinskas felt a sense of awkwardness and guilt for such recognition in a field he said was filled with amazing, dedicated people. But there was also great pride and reward for the Trentham-based Mr Zabinskas that wildlife work and the region to be recognised in such an esteemed honour.

Outspoken on key animal welfare issues, like recreational duck shooting, Mr Zabinskas hoped the medal would help add weight to his voice. He is working with other wildlife protection bodies to lobby the government for an improved approach to wildlife rescue in fire-affected areas.

Mr Zabinskas has this week returned home from fire grounds feeling there was little he could do to help. Wildlife rescue was not allowed into restricted areas and, even if approved, there was little rescuers were allowed to do to in capturing and helping mobile, surviving animals.

Working alongside a fellow rescuer from Khancoban, they could access private properties and were shocked to find such a lack of wild animals, let alone those needing help.

Mr Zabinskas said in his decades' experience, he had not seen such confronting, and complex scenes.

"I've been doing fire ground rescue for 30 years, I've seen everything and it doesn't get better," Mr Zabinskas said. "The scale of this catastrophe is very confronting. I've seen video footage from helicopters and it's hard to look at, hard to watch...and I'm coming home. I feel my hands are tied. I can't do much."

Mr Zabinskas said the unknown wildlife toll, estimated to be anywhere from half a billion to two billion creatures would likely have ripple effects for decades. This was why he said it was important animal welfare advocates and organisations were heard.

Mr Zabinskas founded Five Freedoms Animal Rescue in Trentham in 2007 and has run shelters across the region since the late 1990s. He is also a Wildlife Victoria life member and has been known to abseil down a mineshaft to save a stray wallaby.

Meanwhile, tireless community advocate David Hall has been named Hepburn Shire's citizen of the year in Australia Day honours. Mr Hall has helped develop University of the Third Age programs and helped guide Daylesford's ARC Recreation Centre development to provide young people with physical and cultural opportunities. He helped champion for permanent residencies at Daylesford Caravan park and affordable homes for the disadvantaged and serves on Daylesford community bank's steering committee.

Together with his wife, David founded the Words in Winter event, which is now in its 19th year.

Clunes Football Netball Club leader and Auskick mentor Lachlan Wrigley was named Hepburn's young citizen of the year. Biennial Clunes Ceramic Awards was named community event of the year.