The Best Friends of Mount Worth State Park

Thursday 18 January, 2024

Key Points

  • Tony Castle from the Friends of Mount Worth State Park was awarded the 2023 Best Friend Award by the Victorian Environment Friends Network.
  • Tony is the group's Treasurer and Secretary, and has been volunteering at Mount Worth for 11 years.
  • Volunteering in our parks and reserves is a great way to learn about plants and wildlife, be active outdoors and meet new people.. 


“I still live in Melbourne, so it’s 100kms each way for me to get out here, but I just love it, I love being out here in the bush.” 

Tony Castle’s passion and dedication to his beloved Mount Worth State Park is obvious to all.  

Tony, the Secretary-Treasurer of the local Friends of Mount Worth State Park, has volunteered with the group for 11 years, but is currently celebrating a different achievement. 

In recognition of his exceptional dedication to environmental stewardship, Tony was recently named the 2023 Best Friend at the annual Victorian Environment Friends Network (VEFN) awards. 

The VEFN is a volunteer organisation which supports Friends Groups from across Victoria to connect with their local communities and encourage more people to get involved with caring for nature. The Best Friend award is given to a volunteer that has been recognised by their peers for having gone above and beyond with their dedication, time and effort. 

Volunteer member of the Friends of Mount Worth State Park Tony Castle stands on a bridge surrounded by lush tree ferns.

Photo: Tony Castle is the volunteer Secretary-Treasurer of the Friends of Mount Worth State Park.

Tony said his love of being out in the bush began when he was a child and had been enrolled into the 1st Nunawading Scout group, where he received the prestigious Queen’s Scout Award. This love of nature continued throughout Tony’s life, where he was a member of the Walking Club of Victoria. It was through this that Tony first fell in love with Mount Worth State Park, after coming across a trail known as the Waterfall-Bower Track in a bushwalking book. 

Mount Worth State Park is on the traditional Country of the Bunurong people, and forms part of the western Strzelecki Ranges, approximately 15km south of Warragul. 

“I was leading bushwalks for the Walking Club of Victoria, and the requirement was to pre-walk the hike before you led 20-30 people on the track, which is just common sense,” Tony said. 

“I’d read about the Waterfall-Bower Track at Mount Worth in an old book I had, so I came up here in November 2012, but the track was just nowhere to be found. I did a lot of cutting through the bush to try and find the track but I got nowhere. So I called up the local ranger at the time, and he put me onto Merrin Butler, who is President of the Friends of Mount Worth.” 

“Merrin then organised a working bee for February with Parks Victoria and the Friends group to try and open up the track, so I came back to volunteer. When we got to a particular point which was supposedly the start of the Upper Waterfall-Bower Track, it was completely overgrown. You could not see a track, there was no sign, no markings, nothing.” 

“So out came the brush cutters and hedge trimmers, and off we went. It was a whole day working bee, and by the end of the day we had opened up the Upper Waterfall-Bower Track, and for the first time in many years, the waterfall was revealed.” 

“Then over subsequent working bees we opened up the Lower Waterfall-Bower Track. We’ve been keeping it open ever since, and I’ve kept coming back to lend a hand despite still living in Melbourne 100km away.”

The Waterfall-Bower Track is a 7km, Grade 3 (moderate to difficult) circuit that takes in two charming waterfalls near the centre of Mount Worth State Park. The track can be slippery and muddy in wet conditions and is recommended for experienced walkers. 

Two people walking among the tall Mountain Ash and tree ferns in Mount Worth State Park.

Photo: Mountain Ash trees tower high above the lush tree ferns of Mount Worth State Park.

Mount Worth State Park is dominated by towering Mountain Ash trees which grow on its steep slopes, while lush tree ferns unfurl in its rainforest-like gullys where the Moonlight and Lorkin Creeks pass through. It’s home to an abundance of wildlife, including Superb Lyrebirds and the rare Sooty Owl, and is also the only piece of public land where the Giant Gippsland Earthworm is known to exist. While the earthworm is rarely seen (although it’s possible visitors may hear a gurgling noise as one passes by underfoot), signs of its underground neighbour, the Gippsland Burrowing Crayfish, are everywhere, with their muddy holes visible on many of the park’s walking tracks.

Merrin Butler, the President of the Friends of Mount Worth State Park, and her husband Paul Strickland, are both previous winners of the VEFN's Best Friend Award for their involvement with the group.

Merrin said Tony was an “unsung hero” of the group and thoroughly deserved to be recognised by the VEFN.

The Friends of Mount Worth State Park and local Parks Victoria rangers celebrate Tony Castle's VEFN Best Friend Award.

Photo: The Friends of Mount Worth State Park and local Parks Victoria rangers celebrate Tony Castle's VEFN Best Friend Award.

“Tony has been an absolute treasure since he joined the group ten years ago. He does all the things most Friends don’t want to do,” Merrin said.

“Most of us just want to be out in the bush, whereas Tony will be busy working at home, going over the figures, looking at the books, doing paperwork, organising the AGM, all the health and safety stuff, insurance… who wants to do that? Tony, that’s who.”

“He’s the oil that keeps the group working, and that means everyone else can just enjoy coming together and doing the things they want to do in the park,” she said.

Parks Victoria Central Gippsland District Manager Helen Dixon said volunteers like Tony and the Friends of Mount Worth State Park make “invaluable contributions to the park through their dedication and love for the local environment.”

“They are an important volunteer group and assist our Traralgon-based team in the maintenance, enhancement and interpretation of the park for the enjoyment of all visitors.”

“Parks Victoria thanks Tony and all our Friends and volunteers for their amazing work and dedication.”

Being a volunteer in our parks is a great way to help conserve Victoria’s special places. There are hundreds of exciting volunteer opportunities across Victoria, regardless of your age, skill or ability. Click here to find out how you can volunteer in a park near you. 

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