Volunteer litter hero keeping Australia beautiful for years wants government to lift its game

Michael Filby has been getting up at 4:00am to clean rubbish from the side of the South West Highway for the past 16 years, but at nearly 75 the Keep Australia Beautiful volunteer has reached the end of the road.

The pensioner says it is time to hand over the baton to the State Government to keep clean one of WA’s premier tourist highways, which passes through the Walpole wilderness area.

Mr Filby and his trusty Russian four-wheel drive have covered thousands of kilometres on Highway One, picking up hundreds of tons of roadside litter stretching from Denmark to Manjimup in Western Australia.

Since having a hip replacement last year, he is now pushing himself to keep up his punishing workload.

“And obviously it can’t be forever,” Mr Filby said.

“I’m using a vehicle that’s 30 years old. I myself, I’m turning 75 in October — the Government should be looking at this.

A man sits in rear of a Lada Niva
Keep Australia Beautiful volunteer Michael Filby has been collecting rubbish for the past sixteen years.(ABC Great Southern: Mark Bennett)

Since regional travel restrictions were lifted in June, Mr Filby has noticed a spike in the amount of litter thrown from visitors cars, adding to his work.

“I’ve proved that even an old person can do it in three days each fortnight,” he said.

“So it’s not beyond a contractor to do this as long as they’re paid well and motivated.”

There are no litter bins in rest areas along the highway since they were removed by State Government authorities in 2009.

“At that time, Main Roads [WA] followed and reduced and removed all bins from this area for at least 100km. And now I’m the only person cleaning these rest areas.” he said.

Two men sit at an outdoor table
Manjimup Shire President Paul Omodei and veteran litter collector Michael Filby.(ABC Kimberley: Mark Bennett)

Mr Filby is worried all his work will be wasted if the Government doesn’t hire a contractor to clean the highway.

Manjimup Shire President Paul Omodei says Mr Filby’s concerns should be addressed by the State Government.

He said without a regular clean up, the litter would build up and become a real problem.

“Who else is going to do it? There’s not too many Michael Filbys left around the place.”

On the weekend, Environment Minister Stephen Dawson announced $59,000 in Keep Australia Beautiful grants for organisation such as local governments or community groups, as well as a five-year litter plan.

“The State Government wants to reduce the amount of litter in WA by 30 per cent over the next five years,” Mr Dawson said.

“Encouraging communities to come up with their own ideas to prevent and clean up litter will result in cleaner and healthier local environments.”