Two Manning Valley residents have chased their dreams all the way to the Apple Isle. Paul Ralley and Melissa Wood share their passion for Tasmania’s wonders …
Melissa Wood from Marlee and Paul Ralley from Harrington set out to forge careers in the Apple Isle – Tasmania – and have both been successful.
Both strong supporters of the environment and nature lovers, they found their dream jobs in Cradle Mountain, located at the northern end of the Lake St Clair National Park, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
Paul (25) is employed as a tour guide and carer for the Tasmanian Devil breeding program, while Michelle (25) works for National Parks and Wildlife.
The dedicated two had never met until beginning their new careers and have been constant companions since that first meeting.
While Paul is kept busy being a tour guide and carer at Truwanna Wildlife Park and Devils at Cradle, Michelle spends her time giving information and guiding tourists to areas as required.
Based at Cradle Mountain with National Parks and Wildlife, Michelle found the desire to seek employment in the region after visiting three years ago while on holiday.
“I was working Taree at a large retail store,” Michelle said.
“I have always had a strong interest in this area, and after seeing some vacancies, I applied – and thankfully I was accepted.”
Michelle’s enthusiasm for bush walking and the environment has her firmly focused on educating and highlighting the brilliant region she enjoys.
“The region is a wonderland of beauty; the environment is heritage listed and offers so much for holiday makers and adventurers.”
Michelle spends much of her spare time helping at Devils at Cradle, because she wants to learn more and is keen to help save the Tasmanian Devil.
“They are beautiful creatures, and being under threat must be saved. The job is long term, but I help when I can.”
“Paul’s work is very important, and I believe our jobs complement each other in many ways.
“Mine is to show to everybody through National Parks and Wildlife the outstanding region – and the need to protect it. The Cradle Mountain region is very important, not only to Australia, but to the world and is recognised by being heritage protected as an outstanding wilderness. Both our careers are extremely important, but Paul’s is one that is imperative for the world.”
Michelle’s younger years heading into her teens were fairly normal – playing sport and loving music.
Paul Ralley’s was far from pedestrian. While most children play sport or master their computers as they progress to their adult life, since he advanced from nappies, Paul has been an animal lover.
Growing up, he gave his mother many an anxious moment with his collections of snakes, wombats, spiders, various dog breeds and showing his award winning poultry.
Having the advantage of living on small acreage, it was not uncommon for Paul to have a wide array of animals, which at times resembled a zoo.
Mixed with all these activities he began a career as a baker, which lasted seven years. He also worked part time at local animal farms and sanctuaries.
“I have always loved animals,” Paul said. “I had a big and varied collection. In my teens I had a big interest in the dingo and spent time learning about them at the Bargo Dingo sanctuary.”
Paul’s interest in Australian wildlife saw him target the Tasmanian Devil, which led him to Mole Creek’s Trowunna Wildlife Park and its associated company Devils at Cradle – a move which gave him the opportunity to observe and learn about Tasmania’s unique wildlife.
“Trowunna is a privately funded wildlife sanctuary which has many animals and birds. From kangaroos, to a big range of marsupials, reptiles, wombats, birds, Quolls and the Devil, the variety is large.
“Some of the animals are contained within enclosures for breeding, study and recovery from injury and can be seen at close range and patted during our park tours and feeding sessions.”
The park runs a husbandry program to save the Tasmanian Devil, to ensure it survives the facial tumour disease which has wiped out tens of thousands over the past 20 years in the wild.
“Trowunna Wildlife Park started caring for native animals 30 years ago and continue to house the world’s largest heritage population of Devils. We have a good record of management at the park, evident by breeding Koalas disease free for more than 20 years.”
The Tasmanian Devil is an iconic animal within Australia; it is the symbol of the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The Devil was one of six native Australian animals to appear on commemorative Australian two dollar coins issued between 1989 and 1994 and are popular with domestic and international tourists.
They are an important animal in Australia’s history, being a carnivorous marsupial now found only in the wild in Tasmania, with breeding programs interstate in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
It is the largest surviving carnivorous marsupial in Australia, with naturalist George Harris documenting the first published description of the Tasmanian Devil in 1807. They were protected by law in 1941 and then were declared endangered by the Tasmanian Government, because the Devils suffered a massive reduction in numbers due to the contagious facial cancer.
The wild Tasmanian Devil populations are being monitored to track the spread of the disease and to identify changes in disease prevalence. Extensive monitoring involves trapping Devils within defined areas to check for the disease and determine the number of affected animals. These areas are monitored to document the spread of the disease, with the diseased Devils trapped and removed in the hope their removal will see a decrease in the disease prevalence and allow more Devils to survive beyond their juvenile years.
“Breeding programs are showing signs of success, and since 1985, controlling the facial disease is reaping rewards in the controlled environment.
“The biggest problem is in the wild, where the estimated decline in the past decade being from 180,000 to an estimated 30,000. We have to continue the program and expand, or the Devils living in the wild are in danger of becoming extinct in 20 – 25 years. Historically, they have done well.”
Paul wants to focus on saving the Tasmanian Devil through its breeding program and believes it may take 10 to 20 years for the program to reap the big rewards.
“I love the challenge and being part of this important program. My boss Androo Kelly is one of the recognised heads in Devil husbandry. Devils at Cradle and the Truwanna Wildlife Park are leading the way, with others in overcoming the facial disease.”
After Paul returns to Tasmania for several weeks, he will be heading to Taronga Park Zoo for several days for further education.
“Apart from the breeding aspect, I am very focused on educating the public on the Devil and helping them understand them better and elevate their prior reputation – it is the interpretation which is important.”
Both Michelle and Paul are looking forward to the future in their respective roles and invite all readers to put Cradle Mountain on their must do list when travelling in Tasmania. They ask everyone to look them up and say hi; you will all be welcome.
Story by Peter Lyne