The world is our classroom, and Keith’s passion for all things environmental is bringing awareness of the great outdoors to young and old alike.
> You are a former teacher at Taree High School. How long have you been in the area?
I transferred from Gunnedah in 1972. My wife Linda and I built on a couple of acres in Wingham, as we realised just how terrific this part of the Mid North Coast was.
Both our children, Katrina (now teaching at Wauchope) and Rick (now the National Environmental Manager for an international company) went through Wingham Primary and High Schools, and we could not be happier with our choices or their results.
I have always been interested in environmental matters – partly through teaching senior science and being lucky enough to concentrate on biology and geology while getting great staff support for annual cross faculty excursions to locations such as Pappinbarra and Tiona. Some students where involved in bird banding for CSIRO at Coffs Harbour for many years.
We now live at Wallabi Point.
> You now spend a lot of your time with National Parks. How did this come about?
In about 1980 Dr John Stockard, along with Mike Dodkin and the late Graham Allan revived interest in attempting to re-generate Wingham Brush, a nine hectare remnant of lowland subtropical rainforest.
This is almost 10% of all that remains of the once extensive vegetation that covered our flood plains from the Hunter to Queensland. This on-going program has been hailed as successful world wide and is now an accepted model for rainforest restoration.
The Wingham Brush is now a unique, diverse, and spectacular Nature Reserve renowned for its grey headed flying fox colony. About 1988 a building at the Wingham Brush School was considered for demolition. John Stockard, Don Cameron, and I called on support from the Greater Taree City Council, Manning Valley Historical Society, The National Trust, and local schools to retain it as a field studies centre.
That building is now the ‘Environmental Education Learning Centre’.
The Department of Education originally appointed a field studies officer for 1 day per week to cater for visiting schools. When I retired from classroom teaching in 1999, I was lucky enough to be appointed there and hope to remain until I reach my use-by date.
> Did the centre nearly shut a while back?
Yes – the Department of Education withdrew funding due to local budgetary constrains. Fortunately Kevin Carter, area Manager of National Parks and Wildlife Service (N.P.W.S) entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Education so it could remain open for other groups (U3A, Scouts, etc) as a user pays service under the discovery program.
This program involves a range of park based school activities, both in the field and in the classroom. I was then recruited as a casual Discovery Ranger and now work in that role as well as the casual environment teacher at the Wingham Brush.
Schools can book through the Wingham Brush Public School phone 6553 4443 or fax 6557 0322 for a variety of environmental programs. I have also been involved as a casual teacher for senior biology and geography field work activities with several district high schools.
> What else does your role as Discovery Ranger involve?
I do a lot of interpretation of the environment for N.P.W.S. in their ‘walks, talks and tours’ programs – most of them at Crowdy Bay, Diamond Head, Kylies Hut, and Point Plomer areas.
We are trying to increase the scope locally and have a good program lined up for Saltwater on January 8th – an easy 4 km walk with information on the rich cultural history of the area as well as its plants and animals. It will be from 10am until noon, and information and bookings can be made by phoning 6586 8315.
> You seem to enjoy your role both as a Discovery Ranger and Environmental Educator …
It is a chance to explain the concepts of ecosystems and environment, to show that everything is interrelated or simply that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.
I still believe (even after 70 years on planet Earth) that this concept is relevant to any discussions between development and conservation.
I have always been a strong supporter of outdoor education, as many students find it far more relevant. Show and tell creates more interest than chalk and talk.
> Is that at all relevant for today’s students, with their passion for technology?
Today’s school students have developed ways of communicating – Facebooking, SMS, mobile phone, emailing etc. I feel this technological mastery is not at the expense of grammar and formal communication skills, but a different way of relating to each other; they are a more global generation.
This gives an even greater need for outdoor education to develop a feeling of connection to all the things around us, including the real natural world that underpins civilization. They can then look more deeply, value more fully, and find interconnected meanings.
> You now volunteer a lot of your time. What other activities are you involved in?
I have done reptile rescues and re-locations for F.A.W.N.A. for many years and hope this is going to be a quieter summer than the last.
For a few years now I have worked with Peter Baker to run Science and Nature sessions for Kevin and May Sharp at their brilliant Camp Memories at Pampoolah. We now have a Manning Environmental Education Group (M.E.E.G) that meets regularly and is now running the Eco Schools Quest.
This encourages schools in the Manning catchment to participate in evironmental activities, from stream watch to keeping a worm farm. Upper Lansdowne Primary School was term four 2008 winner; they now have the banner from term three winner Crowdy Head.
To get a school in this competition phone Kirsty 6592 4830 or Erin 6592 5354 for a chance to win a terrific Environment Day for the school.
> Wow, you seem to keep yourself occupied. Is anything new on the horizon?
Well this year, 2009, is the International year of Astronomy, and N.P.W.S. discovery programs will be involved in evening events related to that. We are working on the details of a state wide program to be called ‘Starry Starry Night’ at present.
I am really interested in this. Since Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, a lot of thinking people have accepted the idea of ‘spaceship earth’, realising we are a self contained planet with no resources (apart from solar energy) available from anywhere else and no other place to put our wastes.
With such limited finite resources many realise it is time we looked at ourselves as crew members of our earthly spacecraft rather than simply going along as passengers and leaving the problems of limited resources and contamination to future generations.
> That is pretty heavy stuff, Keith. Do you see it all as doom and gloom?
Far from it!
Concern and awareness of problems without appropriate action causes distress. I hope that interpreting areas such as the Wingham Brush, Crowdy Bay, Saltwater, Diamond Head, and even the Wingham Wetlands show local examples of sustainability.
Our schools Eco Quest is aimed at finding solutions – that’s what I mean by crew member, rather than simply being along for the ride. More and more big industries are employing environmental scientists, and many are now creating roles involving sustainability. This is a positive step for the future. I see an expanding future for environment scientists and engineers with real knowledge of the biological and physical world and have always been grateful for the opportunity to play a very small part in stimulating this interest.
> You’ve lived in many places: Illawarra, Albury, Gunnedah. Why have you chosen the Mid North Coast to spend your life?
Of the terrific things about our local area, its rich variety of National Parks and environments coupled with the interest, knowledge, and dedication of many people make it second to none. Let’s face it … with our beaches, forests, and climate, why would you live anywhere else?
> Thank you Keith.