Cathy Mardell is a Ranger with the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS), a job she’s cherished for the past 15 years.
As a child she raised an abandoned baby magpie in her bedroom and used the family’s Hills hoist to teach it to fly. Skippy was a favourite TV show, she says: “I was in love with Jerry King the ranger and helicopter pilot and dreamed of talking on the two-way radio with a crisp accent like Clancy. I wanted a kangaroo for my best friend, to keep me safe in the bush”.
I think every child grows up loving and respecting animals. In my early childhood we lived in the Sutherland Shire and I ran wild on Sydney’s sandstone outskirts: picked wildflowers, caught bluetongues, fed apples to possums. My parents moved a lot when I was at school, buying rundown pubs, making them a going concern; they later bought a pub in Ballina and we moved there. By then I was distracted by boys – although I still did striking kookaburra impressions for anyone who’d watch. I went to uni to do a Bachelor of Education (Sport and Recreation) but realised I wasn’t committed to teaching. I got married, had babies and eventually started back to work in admin with NPWS, where I realised being a ranger was the perfect job for me. Working for NPWS and with two young daughters and a wonderfully supportive partner, I went back to uni. My degree, Bachelor of Applied Science (Parks, Recreation and Heritage) was ideal and I could do assignments on real national park issues. When I got my job I was deliriously happy spending time in the bush. I’ve worked for NPWS now since 1987 and as a ranger since 1995. We manage national parks to protect and improve the lot of local plants and animals and protect Aboriginal and European sites. We manage pests and weeds to allow plants and animals to flourish; provide visitor facilities to encourage people to enjoy the parks; manage fire to protect community assets. We look after our cultural heritage: historic houses and artefacts, convict-built roads, and ruins (a Wedgwood toilet bowl from Innes Ruins springs to mind!). We’re responsible for managing wildlife: if whales strand on a beach or postmen are swooped by magpies, it’s our job to deal with them. We try to help people better understand nature and culture so we give talks to community groups and schools: I do a Saturday spot on ABC Radio, sharing an aspect of my working week with listeners. My colleagues and I manage five protected areas: spectacular Crowdy Bay National Park, much-abused Rawdon Creek Nature Reserve (next to the council tip, it cops a lot of rubbish-dumping), and three beautiful remote hinterland reserves – Koorebang, Jasper and Mt Seaview. My partner Ric, also a ranger, and I moved to Port in ‘91. I was delighted to find it such a picturesque place surrounded by wonderful green-cloaked forests and flanked by golden beaches. We were lucky to move here with our girls at a young age: they’re connected to this place forever now. So am I; there’s nowhere I’d rather live. Nowadays Ric and I are home alone with our girls’ cast-off pets, a crazy kelpie and a 10-year-old goldfish. Our eldest lives in London doing her Masters; she visited recently and lamented missing our beautiful environment. Our younger daughter, an international flight attendant, is on maternity leave from Qantas, living on the Gold Coast with her partner from Bonny Hills, both doting on their gorgeous three-month-old son. I’m delighted to be a grandmother!
I visit national parks anywhere in the world I can, love seeing what other rangers are up to and what innovations I can find. Ric and I love camping at Crowdy Bay a few times a year. I end up pulling out weeds or making lists of things that need doing while I’m staying there. I’m a member of the Protected Area Workers Association, helping rangers in developing countries; we collect equipment like laptops, GPSs and cameras for their conservation programs. I’m a huge supporter of FAWNA, our local wildlife-carer organisation, can’t imagine where we’d be without these generous spirits. Hastings and Camden Haven people have a genuine love of their environment. I helped Estelle Gough from Landcare establish a community nursery at our depot and I’m constantly amazed at the volume of plants those volunteers produce: it’s inspiring to see what ordinary people with a good idea can achieve! I’m a woman walking the path I see at my feet, trying to be aware of my actions’ effects on every living thing. I believe in kindness. I’m amazed when my wages arrive as I just love this job. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunities in my personal life and professional career, I’m so grateful for it all. I hope I leave the places I’ve had the good fortune to steward in a better condition than when I started.