Story written by Gabrielle Bradley
My story is one of the joys, and regrets, of coming to Conservation and Land Management at an (cough…) older age. As a child living in suburban Melbourne, my family would often head out into the bush because my Dad loved getting out there, and I still remember him packing the car up with all his bird and plant books (no apps in those days!!!) and we would head off somewhere where there weren’t lots of other people. As kids, we had some experiences that I remember fondly today, but back then I’m not entirely sure if we really appreciated it all.
When I left school I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I found myself in a career that, quite frankly, I hated. But while it was something I was quite good at, I didn’t have the self-knowledge to realise that it wasn’t nourishing me. All my friends and family had “regular” careers and settled lives, so I tried to fit in with that, when all the while my soul was yearning for something deeper and more meaningful. The “Nature” switch hadn’t been turned on just yet, but it was just around the corner…
As so often happens, it took a pretty big health scare to shake me up and realise that I needed to do more stuff for me. Things that made my soul happy. So I enrolled in a course studying Sustainable Landscape Design, and my journey toward Conservation and Land Management had begun, albeit in a roundabout way because I didn’t yet realise that that was where I was heading. One of my teachers was really into indigenous plants….and the spark was lit!
From there I began growing indigenous plants from seed, and learning as I went along. I volunteered with a local Landcare group, and helped out one day a week at an indigenous nursery. Mind you, I was still working in a different industry because I couldn’t find a new job – having lots of experience in another field carries no weight at all when looking to switch careers. Finally I got some work at an indigenous nursery for a few months, while I finished my diploma, but it wasn’t a long term option.
I tried so hard to find work in the environmental industry, but just kept hitting a brick wall – not enough experience, and too old to be taken on as an apprentice. The equivalent of being in the wilderness….but not in a good way!!
Fast forward to 2016, and not long after my Dad had passed away I decided to quit my job and go back to full time study. And of course it was a no-brainer – Conservation and Land Management!! Huge decision, but my soul was happy. And the really lovely thing is that I kept a lot of Dad’s old bird and plant books, and still refer to them today. That diploma was one of the most wonderful things I have done, and I’m really happy to say that I got a couple of awards at the end – when you are doing something that you love, it doesn’t feel like hard work, and I lapped up every amazing experience throughout that time. Dad would have been so proud…
But….still no job! I threw myself into volunteer work, which I am still doing, but again and again I would miss out on jobs because I was competing with people who had loads of industry experience. So this year I decided to change things up a bit, and start my own business – if no-one else would employ me…then I would! I set up an online business selling ethical clothing, with an Australian native tree planted for every item sold. I am passionate about our indigenous flora, and really distressed at the amount of rampant logging and deforestation happening around the country. This is my way of helping to restore and rehabilitate our landscape. But I have plans to expand the business into becoming more of a collaborative space, with workshops and other events that bring like-minded people together – my experiences and difficulties in trying to find my own place in the environmental industry has made me think that there needs to be more opportunities for people to connect….and perhaps to work or collaborate together.
I know I’d love to have had something like that several years ago, when I was feeling quite lonely and a bit on the outer because my path was so different to those around me. In recent years I have met some amazing people and shared fantastic experiences, and I am so happy I changed my life. My regret is that the younger me didn’t choose this path, and I feel in some ways that I have missed out on a lot. But the Universe works in funny ways sometimes, and maybe my journey wasn’t supposed to begin until now.
Maybe I am exactly where I am meant to be…