Lonely Conservationists

Isobel (Curiouser and curiouser)

Written by Isobel Bobbera

This one’s rather long, so apologies in advance. I grew up and have spent the 23 years of my so far little life on The Bellarine Peninsula south of Melbourne, Australia. I’ve lived with my family on the same block of land my entire life and wouldn’t change it for anything. I love where I live. It’s home.

I grew up on 5 hectares of land surrounded by a variety of beautiful plants, both native and exotic, a veggie patch and an orchard, and plenty of space to run, explore and use my imagination. Our home is positioned on a cliff which looks out over Port Phillip Bay and across to the magnificent You Yangs, so growing up here has been a real gift and a lot of fun. I have lots of happy memories from my childhood spent outdoors, such as exploring the cliff face and beach just beyond the back fence with my brother, helping mum and dad in the garden, heading down along the Great Ocean Road on the odd weekends with family, and school camps in the Cape Otway National Park. I have loved all these experiences; they are some of my most treasured and beautiful memories.

When I got to high school, despite loving school camps and spending time in nature, I didn’t enjoy science. I wasn’t the greatest at maths, and thought I had to be in order to be at least half decent at science. Furthermore, subjects like biology and chemistry, well, unfortunately I wasn’t able to fully appreciate them for what they are at 15 years old. In hindsight I’ve realised that I sold myself a narrative back in secondary school, that being that I probably wasn’t smart enough to enter the sciences, which wasn’t true, however it clearly did not encourage me to pursue any formal interest in environmental science from early on. In addition, I cannot recall exposure to the environmental sciences throughout my secondary school experience nor the advocation for or encouragement to pursue such a discipline. So ultimately my attention was caught by alternate subjects and interests such as Visual Art and English which I did enjoy.

Long story short, I graduated from secondary school and headed to university, where I spent a couple weeks doing fashion merchandising (I know, I know, very far from environmental studies) before unenrolling and deciding a gap year was more for me at that point of time. After my gap year I went back to university feeling much more enthusiastic than when I left school and enrolled in an Arts degree majoring in Development studies and Sustainability.

It was here that I realised I wanted to pursue a career working for and with the environment. My Arts degree taught me a lot about the problems (social, political, economic and environmental) of the developed and developing world and I felt myself continuously drawn to issues concerning the global natural environment. Nothing seemed more important to me than taking care of the natural world that we humans are a part of and rely on for survival before anything else. The anthropogenic world cannot exist without nature right! So, throughout my final year of the BA I took as many climate change and environmental related electives as I was allowed, I even applied for and got into an internship program that took myself and a group of like-minded individuals to Indonesia where we learnt about and created projects regarding plastic waste. My project concerned environmental/waste education with primary aged children which I really enjoyed.

Like many concerned citizens of the world, I became consumed with understanding the climate crisis and looking for ways that I could change personal lifestyle habits. I definitely set some very high expectations for myself and being a worry wart type of person by nature, I felt it taking quite the mental toll. I never felt like I was doing enough, and being out in public made it worse, as I could feel myself constantly aware and sensitive to other people’s eco-unfriendly behaviours, an obvious classic, littering. This made me feel edgy often. Eco-anxiety definitely exists, and it can keep me up at night sometimes (as I’m sure it does us all), but I try my best to surround myself with people who care, and positive narratives of those who are successfully contributing to a greener future. We have to support each other.

After graduation I didn’t feel ready to apply for a full-time position because it didn’t feel quite right. Despite enjoying my studies, I still felt like something was missing. I had this craving to learn more about how it all works out in the natural world; I was and still am curious and full of questions. Nature is fascinating and I was only just beginning to fully appreciate just how exciting it all is! I honestly feel like a kid again, it’s great! I chose to take some time to work, save, travel my own backyard and figure out what the hell I really wanted to do with my professional life.

Covid19 has thrown a spanner in the works, but it’s all good, it hasn’t stopped me from doing my own learning and research about all thing’s nature, conservation and sustainability. I enrolled myself into an online short course run by Outdoors Victoria, titled Nature Stewardship Program, with the intention to gain a better insight into the environmental science realm and I benefited so much from this mostly online opportunity. I’m currently thinking about pursuing further study in environmental science majoring in wildlife biology and conservation or environmental management and sustainability. The long-term goal is to eventually get into environmental education, because kids are so much fun (and can be more enthusiastic and open-minded about learning than some adults!) and I am passionate about inspiring and encouraging positive relationships with the natural world in younger generations. It’s taken me bit of time to get to where I am, but I’m here now and feeling like I’m on the right path, more myself and excited about the future.  

Throughout my journey thus far, I’ve learnt and reflected on a lot. I’ll always be learning and always be reflecting but here are just a few things I’d like to share.

  1. Nature is incredible, so diverse, so intelligent and such a great teacher (which I’m sure you already know!)
  2. Education I believe is very critical to conservation in order to effectively communicate to the general public and especially our younger generations just how important nature stewardship is and how it can be so much fun! (Maybe this was what I needed at school!) We need to invest in and value environmental education throughout school years because the younger generations especially, require the relevant knowledge and values in order to transition into a world that demands positive and sustainable action and progress.
  3. Be kind to yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the guilt of not doing enough. It might be beating yourself up over purchasing that muesli bar because you needed a quick snack after work but it was covered in plastic single use packaging, or wincing every time you turn the engine of your car on to drive somewhere, many of us are guilty of this. However, while there are definitely things that the everyday individual has the power to change e.g. bring Keep Cup with them, riding bike to work, volunteering with local Landcare or Coastcare group depending on one’s circumstances, there are some things that unfortunately are hard to avoid. The system is not yet quite there when it comes to making environmentally ethical choices easy for people to make, so you will hit some walls. As Damon Gameau points out in his film ‘2040’ (whilst flying on an aeroplane), it’s hard not to be a hypocrite because our whole system is built on fossil fuels for example. So yes, it might be hard to access bulk foods in certain parts of the world because the resources aren’t available, or petroleum might be the most common resource for fuelling our vehicles and aircrafts currently because while there are electric alternatives, they aren’t yet affordable for the everyday person. Just remember, while it can feel like this transition phase is taking forever, you are doing what you can. Hopefully one day making environmentally ethical decisions is just what is done and a breeze to make too!
  4. People do care. A lot of people actually really do care about nurturing their natural environments. It’s easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom that the media love to report regarding our current climate crisis, whether it be natural disasters or political leaders making reckless and irresponsible decisions. However, there are a lot of people doing really great things that lacks the coverage they deserve. We need to encourage and support positive narratives and conservation at all levels of the spectrum (whether it be those in the field working face-to-face with wildlife and habitat preservation, or the everyday person making eco-friendly lifestyle choices). Remember to look for what people are doing big and small; it makes it easier to remain positive and keep doing all the great work you are doing. We must encourage each other to converse and act however and wherever we can. You are making a difference even if you think you aren’t, value your environmental awareness and positive actions!

Thank you for letting me share this piece, it’s been really lovely.

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