Bushman at Heart, Conservationist by Nature
5 May 2014 at 11:15 am
Leading Australian conservationist, Dr Barry Traill is spearheading the campaign to protect one of the world’s greatest remaining natural wonders – the Australian Outback. Traill, the Australian Director of the global Pew Charitable Trusts, is this week’s Changemaker.
Traill’s entire career has been underpinned by his lifelong love of Australia’s bush and unique animals. For most of his working life he has successfully combined his expertise in wildlife with his skills in advocacy and establishing collaborative partnerships, to ensure large areas of Australia’s land and sea are protected from destructive threats.
Before joining the global Pew Charitable Trusts – in 2007, Traill worked for 25 years as a conservation advocate and scientist for Australian organisations, including Victoria’s Trust for Nature, the Victorian National Parks Association, Environment Victoria and the Wilderness Society.
Born and raised in Gippsland in country Victoria, Traill holds a bachelor’s degree and a PhD in terrestrial ecology from Monash University. As a zoologist, ecological researcher and conservation advocate, he is particularly interested in the ecology of terrestrial birds and mammals, and landscape-scale conservation of temperate and tropical woodlands and forests.
His work over three decades has been the catalyst for the protection of Victoria’s biologically diverse eucalypt woodlands, the cessation of large-scale clearing of the Queensland bush, and the creation of the world’s largest network of marine parks. He was a founder of the Northern Australia Environment Alliance and the Invasive Species Council.
Traill has written and co-authored several major publications, including: The Nature of Northern Australia – a study of the values and prospects for the environment of Northern Australia; Into Oblivion: The disappearing mammals of Northern Australia; and Conservation of Australia’s Outback Wilderness.
Traill now leads Pew’s Outback Australia Program, working with scientists, stakeholders and partner organisations to obtain protection for large wilderness areas in Australia on land and sea.
What are you currently working on in your organisation?
We work to get protection and good management of our remote Outback lands and seas.
On land we are working on a range of projects that seek to support people who live on-country doing conservation work in these landscapes. A stand out problem for Outback wilderness is that there are too few people on the land and managing it. We are working to get that better understood.
On our seas we led the advocacy that created the world’s largest network of marine parks last year – a huge win – and we are working to ensure they remain in place and are well protected.
What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?
I’ve been lucky. Since I was a kid I knew what I wanted to do. I loved the bush and wildlife and wanted to be a zoologist and conservationist. And if you want to do that effectively, of course you work for conservation organisations.
How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?
As a serious volunteer since I was a teenager, but in paid work since my early 30s, around 20 years ago.
What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?
My first paid job was as a campaigner with Environment Victoria, working to stop logging of forests. I learnt a lot, but I wasn’t especially effective then. We got protection for some small areas of old growth forest, but the fundamentals of the industry and the forests debate didn’t change then and unfortunately still haven’t changed.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
The absolute best part of the job is going bush – seeing some of the most stunning wild places in the world: the Kimberley coast, the rainforests of Cape York, the great floodplains of the Channel Country.
The other best bit is firing up folk to see this vast, wild country and what it needs in a different light, to create a powerful connection to Outback places that are very special.
I consider my greatest achievement to be …
Being part of the work that created Australia’s great Commonwealth system of marine parks last year. It was a huge gain globally for conservation.
I’m always being asked …
What do you actually do?? Not unreasonably people are often unsure what a conservationist actually does hour by hour in a day. I say its mostly meetings in cities – with occasional great trips to the bush.
One exciting thing I’m doing is presenting my first ever TEDx talk to a worldwide audience in the Sydney Opera House. You can watch it here if you’re interested. If you watch it remember, I’m a scientist and conservationist, not a professional orator!
What (or who) inspires you?
Bush and wildlife and people – it always comes back to that trio for me. Each needs the other.
I love to be in a healthy piece of bush and see all the native creatures moving about, while talking to the landowners or managers who keep it in good shape. It’s wonderful and makes the long office hours worthwhile.
What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?
Reading an excellent book on ‘FDR’ – US President Franklin D. Roosevelt – the extraordinary politician and leader who made exceptional decisions in the Depression and World War II, including innovative new conservation programs.
I find it very inspiring to read about someone who is both visionary, and had the political skills to make things real. The combination is important.
It’s a bit of a standard line to be cynical about politicians at the moment, but there are many good politicians who do great things for people and the planet. And better politicians than having politics dealt with by people with guns.
Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?
To stop the special nature of Australia – our wildlife – from declining further.