Dr Alexandra Knight not only lectures in environmental management for Charles Sturt University (CSU), she’s gained invaluable career experience working as a ranger in parks and reserves.
Knight is therefore an ideal candidate to ask for insight into what it means to work in the field of environmental management. In a recent interview with Wild, she explained how she first got into working in parks and the reasons why.
“I became a ranger in the first place because I love the natural world, particularly the Australian bush, and I feel committed to looking after it,” she says. “It seemed the obvious job for me and I studied hard to get good marks and also went to work as a drover in western Queensland for the practical skills I would need.”
“I loved my job because it was so varied and I was always in contact with nature. One day I’d be in the office writing up a report, and the next I’d be doing an archaeological survey with some Australian Aboriginal people, or inspecting bird aviaries and learning all about Australia’s wonderful cockatoos.”
From one day to the next, Knight tells us, working in parks and recreation could entail monitoring marine life from a boat, surveying the shifting boundaries of a bushfire from a helicopter and much more.
“The job really satisfied my desire to protect the natural world, and gave me scope to learn at the same time.”
But eventually, she chose to leave in order to pursue the opportunity to lecture at CSU, inspiring and educating young people who also want to become park rangers.
Plotting the course of a career as a ranger
Knight’s career began as a marine park ranger in Queensland, where she spent time measuring seagrass beds around Moreton Bay islands, as well as performing more general tasks like facility maintenance and law enforcement.
After that, her first full-time position placed Knight in the role of ranger for Main Range National Park, Queensland.
“This is a fantastic mountainous and rainforest national park,” she explains. “I did feral cat trapping in the habitat area of the endangered eastern bristlebird, track clearing on the beautiful walking tracks at Cunninghams Gap and Spicers Gap, fire management, camping area management and gave guided walks and talks to lots of different groups of people, often giving them their first glimpse of the beautiful greater glider.”
And then it was a shift to inland New South Wales, where she managed Yathong Nature Reserve and its malleefowl conservation program.
“After that it was a short stint at the Warrumbungles, before finally northern New South Wales, where I looked after three world heritage national parks, which are all amazingly beautiful.”
Adding her work experience to her new, more academic focus makes Knight one of the leading experts in how Australians can best work together to manage our environment in all its wild splendour. And while it’s the natural splendour that attracts many people to consider working in parks, she says there are a few things of which to be aware.
So you want to work with animals? Like the outdoors?
According to Knight, having a good nose for botany or brushing up on your animal husbandry are all good and well, but there’s one major thing some people overlook when considering a job in parks.
“A lot of people go into park management because they love plants and animals, but actually it’s a very people-focused job,” she says. “So as well as having a sound knowledge of ecology and the natural world, you need to have excellent project management and organisational skills, and feel happy communicating with and relating to a whole range of different types of people.
“It’s also handy to be good with geographical information systems and have some practical skills, particularly when you are working in remote areas.”
Other challenges may be inherent to the types of work you end up doing on a site-by-site bases. In particular, Knight says, she found working on fires difficult, with planned burns and unplanned bushfires taking up half the year in New South Wales.
“The work is demanding as you work for five days, have a day off and work another five,” she says. “And you can be flown to anywhere in the state at a moment’s notice.
“It was quite gruelling and it’s particularly hard should you have a family.”
However, while you may need to be well versed in a wide variety of topics and bring a strong resolve for certain tasks, Knight reiterates that the job has some pretty strong, all-natural perks.
“The real benefits are that you work in amazingly beautiful natural environments while doing something that you believe in and with workmates who are just as committed as you are.”
Where’s the opportunity?
Jobs in this part of the public sector are available for qualified candidates, but you may also need to consider thinking laterally in order to find the ideal role.
According to Knight, the best bet is to be as flexible as possible when it comes to location.
“Yes, there are opportunities available if you’re prepared to move around and go inland, particularly in states other than New South Wales.
“There are also a number of other organisations now that are seeking people with the same sort of skills,” she says. “If I was going to change my job now, I’d love to be employed by Bush Heritage Australia, who have a significant network of conservation reserves, a high standard in management, are inclusive of Indigenous Australian people and undertake evidence-informed management.”
Other opportunities of interest are often advertised within local governments or other organisations such as Arid Recovery.
But for now, Knight will continue to foster the next generation of environmental management students at CSU, where they will go on to find work in both public and private sectors.
“Some of them find jobs in parks outside New South Wales, some in Parks Victoria, while others move into regional natural resource management agencies such as Local Land Services and in Landcare.
“I have ex-students working from Melbourne to Charleville and everywhere in between,” says Knight.
To find out more, visit the CSU website at: