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Danger Ranger Diaries

Read on for updates from the field, preparation progress and entertaining fails as we count down to World Ranger Day, July 31, 2022

Okay so to say this is overdue is a gross understatement. So yes it’s going to be a long blog people. In my defence, it has been a very hectic first month of the trip and I have been doing fairly well in keeping my tracking map (Via Polar Steps) up to date even with minimal signal the first few weeks so at least you could follow and generally what has been going on.

I hadn’t realised Lord Howe Island had no mobile signal and that we wouldn’t have wifi in our rooms, so that was a slight disaster. Then there was too much fun being had at the QRA Muster combined with only a daytime hotspot location available so the second week was also a bit of hit and miss. This meant I pretty much had to stick to Instagram & Facebook Stories and occasionally uploading some images and a few quick words on Polar Steps. Hence, I will be doing some ‘flashback’ posts on Insta and Facebook to catchup over the next few weeks. Apologies then for the lack of blogging up until now and the lack of proper Insta posts, I will try to do better!

Anyway, what an amazing start to the trip it was! July was a whirlwind month of recovering from a not-covid-not-flu-cold-thing which flattened me for several weeks, madly packing up what things I do still own and getting them into my storage unit. Plus I was busy with online shopping to try and grab the last (or so I thought) tech and trip items I had been putting off buying in the hopes of more sponsors. Then there were meetings and emails with local staff at Royal National Park, the Thin Green Line Foundation, International Ranger Federation and NSW National Parks and Wildlife permits team to organise the launch, filming permits and general logistics for the first few weeks of the trip. Yep, and that’s after the craziness that was sorting out work handover notes, packing up my work desk and home life and still dealing with a few post-flood issues.

Lennox Head certainly had some epic sunsets to enjoy during the craziness

Having to suddenly do two last minute commercial filming applications (after being told 6 months prior I didn't need one) did add to the fun somewhat and made for an interesting drive to Gibraltar Range NP in the week leading up to the launch as I had to quickly throw together the applications in the only convenient place whilst on the road - a Macca's carpark!

That said, I had a wonderful time visiting Gibraltar Range NP and Mt Kaputar NP during my shake down trip on the lead up to the launch. I was lucky enough to pop in and meet Ranger Louisa at Narrabri who does an incredible job looking after Mt Kaputar. Trust me, the newly refurbished campgrounds are fantastic with hot showers (and I mean reeeeaaalllly good Japanese-onsen level hot showers), new signage and freshly appointed campsites. A must see for those looking to plan future camping trips…just don’t tell anyone so it remains our little secret!

Both Mt Kaputar and Gibraltar Range NPs were rather frosty temperature wise (below zero is exceptionally fresh in my book) but thankfully my parents gave me my birthday present early (an oodie! Yes, feel free to Google it) so I could enjoy it when it was most useful. I think I may have freaked out a couple at Mulligans Hut campground who were walking past my site to get to the toilet block as I was kneeling on the seat of the picnic table next to my tent cooking dinner on my little hiking stove whilst wearing my Oodie (which is ‘one-size-fits-all so literally a dress on me!) all they saw was the bottom of my ugg boots and some midget/child size being in a light blue-koala patterned something. Well, I was toasty warm and that’s all that mattered. Oh and the down hood (like the hood of a down jacket without the jacket) my sister got me last Christmas was a game changer for staying warm in my sleeping bag (I’m a very cold sleeper). It kept my head (and importantly my ears) wonderfully warm but still allowed me freedom of movement inside my sleeping bag…as opposed to cinching up the hood mummy style and being trapped in the bag (it’s true!). Trust me, a separate hood is awesome!

The launch was amazing (you can read more about it on my Polar Steps & Instagram posts) and it was wonderful to be able to share it with my unbelievably supportive family and of course my Ranger family. I hardly knew what was going on half the time as there was a cameraman filming for Atomos who needed to film me using my Atomos equipment (an Atomos Ninja V+ for those interested) and general action shots such as hiking, interviewing people, talking with the those attending the launch and of course the formal launch and World Ranger Day proceedings themselves. Then there were a billion photos to pose for between the official NPWS photographer, my Dad and the various people taking photos for the National Parks Association, Thin Green Line Foundation and Ranger associations. Thank gosh I am now mostly on the other side of the camera, just saying!

It was hard to get my head around the fact that the trip was actually starting and that I had truly made it to the start line given all the challenges over the past 12 months. Believe me, I was always going to make it happen come hell or high water (…yeah so tick and tick, heavy sigh), but it was still crazy to think that I was really doing it. It hardly seemed real that I had actually taken 12 months Leave Without Pay, sunk everything I own into the trip (gulp) and taken the leap with barely a month of the trip properly planned. Though partly planned, the rest has had to remain flexible as Covid, weather and increased demands on parks staff have made it important to delay locking in plans until just a few months or even a few weeks out from a visit. For this little half German whose star sign is Virgo….well, that is very difficult to accept! Particularly as my emotional tolerance is still recovering from the battering of the floods and being essentially homeless for the past 4 months.

Meeting my mate Ranger Emma at the airport the next morning and jumping on a plane to Lord Howe Island was when it actually felt like I’d started. I was already having to do the spiel and explain why I was travelling right from the off as there were some lovely older (by about 30-40 years) travellers on our little plane who were fascinated by the two ‘young ones’ on board. It was certainly noticeable that Emma (still in her 20s) and I were a good two generations younger than everyone else on the island who was not a resident. Hence everyone asked why we were there…every time, and poor Emma had to explain that she was actually on holiday and not just my lackey helping with camera equipment when I was fumbling away working things out.

Needless to say, we both enjoyed the week away from the mainland and hiking (and riding bikes) around the island to get fitter…or so we told ourselves because evidently we were only ‘fit enough’ to get up Mt Gower according to our guide Jack as he so diplomatically put it at the top of the climb. Don’t worry, we made it back down too (just) and didn’t collapse onto the grass next to our bikes (in preparation for riding home) until Jack had ridden his own bike around the corner. We were therefore suitably appalled to discover that the bowls club had run out of desert when we went there for dinner hours later. We had bravely fought sleep after each having re-humanising hot showers and unwisely sitting down on a comfy couch at our accommodation until the bus was due. We had carefully booked the bowls club BECAUSE they had desert, and we knew we would have earned it. Thankfully Anchorage restaurant had sticky date pudding on the menu for my last night on the island so we both partook to make up for the lack of desert two nights before.

Jump on Polar Steps to read more about the walks and filming on Lord Howe including Seb the biosecurity dog (true professional) and the living legends Sue and Hank Bower who are incredibly inspiring (and award winning) conservationists that have put their heart and souls into transforming the environment of Lord Howe over the past 15 years.

Well, that will have to do for now before you all need a loo break just to finish reading. I will endeavour to catch you up on all the happening over the last few weeks so keep an eye on Instagram, Facebook, Polar Steps and the blog. I will work out how to do a ‘reel on Instagram soon so I can post a few weekly summaries as well, though I’m not promising they will be amazing…just more entertaining than a blog!

Anyway, hope you are all well and have survived winter. Thank gosh we are now in September and it's the first weekend of spring with the promise of warmer weather! Feel free to remind me of this when I’m complaining about the oppressive heat in the top end by the end of the month lol.


Danger Ranger

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Lennox Head, Headland, Sunrise
Sunrise over the rocky shore below Lennox Headland

I had to lead with a sunrise photo as we've had some wonderful mornings of late, and I've shockingly been awake and walking on the foreshore to enjoy them. 'Shocking' for those who know me and understand that mornings are not part of my inbuilt software. Normally you are at risk of the blue screen of death or a darlek worthy warning of abuses noises and the demand for a special code (= hot food + coffee, given you asked) to exit a grim error cycle triggered by waking me too early.

However, the best light for photography and film making and the best time for getting lots of little things done (like media posts and emails), is at dawn and those early hours when other (sane mortals) are still asleep. Hence, I'm starting that routine now so that during the expedition I am a functional human being at the most productive time of day for what I will be doing. I'm not saying I am particularly happy about this change, or that my mind and body are in any way on board. BUT (had to start a sentence that way just to disturb my mother) damn there are some nice sunrises here at Lennox. AND (again the joy of annoying one's mother) I've discovered the hollywood-wannabe-activewear-junkie set are far fewer before 5:30am. This is a brilliant and crucial discovery as I was not looking forward to doing my fire fitness training with just such an audience. I mean, how am I expected to keep up the fast paced power walk, wearing my 10kg-20kg vest, and not face plant when I can't help but burst into uncontrolled laughter in response to the absurd outfits and workouts worn and undertaken by said crowd. Highly entertaining for sure, but not conducive to an effective and safe weighted power walk.

Lennox Head, storms
Round 2 - more intense flooding rain, this time combined with lightning and gale force winds

In other news, just when we thought she was done, mother nature felt the need to advise us she was unimpressed with our response to her earlier message. Let's just say we lost round two as well, thankfully she pulled a few punches so we survived. Still not sure the key decision makers understood though. Perhaps a visual language consisting of economic graphs, currency symbols and polling stats would translate better?

Little Red is one lucky little car: she narrowly avoided flooding during the first round and was just missed by some coconuts and palm fronds in the second.

The great thing about all the rain are the waterfalls and thriving rainforest. I had a blast the other weekend out on patrol checking the few sites that were open, and the gates of the majority that were still closed. We may have a depressing amount of road works and repairs ahead of us but at least we can enjoy the scenery (haha is that not life in a nutshell!). My colleague and I even saw the cutest little frog (literally just 1cm long) at Koreelah campground and, whilst enjoyed a spot of cake overlooking the impressive river confluence at Moore Park Nature Reserve because hey why not, we were delighted with the sight of several feeding platypuses who somehow survived the carnage.

We have spent much of the last month working methodically through our parks assessing damage, clearing access along trails and checking visitor infrastructure like walking tracks, campgrounds and lookouts. We had just finished the initial damage assessments when the second round of flooding and storms hit. With Easter and school holidays just around the corner we had to rapidly determine what we might be able to get open in time and focus effort to make that happen.

Everything else is on hold as we navigate the school holidays, ensure visitors are safe and provide the community with somewhere to visit given beaches and rivers are off limits. In two weeks it will be back to the grind stone to assess, repair and plan the rest of the year as we gradually open things up again. This involves a considerable volume of Environmental and Heritage Impact Assessments before works can proceed and is of course all in addition to our normal conservation activities, fire planning, compulsory training, weekend patrols, compliance, project reporting and of course name but a few. After all, our parks and all their challenges don't press the pause button just because we are otherwise busy and staff have been flood affected, some twice over.

That said, assessing walking tracks can be lovely when you have them all to yourself!

The expedition has been continuing to accelerate keeping me busy and definitely a bit stressed over the last two weeks. Thankfully I've had some productive meetings and talked everything through with a mate who is sort of acting as my project management guide so that really helped with the stress and anxiety. Unfortunately a key Fellowship that would have helped with travel costs fell through, ditto my contact for getting my sailing support for leg three, plus I'm yet to secure my vehicle sponsor as the company needs time considers my proposal. So yes, bit stressed all of the above.

That said, my postie has been busy delivering a few choice pieces of kit that have arrived in the last two weeks, the gear geek in me is in heaven! It's served as an exercise in clandestine postal operations to hide the amount of parcels I'm getting from my grandparents who would quite rightly raise the old eyebrows. Hence, I now have a brand spanking new GoPro 8, a new lightweight hiking tripod, a deliciously perfect tech pouch sufficient to please my OCD tendencies, a lap desk for doing computer work (like blogs) from the comfort of a camping chair or bed (guilty as charged), and an utterly brutal massage gun to de-pretzel me post hockey, hiking or intense workout. Seriously, it's amazing but when you have a really tight muscle, even on the lowest setting it's as brutal as those physios who are all pro and no compassion for your need to breath and not pass out from pain. You know, the ones who think bones require massaging and pain is for princesses.

I was absolutely buzzing on the weekend after doing my first proper Diary Cam on my Panasonic S5, with my new fancy Panasonic S 50mm prime and Rode lavalier microphone setup. I battling most of the morning on Saturday trying to get all the tech to play nicely together in time for my to do the blog before I heading to hockey. There has been much procrastination around the diary cam born out of the hesitation to get in front of the camera (not my natural habitat) and speak to camera without feeling like a complete nube. I'm loath to be associated with the typical Instagramers we all too often have to rescue in our parks when it is revealed that sunglasses, a bikini and designer thongs/flip-flops/jandals are in fact not adequate hike-down-a-waterfall worthy gear. Oddly enough. It was the biggest high to finally get that under my belt and even watch it back without needing to shrink back in horror. One barrier down, now to talk to my phone camera in public. Kill me now.

There have been a few blips on the personal flood recovery front like when I saw all my ruined belongings had finally been removed, and again when I went into a book store for the first time since the flood. The bookstore was unexpectedly upsetting. I adore books and thus bookshops too and normally delight in wandering their aisles and making new lists of must reads. This time however, I was just hit with a feeling of devastating loss. In just a few moments my mind shuffled through all the wonderful books, comics and maps I had suddenly lost that I spent a lifetime finding, reading and carefully keeping. Only some will understand the loss of such cherished possessions that are just like old friends. Steeped in memories, wonderfully familiar and balm to the soul when other things in your life seem to change all too quickly and uncomfortably. Needless to say I purchased the map I had gone there for and got out before I got too teary to hide it. It was just a book store for goodness sake. Still, I think it might be a little while before there is more excitement than sadness in such shops of literary treasure.

So lots of ups and downs again but so much progress and exciting times. Several podcast interviews are scheduled in the coming weeks and Easter promises to be a cracker with my parents coming down for a visit which means I get to hang with our adorable family pooch, Archibald the almost brave Great Dane. Thank gosh for dogs 😊 🦴 🐕


Danger Ranger

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Flooding East Lismore
The flooding a few hours after the peak near my unit. My place is directly behind the brick building on the right, slightly down the hill.

I know we were all desperate for rain during and following the 2019-2020 fire season, but I think we may have overachieved with the rain dances people. Yoga is a safer option. Or even a good old fashioned interpretative dance. Less rain inducing and definitely popular in this neck of the woods.

I’m thinking that in the future, perhaps we need to wait until Noah has made himself available again because much as I respect the humble dingy, even the fishing-obsessed northern rivers region didn’t quite have enough to cover things. Admittedly they were literally life savers, and most beloved by the commercial tv networks who do enjoy touring emergencies and disaster areas without proper supervision.

Though in all seriousness, everything still feels very surreal. I haven’t yet accidentally driven to my old unit in Lismore on the way through from work, but I know it will happen. The water got to 1.5 metres high in my unit, there is nothing there but a gutted shell and a pile of that which couldn’t be salvaged. Even still, habits die hard. I think the only thing stopping me are the sobering scenes as you reach the edge of Lismore where you drive along streets lined with piles of people’s belongings that continue to be sorted and removed weeks after the floods.

Lismore floods
My street and everything it owned.

In a new daily ritual, ADF personnel separate the white goods and stack the mattresses then excavators and dozers scoop up the remainder of people’s lives and dump them into large trucks and giant skip bins. Intermittent piles are left, cordoned off when there is fear of asbestos or toxic substances. The same for sunken and leaning houses, not to mention those completely relocated. It’s now a depressingly simple waste removal exercise. They’ve ceased to be personal belongings for all but those who once owned them. I know I can’t be there when they remove my pitiful pile. I’m okay, but that would be one emotional step too far for this little Ranger.

I now have a 3hr round trip to work each day so I’m ripping through the podcasts and audio books, but as soon as I hit Lismore I turn it off. My brain can’t focus on driving, listening and dealing with the mix of emotions I get when I travel through my former community. Because it really is just that. Former, was, previous, before, not now. Instantly, literally overnight. As much as Goonellabah and a few small pockets down the hill were okay, the rest is just…well, done/gone/empty. At least for many, many weeks to come. It almost feels like attending a wake when you drive through. So yes, podcast off, respectful silence and some sober reflection – at least I was safe, at least I’m only a renter, at least I was insured, at least a few of my things survived. Most were not so lucky.

Letters, Walking the Thin Green Line
The joy of saving most of the letters from one of your best mates and pen pal of many years

Some of my immediate colleagues were hit by the floods way harder than me. Hearing them talk about being rescued from their roofs, watching their beloved animals drown in front of their eyes or walking away with only the clothes on their backs, their dogs, and their phone. I am so, so, so lucky. I have nothing to complain about. I only lost things and memories, not lives and loved ones, the two legged and the four.

I want to take this opportunity to speak also about my colleague’s family members and friends. In such small communities, many are local SES, RFS and ADF Reserve personnel. Many were in the middle of the search and rescue operations. They knew their houses were going under and continued to help others. They knew their colleagues, friends and families’ lives were at risk and they continued to do their roles. They copped abuse from scared, angry people, had tv cameras shoved in their faces and continued to do what was expected. These are not stories for the media, as much as live footage was broadcast to the world from those benevolent media helicopters. They are community stories. They are the foundation for rebuilding these regional communities. I am blessed to know and work with many such amazingly strong and wonderfully positive people who can experience such disasters, be they floods or fire, and continue to get up every morning and, not only get on with things, but continue to help and support others.

More personally, I’d first and foremost like to thank my wonderful Dad who dropped everything to rush down from Brisbane as soon as the water surrounding my families neighbourhood finally went down. I was stuck in Melbourne unable to get a flight home so he came to the rescue. He juggled early morning meetings with trawling through the mess of furniture and things strewn around my little unit by the flood waters. He piled boxes of heavy sodden belongings into the family scooby-do van (we have Great Danes, and yes a bright green scooby-do van) and unloaded them at the other end into my grandparents garage which eventually looked more like tsunami aftermath than a garage. He did this countless times a day, all in the still pouring rain. He even tried to separate out those things he knew I would be most upset about losing and using every outdoor covered area set about creating a makeshift market bazaar of semi-sodden-trying-to-try-things…on-lines.

And my little Corolla, aka Little Red, lives to drive another day.

I also want to thank my amazing Ranger family who came in force to lend my Dad a hand and even helped the poor little old lady living next door who lacked such a formidable labour force. Matt Wiseman, Allan Goodwin, Steve King and Richard Greenhill – you’re absolute legends, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

…that said, there really are no secrets anymore. I mean, what can you hide from colleagues who’ve helped clean out your bathroom, bedroom and entire house of every single item. Without you present. Yeah, just dwell on that mortifying thought for a moment! And to add insult to injury, my Dad and my colleagues met each other, without me there, with ample space and time to talk and even share stories. When I messaged my Dad in anticipation of said unsupervised conversation, stating he was not to believe anything they said, his delayed reply was –“They got a couple of stories out of me – couldn’t help it.” What exactly is that supposed to mean?! No wonder I drunk so much wine in Melbourne!

Which brings me to a very important thank you – my best mate. She and her family where the poor buggers hosting me in Melbourne and watching on with equal horror as the news revealed the extent of the floods and my new reality. My trip was meant to be a proper holiday on the coast with my best mate, great food and wonderful wine as a short break before the final four-month push leading into the expedition. It was still a great catch up with my best mate, but the stress and anxiety of what was happening at home did not make for restful sleep or great conversation. What should have been fun and gossip filled meal outings where more often interrupted with phone calls from home or spent organising what I should buy in Melbourne given what I had likely lost at home. So even though she will say it is unnecessary to say thank you, it isn’t, you deserve a massive thank you for stepping up as a true best mate when I needed you most. Who else is going to know that at such a time there is nothing like beach walks, trashy tv and chocolate to make everything okay…or at least you can pretend everything is okay anyway!

Given this exceptionally long post, the expedition updates from the trip to Melbourne will now take the form of Instagram posts (thank gosh I hear you all say, at least it limits word count!) so look out for these over the next week. So too will come more info on how you can help and get involved with the expedition.

As for work, well let’s just say that such volumes of rain and deep volcanic soils on steep slopes makes for less than passable roads. Fingers crossed the forecast heavy rains in the next couple of days are on the conservative side of the forecast. Take care out there everyone, and may I suggest putting your most beloved items on the TOP shelf, just in case.


Danger Ranger

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The Walking the Thin Green Line Oceania team recognise all the First Nations and Indigenous peoples across our earth, and recognise their living traditions of caring for lands and waters through Elders past, present and emerging.  

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