The world shaped by birds

In early days, the world was viewed as a smorgasbord of food and building resources.  Everything man saw was his for the taking.  Animals were food, trees were only steps away from being houses and the ground was laden with precious metals.  Collecting and naming new species of birds was arguably the first transition from eating nature to admiring and documenting it.  Being a naturalist meant collecting new bird species from exotic far-away lands and bringing them back to European home towns for analysis and display in collections.  I always think back to Alfred Russel Wallace, collecting birds around the Amazon and not once, but twice, experiencing his ship catching alight on his way home to London. Maybe if he didn’t have so many disasters, he could have beat Darwin in the race to unveil the theory of evolution.

As technology evolved, shooting birds with guns transitioned into shooting birds with cameras.  Stuffed bird collections transitioned into photo albums full of stunning birds from around the world.  To this day, people such as myself carry on the naturalist tradition of capturing our own collections of wild bird species and appreciating their different forms from behind our lenses.  As a keen bird photographer, I often consider bird species to be collectors’ items, with some species considered more prized than others.  I understand the Pokémon mentality of “Gotta catch em all” as there are so many different shapes, sizes and colours to uncover.

Naturalists soon evolved into modern day biologists and conservationists who uncover millions more species than of avian varieties.  However, unless you are one of these specialised individuals in elephant dung analysis, seahorse pregnancy behaviour or jewel beetle morphologies, it is unlikely that your time spent experiencing nature takes up a great proportion of your life- but here is where we come full circle.  Birds are the most accessible aspect of nature for people living in dense city high rises, rural towns or suburban housing estates.  Birds come to our houses, sit on our fences and chirp from our trees to an extent whereby birds are cutting through our technologically saturated lives and are perking human interest in nature once again.  In some instances, birds are people’s only connection to nature. Watching rainbow lorikeets feeding outside the kitchen window or hearing the kookaburra’s iconic laugh is now re-engaging the world with our environment.  Birds begun the naturalist trend, and when we lost our way, birds are once again re-engaging us with natural connections.

This year I have tried to uncover as much as possible about birds from their social and natural history, to their behaviour, intelligence, anatomy and how humans interact and consider them.  I initially wanted to know why I was so fascinated by birds, but the more I learned, the more I realised that there are probably more people fascinated with birds than people who have never considered them.  Modern day quails have told palaeontologists how flight evolved, geese, swans and cuckoos told linguists how the English language has evolved and cockatoos taught Alfred Russel Wallace how the continents were once connected. Discovering the same bird species in Australia and Asia, Wallace finally received some credit for the aptly named “Wallace Line” which separates the two continents in a way that groups similar species found across both regions. After so many flaming ship disasters, birds came through for Wallace even though it was not in the initial way he intended.

To conclude, if you secretly feed birds in your backyard, find yourself lost in thought looking at a pigeon pecking at the ground or stop to admire the bright pink breast of a galah, you are not alone. For centuries, millions of humans all over the world have used birds as a gateway drug to uncover the rest of what the natural world has to offer.  From understanding human speech from birdsong to canaries in coal mines, I dare you to find a subset of human culture where birds have not had an influence.  How special must a creature be to have shaped our lives so intensely, even if most of us have never realised until now.


The Five Year Miracle

Passionate about saving Earth’s tropical rainforests, I packed my bags and flew to the Leuser Ecosystem in North Sumatra, Indonesia, the last place on earth where you can find tigers, rhinos, elephants and orangutans all in the same location. Flying over the country, I was shocked at how all the horrible images I had seen had come to life. Large brown squares of decimated forest and rows and rows of oil palm plantations blanketed the island.

“Was there any forest left to save?” I thought to myself.

Days later, I found myself in an open cabin-like structure, a “pondok” as it is known in Indonesian, in the middle of a restored forest site. Looking out from the tower, I could see the border where the plantations met the new forest. Looking around at the trees surrounding me, I couldn’t believe that this land was once a plantation too. Collecting data on local elephant and orangutan populations, I had to look twice at my map. I could not believe my eyes when I saw elephant faeces, tracks and scratchings as well as orangutan nests in restored forest that was only five years old.

“Five years”
That figure ran laps in my head as I thought about all the baron land I saw out of the plane. I imagined every Indonesian planting a tree and in five years time, critically endangered Sumatran rhinos, elephants, tigers and orangutans could have their habitat back and a new chance at survival.

Two years later I found myself back in Australia planting trees for koala habitat in the You Yangs region of Victoria. Forty percent of the local koala population has been lost due to climate change impacting the availability of old growth sclerophyll forest. While planting seedlings along waterways, I heard a volunteer ask my boss how long it took for a eucalyptus tree to hold a koala. I listened intently to the answer.
“Five to six years” she said.

“Five years”
In the time it took me to finish high school, I could have planted River Red Gums along waterways with leaves full of moisture and fewer toxins to allow for koalas to expand their home range in drought conditions. Native birds could have nested in those trees and mobs of kangaroos could have sought shade under their established branches.

This piece of information stood at the forefront of my mind as the most important fact I have discovered as a conservationist. No matter where you are in the world, in the fertile and fast growing forests of South East Asia or the hot and dry slow growing forests of Australia, it only takes five years to create new habitat for species who are running out of chances for survival.

A tree is a five year miracle for wildlife, landscapes and people all over the world. Growing up I always read that when a forest is gone, so is all hope of getting it back. Now I envision a world where in just five years, there is a new hope for forests, for wildlife and for Earth.

Tell me a story

Tell me a story is a phrase that has been passed down from my mother to me. We yearn for that tale of life lesson inspiring adventure, however we never get much of that from whomever we ask. It was not until I moved out of home and settled down with my partner that I realised how similar I was to my mother, having believed throughout my whole life that we were complete opposites. To tell my own story, it must be said that I get my emotive flare from my mother and my sense of logic and rational from my father, and looking back on the decisions I have made throughout my life, you can see that both of these forces strongly govern the choices I have made.

I grew up surrounding myself with my own set of rules as a substitute for the freedom to learn and play and grow that my parents lovingly provided. I have always been tough on myself and have imagined the pressure that others have thrust upon me in the confines of my mind, but never in reality. It could be argued that I took life way too seriously from the get go; I pushed my brother back and forth in his pram, trying to calm him down for my busy mother when I was only a couple of years older than him. I taught my sister to read and later I taught her fractions and binomial nomenclature. When I was five years old I sat my mother down on the couch and confessed to her that I hated being five, and could not wait to turn six just weeks later because nobody takes a five year old seriously, and I meant serious business.

When I was sixteen, I felt I was finally at the age to start doing real things, making real change for this world. I used to volunteer my time to conservation and wildlife organisations, march my friends and family around the local zoo and recall long lists of facts about every animal I saw as well as taking every opportunity to defended my values religiously to the naysayers. My whole life I have been on a mission, blinkers on, heading toward the future I wanted. Looking back, peers never pressured me because the pressure I put on myself to save the world was far greater than any pressure they could conjure in aid of common teenage vices. The only posters on my wall were of gorillas and zebras, not of pop stars and teenage icons.

In university I finally took a risk and did something that lead to consequences larger than I could have envisioned. Angry at a documentary on cloning the Tasmanian Tiger, I asked the question:

“Why the hell isn’t anyone doing anything to protect the wildlife we have, instead of spending millions of dollars to bring back the dead?”

And in that moment I was faced with the rude awakening that I was anyone and it would be hypocritical of me to ask this question without doing anything myself. In that moment I channelled my anger into a petition which went viral and sooner than I knew, my job was on the line, company cars were escorting me out of uni to head offices and just in time for exams. Scared out of my mind, I rang my father who I always ring in times of need and he said:

“Jessie, you have wanted to fight for what you believe in your whole life. This is your chance to do so, or this is your chance to let it go. I will support you either way, but this is your decision to make.”

With my dad’s support, I committed and saw it through. This was the first time I risked something for what I believed in, and from this beginning, a little pocket of fearlessness grew within me.

Some people have been cursed with challenging upbringings, but I always say I have imposed these life challenges on myself. In light of a loving family, good friends and a strong education I decided to follow up university by spending six months living on a tropical island, sleeping on the ground, frogs living in the drinking water and beans and rice for every meal, every day. I was one of the youngest people on the island and I had applied for a staff role as an assistant research officer which meant I was the same age or younger than my peers but was pressured with a responsibility over them which demanded a level of respect. During this time, I thought I would learn how to be a good field scientist, but actually I learnt that everyone else’s opinions are not gospel and that above all, I needed to believe in myself and protect myself in order to survive. The world isn’t at all fair, there are no gold stars, but if there were, I was an adult now so I could damn well hand them out to myself. Now looking back on the experience, I give past Jessie a gold star for getting through it all and getting stronger instead of getting defeated.

The next year I was in the middle of another forest, with Indonesian men I couldn’t understand and who couldn’t understand me, but over time I could start to understand them and they could start to understand me.  Spending too much time in the forest, I found a passion for elephants and decided to be the first person to study them in North Sumatra. By the end of the month, I had evolved from a isolated white woman into a friend and some of those memories are my dearest of all. I thought I would learn about what I would study in the following year, but I actually learnt that huge barriers both cultural and language based are easily dissolved in time and company.

Back again the year after, I was now a student and an employee of my field colleagues from the year before. I had worked hard to improve my language and they were surprised at our ease of conversation when I met them back in the forest in a brand new cabin from the one in my previous stay. The second time round, I was one of them. I taught them English, I talked with the men in the village when no women were allowed and I lead foreign visitors through the forest and spoke about it as if it was my child. A school student from England declared:

“We need to do something about this! We are the future!”

And it was one of the proudest moments of my life, to have instilled this hope and fire into him about something I cared so deeply about. From then on, I spoke about my work at festivals and conferences and in Singapore a woman overheard me talking at dinner and interrupted:

“Hold on, so you care this much about Sumatran elephants and you have only ever seen their poop?”

Apparently my love for elephant poop was enough to win a student award at this conference and get offered to work in her elephant project in Sri Lanka. I thought I would complete my honours project that year, but I actually established myself as a proper scientist and began to finally value my own work as equal to that of others and continue to be proud of my passions, even if my passions were mostly faecal matter and what they mean for Sumatran forests.

The next year I found myself in Sri Lanka, faced with the fear of isolation once again after my stint in the North Sumatran cities. When I found out there wouldn’t be field work for most of the month and that I would be cooped up in a room, unable to understand anyone again, I made a decision for my mental health to stay with my Sri Lankan friend and people I knew. The effects of isolation had been crippling my psyche ever since Indonesia and I could not go through it again, even if it meant there were more chances to see elephants. During this time I managed to put my mental health first without searing bridges with the organisation who offered my stay with them and I was proud of myself for foreshadowing hardship and avoiding subjecting myself to it again. My whole life I had always put my conservation career first and this was the first time I had sacrificed an opportunity in order to put myself first which was an important milestone in my life.

I decided to stay in Australia from then on to establish myself in my home country, gain local contacts and rekindle with the land that I kept leaving behind. After trying and trying endlessly to establish a career, I found an opportunity in New South Wales, in a small country town. I thought I was going to learn about sustainable and ethical tourism but what I actually learnt was that I am done learning. I had years of experience, I had lived through years of tough conditions and I was done. The isolation and severity of the living situation broke me down more than having relentless gastric problems on a Madagascan beach, finding a builder in my bed in North Sumatra or even running from a tiger in a muddy Malaysian forest. I realised, I had experienced enough. I wanted my own life, a paid job and some kind of security. I ended up fleeing in the middle of the night through the winding hills and sleeping in the same bed as the man I loved.

Now, I am on his journey, or our journey together. His pursuit of a career lead him to Victoria and I decided that I didn’t care where I was anymore as long as I was with him. In an interview, a woman said to me:

“Wow, I have had a look at your resume and I am impressed by how much you have done!”

To which I said,

“Or how much I have failed at, which is why I keep having to start again.”

Looking back, it seems as if I have embarked on many life journeys which have somehow morphed into one. I don’t truly believe that I have failed, because through all of these experiences I have learnt more about myself than I could ever imagine, and more about my industry and life in general than is palatable. The other day I was walking through the scrub, looking at birds when I realised three things.

  1. I have come all this way to do the same thing that I started off doing as a kid, I have come full circle
  2. I no longer want to save the whole world. If the trees that I plant have a positive impact on even a single ant, bird or butterfly, then I should be happy. If the people I talk to are inspired to see the world differently, contribute to conservation or even to learn a bit more about how they impact the planet, I should be happy. If doing these things brings me joy and and happiness, I have won, what more can you want?!
  3. I don’t have to go through life kicking and screaming alone. Having a team mate makes life 1000% more achievable and enjoyable none the less.

My story doesn’t end here, but it ends here for now. I still can’t help but take life seriously, but I think I am seriously happy with how far I have come and how much I have believed in myself and that is something I can be proud of. In the end I can say, if the wilderness has taught me anything, it has taught me everything.

And that is my story.


Extinction of experience

At the end of the book “The birds at my table”, the author Darryl Jones mentions a phenomenon called the “extinction of experience.” The extinction of experience can be summarised by the loss of immersing yourself in nature, be it with wildlife watching, making mud pies or building tree forts, in this era of the digital age. As a 90’s kid, my childhood memories are filled with experiences of riding bikes around the neighbourhood all weekend with my friends, capturing yabbies and bringing them home to bite my mother’s fingers and raising tadpoles we stole from the wild with my next door neighbour. Reminiscing back on all the tree houses I built, pretend mountains I climbed and pure bonding with my friends and siblings over the privacy and intimacy of being alone in nature, made me realise how these experiences were so powerful and profoundly important in my life. These experiences were so pronounced in fact, that I based my whole career around the ability to keep on experiencing these experiences. (As you can tell by the content and theme of this blog.)

The phrase “extinction of experience” unexpectedly suck in my mind much longer than I read the words for as I struggle to understand the possibility of a generation who has never washed dirt out of their fingernails after a long mud pie making session, who has never fallen from a low branch while trying to climb a tree or has never felt the exhilaration of rolling down a grassy hill.

I remember when I was working in an ecotourism venture where families from all over the globe would come to stay on the beautiful farm style property with lakes, orchards, wildlife and lots of space to run around an explore. The most bewildering moments were meeting some of the children who came to stay who, for them, running around and exploring was a new phenomenon that they had never been exposed to. We had to in essence, show these kids how to be kids and let them know that they had free rein to be able to utilise all the resources that they discovered in their new environment.

One family in particular had flown in all the way from Tokyo, Japan and had grown up living in a dense city environment. Suddenly in quite the opposite surrounds, with large open spaces, flowering trees and fruits all around them, the I urged the kids to explore, create and get inspired. Walking to work the next day, a huge smile filled my face as I saw the most amazingly decorated tepee made from sticks in the front yard of their accommodation. Those kids had created an experience that they will remember for a long time and hopefully one which will shape  the way they experience life into the future. Suddenly there were building blocks and toys all around them in this natural environment now they had uncovered that way of thinking.

I believe experiences can be manifested at any age, not just within a “childhood” as I feel that an essence of human-hood is to return back to a natural state in order to keep ownership of your sanity. For some, this can be a walk through the park with a dog, the pondering of a bird outside of your kitchen window or sitting on your porch with a glass of wine. Sometimes losing yourself and finding yourself are the same experience and often these instances occur in nature where you have time and peacefulness in order to make sense of the chaos of your mind.

Do I believe in the extinction of experiences? Yes and no. Yes technology and child safety means there are more restrictions in the free play of newer generations, yes, technology, busy schedules and modern lives do make it seem hard to prioritise time for experiencing nature and yes, Google is asked more questions than are pondered on a long stroll. But at the same time I honestly believe that humans are still a part of the animal kingdom on Earth. We still need to take time to re-connect with our world to discover what our role is on this planet, we still need to take time to think and explore and wonder because it is a huge part of silencing the chaos of the world we live in. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if people will eventually get addicted to the peace of nature as a break from being constantly being attached to devices, and maybe there will be a reoccurring surge of interest in losing ourselves in the world around us. Who knows? Maybe this is just a crazy fan theory.

My experiences with nature have shaped who I am today. They have lead me to a career in the conservation of global biodiversity, they have lead me to form incredible friendships, unique memories and most of all my experiences in nature have taught me more about myself and this world than any book, paper or documentary ever could. So passionately that I have compiled everything that nature has taught me in this very blog:

Teachings from the wilderness.

Forest grooming

Self grooming for most people is a daily ritual. Freshly shampoo’d hair, freshly shaved legs and clean feet is usually nothing to harp on about, or even rejoice in. For whatever reason, however, during my time spent living in remote locations whether it be on a sandy island surrounded by mangroves, or in the middle of a tropical rainforest, nothing has ever become more of a sacred ritual than “cheer-up grooming”.

It was a sad day, I had been living in the middle of a North Sumatran rainforest for two weeks with two peers from my university. One was a PhD student and the other was an honours student. Who was I? Well, I was more of a tag along with the aim of deducing a future research project for the following year. Jumping at the opportunity to spend as much time out of Australia as possible, I convinced the university I needed a whole month to settle on a project, meanwhile I had already figured out what I was going to do and my fellow university students were up up and away to continue their research back home. Knowing about five Indonesian words, I stood bewildered in front of the pondok (bare bones cabin), the only building in the forest, after I waved goodbye to the only English speaking people in a 100 kilometre radius.

Looking at the pondok, there were a group of local men sitting in a circle, shirts off, playing a betting game and smoking cigarettes. I suddenly realised that I was a fish out of water with no life-saving puddles in site. Suddenly super aware of my own body, my pale white skin, my not-Muslim-in-the-slightest attitude and the large leech bite bleeding through my shirt, giving the illusion that I was shot in the stomach. What was I even allowed to do in this situation? Could I even sit down in the same area as them? Could I even talk to them? In my anxious moment of self awareness, I slunk up to the top level of the pondok and collected a towel, a razor, some soap, shampoo and conditioner as well as a pair of pants and a shirt I had not had to wash in a bucket of creek water yet.

Living in a humid forest, it is so easy to let yourself go for a long long time. What’s the point of washing your hair when you will sweat it into a greasy mess in a few hours anyway? What is the point of washing your feet when they will just get covered in leach bites anyway? What is the point of washing your shirt when a new leech will bite you tomorrow anyway? Self grooming soon becomes a relief, rather than a necessity really quickly.

Undressing in the room a few hundred meters away from the pondok, I looked at the huge bucket of water that was not only my shower, but also the washing machine and the flush for the toilet. A “mandi”, or as you would call it “a bucket of water and a scoop” is the crux of any Indonesian household, or middle-of-the-forest residence. I looked down at my body, scratched and bruised from head to toe, which complemented the array of leech holes perfectly. Was I dirty or tanned from all this time outside? How did I still have any hair left after the trees have continued to rip it off of my head every time I ventured into dense patches of forest? Oh wait…there it all was…on my legs.

I scrubbed and I washed and I shaved until I felt totally brand new. My clean clothes complemented my new shiny skin that was at least five shades lighter than before and I felt five times better than before. I went back up stairs to moisturise and continue this self grooming session until I knew my role in this world, and thankfully moments later I hear a call from down stairs.

“Jessie! Jessie!”

I peeked down to the bottom floor. A young field researcher looked up at me.

“Kamu suka mie?”

I knew “kamu” meant you and “suka” meant like but what in Allah’s name was “mie”? Meat? Me? did I like him? I took a leap of faith, said yes, and went downstairs.

Sitting around was a group of men eating none other than fresh bowls of fried noodles….oh that’s what mie was, noodles! The man that asked me if I liked noodles was smiling at me ready to hand me a plate. I ate thankfully.

“Terima Kasih” Thank you!

I said.

“Sama Sama” No worries.

He said.

I realised how awkward it was that I couldn’t speak to the men as I ate, it seemed rude and unfriendly but to my surprise, they all started trying to talk to me as best they could. One of them got out a translating app on his Nokia and a note pad and we tried the best we could to go back and forth answering each other’s questions.

Later that night, a section of my ankle exposed as I got up from my sitting position. “Where is your hair?” one of the men said with a disgusted look on his face. After working out what he asked I motioned that it was gone.

“Tidak bagus” Not good.

He said.

And after that, I felt good because I had friends, and thus could let my leg hair grow wild like a viking beard flowing from my legs, just how the Indonesian’s like it.

To this day, if I am unsure of how to feel, what to do, or if I need some cheering up on a primal level, I still go to a little bit of extra effort to take some time for myself to transform my dusty old body into a shiny and clean one. If it works in the forest, it can work anywhere. I guess the mentality is, if you feel good on the outside, you often feel good on the inside too which can get you through anything. The year after I ate noodles with the field staff, I did end up returning to carry out my own field study alone with the same men, who complimented me on my practised and improved conversational language skills. Here is a picture of me below, teaching them all how to speak English. A fresh start gets you a long way, as does a fresh body.


A dose of vitamin me

For most of my life, I have been terrified of hospitals in fear that one day I may contract an illness or sustain an injury which may hold me captive forever within the haunting sterile white walls, trapping me from the outside world I love so dearly. Unfortunately, no matter how well I have managed to keep myself out of the wars, there are others around me who do require care from hospitals and their staff. Despite my distaste for such places, I have been inside a hospital every single day for the past month which has given me time to think about how I view medical care and how I have seen medical care be distributed throughout different parts of the world.

When I was little, being sick was taking a day off of school to rest, eat dry toast and to watch Oprah Winfrey with my mum at lunch time. This routine has carried through my whole life as can be seen by the way I begged a local Indonesian to bring me dry toast when I was sick in Medan, despite not having anywhere to get bread or even a toaster from for kilometres surrounding my house. If they couldn’t get toast, there was probably even lesser chance of obtaining Oprah Winfrey to comfort me in my time of need.

In Madagascar, everyone inevitably contracted a severe case of “The Shits” which lead some people to set up camp at the long drop until this never ending period of life actually did end. I called my sharp abdominal pains “My Tree Baby” after the episode of Around the Twist where Pete urinated on a tree and ended up having to give birth to the tree’s child after somehow impregnating himself in the process. Soon after impregnating myself with my “baby tree” I aborted it with a couple of shots of moonshine from the Frenchman down the beach. In the middle of a tropical island, land locked from any real town, moonshine was as good as any medicine to kill stomach bugs and a litre of Coke was all you needed to replenish your sugars after you had lost all your mass, water and electrolytes.

Having a fever in a wooden hut in the middle of a tropical island was one of the few times I thought I was actually going to die. Having a fever in the equivalent of a sauna had me thinking about what I wished I had said to my loved ones and wondering who was going to bring them the devastating tales of my loss across the oceans that separated us. Like a zombie, I crawled across camp to the shower, stood lifelessly under the nozzle with my clothes on, and went back to bed already dry by the time I got back. After being force fed beans, rice and a litre of coke, I began coming to the realisation that I might actually survive to tell the tale.

This way of thinking carried me through to Indonesia when the nurse couldn’t find my partner’s vein to put a drip in so he could replenish his fluids after his first experience with third world diseases. After being frustrated from seeing him wince in pain every time the nurse missed, I stopped her, took him home and made him drink a litre of sports drink instead. Needless to say,  He felt much better after and it was 100 times less painful. Even now, back in Adelaide when he gets a cut or a scratch, I immediately get out my forest medical kit and dress his wounds as if he was at risk of a tropical ulcer…..unnecessary, however old habits die hard and you can never be too safe.

There is something about African doctors visits whereby they are always the same. From wealthy South Africa, to poor Madagascar, any doctor you have will invite you into an empty room with just a single desk sitting in the middle of it. They will then sit you down to explain your ailments and following this, no matter what you say, he or she will open the top drawer of the desk and remove one bag of small blue pills. They will push them towards you and send you on your way. In one instance where I had a foot infection, they supplemented the random magical blue African pills with eye ointment. In that instance, I walked out of the doctors office confused then paused shortly before walking back in again to ask what was actually wrong with me.

When I snapped my tendon and the whole country of Indonesia tried to convince me that all I needed was a massage and herbal tea to fix it, I was not impressed. No way in hell was I allowing anyone to touch a broken tendon, and to mash it forcefully at that. My boss swore to me that if I went to a hospital or doctor they would laugh at me hysterically because all I needed was a special Chinese massage. I was at the very least hoping for an experience like at the Indonesian dermatologist who asked me to point to my disease in an English picture book, knowing full well he couldn’t speak a lick of English. More random pills. More desk drawers. HOW, TELL ME HOW, are third world doctors fitting their whole medical inventories in the top drawer of their desks? This is surely which craft or multitasking medication.

From dry toast to a bottle of moonshine and random magic blue pills, I have experienced a plethora of medical advice in my time. Maybe, just maybe, Australian hospitals aren’t that scary after all…. but then again, maybe living in the wilderness has taught me that all you need to survive is a Frenchman baring strong potent liquor and a doctor baring a single desk drawer of random blue all encompassing pills.


Be Better

In nature, I am just a person. I am as flesh and bone as the birds in the trees, the worms in the soil and the bats in the sky. In nature I am a giant to ground dwellers and a midget to tree dwellers. I am neither too big nor too small for my surroundings, I am neither better nor worse than those around me and I am not judged nor valued within my environment. In nature, I simply just am.

Unfortunately, the constructs of human society do not mirror the laws of nature. The premise of survival of the fittest is contradicted by the presence and use of hospitals and welfare programs and the premise of niches is corrupted by the fact that we seem to thrive everywhere despite what used to live where we wish to establish ourselves. In the world of humans, you can be too small, too big, and you can definitely be judged and valued by those around you. In the human world, it is not just enough to be, but rather you are encouraged to spend your whole life being better.

It was written on the wall of my first job in my field in big blue letters. Those two words haunted me every day reminding me that I was never good enough, I was never all I could be. That evil phrase “BE BETTER” loomed over me as I lit the fire at 5am to make everyone breakfast and when I returned at 9pm from my last data collection walk of the day. No matter how much I did or how hard I tried in my position, I could always be better. Who I was was never enough.

Sitting at the airport on my way back to Australia, before a life of running water, electricity, wifi and a loving harem of family and friends, I wrote a final blog. I told the world that I was stronger, I knew what I was capable of and I was going to try my best to help animals in the tourism industry. I had forgotten about those big blue letters and all I cared about was being good enough and strong enough to continue on my own journey and I believed that I was more than capable. At that moment, I didn’t need to be any better than I was. I found this blog the other day having realized that I had in fact been strong enough and capable enough. I reflected on the organisation I started called “Heroic Tourism” which aims to conserve animals in the tourism industry, I thought back to all the successes that have come from that and all the people who have joined me in my journey. I read my foreshadowing words with a smile, I believed I was good enough and low and behold, I was right.

Years later I found myself in a new job where once again I was never good enough for my bosses. All my values were wrong and I was constantly having to stand up for my rights as a woman, surprisingly this job was not in another country, but in a small town here in Australia. Even more surprisingly, the misogynous person I was battling against was also a woman. I ended up taking responsibility for the whole business, the property, the house, looking after the kids and dealing with correspondence from other businesses who wanted to collaborate while my bosses went overseas. On their return I was exhausted, but as I picked them up from the airport as my final duty from their absence, instead of being greeted with warmth and gratitude, I was greeted with a lecture on how I should have cleaned the bathroom.

A week ago I found myself in a meeting for a job opportunity whereby the interviewer asked me about the situation and how I resolved it. I was granted the opportunity based on the way I handled that situation and my attitude toward conflict resolution. What once was my living nightmare was now a gateway to new exciting opportunities in exactly the field I want to work in. I was no longer a slave to to the anxiety and trauma caused by my stay in that position and more so, I was vindicated by my actions thereby relieving me into a new world of possibilities. Once again I had come out of a bad situation stronger and more equipped to take on whatever I endeavoured to embark on.

On my days off, I often find myself compelled to walk for as long and as far as I can and in this time I spend a moment to reflect on the people I have been. I am not the sum of the values bestowed upon me by people who do not believe in me, but instead I am the sum of all the belief I bestow upon myself. Those big blue letters on the wall are laughable, and only reflect the thoughts and feelings of those who wrote them. I know for sure that all the people who have employed me that don’t treat me with the respect I deserve are not the best versions of themselves and I hope that everyone who works with them in the future doesn’t kill themselves trying to be better, but knows deep in their hearts that they are good enough, at least in natures eyes anyway.