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University of New South Wales
Forest and wildlife officer
Callum Gillies studied environmental management and is a forest and wildlife officer with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victoria.
What's your full name and job title? What did you study?
My name is Callum Gillies and I am a forest and wildlife officer with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Victoria. I studied environmental management at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and graduated in 2017.
Where did you grow up? What were some important stages of your life in regards to your schooling and education?
I grew up on the Central Coast, NSW, which is about an hour and a half north of Sydney. I enjoyed living so close to the beach and having protected areas and natural landscapes everywhere I looked. Having a strong interest in biology and conservation I decided to move to Sydney for university. I studied environmental management and majored in biology. I found this degree perfect for me, as it allowed me to gain knowledge and experience in the biology and ecology courses that I loved. I was also able to study environmental economics, law, policy and people management subjects that challenged me but set me apart from other students.
Although difficult sometimes financially, I made living in Sydney possible through working at the university call centre, putting up posters and washing dishes throughout my studies. While at UNSW, I grabbed every opportunity available and was able to undertake field work with wildlife across New South Wales; study and travel in South America; and make connections to peers and academics. Through these connections I was selected for an honours project at the University of Sydney, where I researched the success of hand-raised juvenile brushtail possums released into the wild. This was in collaboration with Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Services, NSW.
After university I struggled to find full-time work and felt lost for about six months. I mostly applied for graduate positions as I believed they would provide the best head start to a long career. In order to gain more field experience and pay the bills, I joined a Green Army Project doing bush regeneration while applying for jobs. Eventually I was accepted into the DELWP and Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) Science and Planners Graduate Program, after a five-stage assessment process. I moved to Melbourne in January and have been with the department since.
What does your employer do?
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning is the state government department responsible for the management of natural and water resources, the delivery of fire and emergency response, planning sustainable cities, property and land titles and protecting the environment.
I work within the Forest, Fire and Regions Group of DELWP. We are responsible for protecting Victoria’s natural assets and its public lands to ensure sustained benefits for future generations. DELWP’s Forest, Fire and Regions Group enforces laws relating to the protection of public lands and wildlife. These include laws that regulate timber harvesting, firewood collection and campfires, as well as the use of Crown land and trade in, theft of and cruelty to native wildlife.
Can you describe a typical work day?
Every day as a forest and wildlife officer is different. Some days can be spent entirely in the field, patrolling state forests and interacting with members of the public who are camping or collecting firewood. Other days you might be in the office all day following up on administration and processing applications from land owners. Some of the most interesting but time-consuming work is investigating illegal and harmful activities and ensuring our response meets community expectations.
Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study?
I would recommend studying a science or environmental science degree. These degrees are designed to give you knowledge and experience across a broad range of topics. Having technical skills such as GIS, plant and animal ID and data analysis are valuable in this field.
Are there any soft skills it would be beneficial for students to develop?
People skills and communication are essential in the public service. Not only are you responsible for working effectively in teams but you are the face of the department. Often you will be the only face-to-face interaction that community members will have with the department.
Should students pursue any sort of work experience?
If you have the time, jump at any opportunities that you are passionate about whether this be with an agency or company, or assisting a local student with field work.
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
Someone who is patient, considered and passionate.
What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?
It sounds very cheesy but what I love the most are the people. The department is like a big old family and people come from all walks of life with so much wisdom and knowledge to share. The tasks I love the most are those that require problem solving. For example, I could be tasked with a wildlife management issue regarding kangaroos on a farmer’s property and be given time to consider and research this problem. As a team we might decide the best solution is to install an additional water point to alleviate damage to the farmers property.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job?
The biggest limitation is that officers have little control over the legislation we enforce and a regulatory tool that may have worked in the past may not be the best solution now. The job itself requires a lot of flexibility. Officers are often asked to work early mornings, late hours, night shifts and weekends. Officers are also required to maintain a certain level of fitness due to the long hours in the field. This will increase if you are interested in taking on a fire role during the fire season.
What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
If this wasn’t my career I believe I would be working for a not-for-profit organisation in the conservation field – perhaps in marketing – as I believe that how the community receives science communication could be improved.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?
- Surround yourself with people who support and care for you, however also invest in people who you don’t know but who inspire you to be better.
- Some people think that by not making a decision you are keeping your options open, but this is not true. Make a decision and try whatever it is wholeheartedly, regardless of whether it’s a job, travel or study. If you don’t like it, move on to something else.
- Ask for help. Struggling to make a decision? Too much on your plate? Having a bad day, week or six months? Reach out and let someone in.