Hi my name is Megan Rowlatt, and I hug trees
Jamberoo Tree Hug
No really. I do. All the time. See…
Royal National Park Tree Hug
Positano Italy Tree Hug
Grand Canyon USA Tree Hug
Growing up in the NSW coastal town of Corrimal with my mum, dad and younger brother, I had a wholesome childhood. Playing with other kids in our street until the street lights came on, climbing trees, playing in the bush along the foothills of the Illawarra escarpment after school, visiting local swimming holes in the national park, and with regular camping trips and family holidays to a range of destinations, this set the foundations for a keen sense of adventure, a desire to travel the world, and a love of our natural environment.
.Nan and pop from my dad’s side resided in a beautiful little country town called Crabbes Creek on the north coast of NSW. I spent many of my first years in the crystal clear creeks with my dad and our family dog and over the years developed an emotional connection to the landscape, particularly rainforests and fresh water bodies. I’m a sucker for a rope swing and a swimming hole.
1 year old me and my dad in Crabbes Creek, NSW.
Growing up I was a keen bushwalker and still am. I love climbing things, especially mountains (even though I am secretly a little bit scared of heights. But don’t tell anyone. I like to look tough).
Path of the Gods, Amalfi Coast – Italy Austrian Alps Royal National Park
Kosciusko National Park NSW (me and my bro), Whistler Mountain Canada, Füssen – Germany
I’ve travelled the world (but not nearly enough of it) and love learning about other cultures, exploring new environments and letting my mind flow over the possibilities of where life will take me next. I love laughing, and I mean laughing hard, and I always surround myself with people who make me smile. But I always come home. There really is no place like home and travelling abroad and living away for a period of time helped to develop a deep appreciation of just how amazing our country is. Sometimes I am so awe-struck by the beauty of our landscape it gives me goose bumps. And when you love something so much and want to make sure it’s there for future generations to enjoy, you get involved.
My favourite swimming hole, Royal National Park
Exploring the creek line, Royal National Park
My local beach at sunset, and local lagoon North Wollongong, NSW
…And this is the view I am greeted with every time I come home from traveling.
After finishing high school I decided that I wanted to complete a degree in primary teaching figuring the lengthy school holidays would satisfy my desire to travel and allow more flexibility in the amount of time I could take off, but soon after commencing a Bachelor of Education degree I developed a love affair with my science electives. Through my first year of study I was so torn, I was spending more time with my two environmental science electives than my education subjects and things were getting out of control. After breaking down in tears to my dad one night crying “I don’t want to be a primary teacher anymore I want to be an environmental scientist (insert sooky stressed face)” he looked at me and plainly said “why are you crying you weirdo? If that’s what will make you happy, do it” and so I did, and immediately made the leap into Bachelor of Environmental Science degree’s arms at the University of Wollongong. (See ya education, you just weren’t the right one for me).
Having spent all of my life growing up in the Illawarra I began to get itchy feet and was craving a change of scenery so I moved to the Gold Coast in 2003 and transferred to a Bachelor of Science in Ecotourism. Working with people has always been in my nature, I spent many years working in bars and hospitality. Interacting and meeting new people was the biggest attraction for me in this industry so it was only natural that I would enjoy studying a degree which offered opportunities for me to explore the tourism industry as well as develop skills and knowledge in environmental science.
After spending four years away from home and taking advantage of the beautiful warm weather QLD has to offer, I began to miss our coast line (seriously, we really do have the best coastline in the world).
See. It’s pretty amazing. (Me and my best friend)
I returned to Wollongong and was immediately employed as a casual Visitor Services Officer with NPWS working at Royal National Park. Being casual, I had some spare time and I wanted to continue to develop my knowledge around natural resource management (NRM), so I began to volunteer with Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) where I started to really become aware of regional environmental issues. A position as Landcare Community Support Officer came up during my time as a volunteer with CVA. Looking at the selection criteria I didn’t think I had a chance but I applied anyway. The next day I had an interview and the day after that I was employed! Almost five years on, I am still loving the role.
Funded by Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority and hosted by Conservation Volunteers Australia, as the Landcare Community Support Officer for the Illawarra region, my role is to assist Landcare volunteers, private landholders and farmers, as well as the wider community to develop skills and knowledge around natural resource management. This includes delivering training to build capacity of volunteers and individuals working in natural areas to carry out quality on-ground activities, engaging new volunteers into Landcare, managing and distributing online resources through newsletters, social media and a range of websites, and applying for a variety of grants to carry out environmental projects in the Illawarra region.
This job couldn’t be more perfect for me. I get to travel around the region and meet and work with loads of wonderful people. I love my volunteers and the groups I get to work with, they are just beautiful. I also am fortunate enough to be able to travel around the state for meetings and forums where I have an opportunity to share my experiences and be inspired by other NRM professionals and volunteers. I find managing online resources and developing resources such as newsletters satisfying as I am able to apply my own creative flair to these products.
Some of the places I get to see for work…
Bermagui River at sunset NSW
Little Blowhole, Kiama NSW
Albion Park NSW
But after attending my very first state Landcare forum in Queanbeyan I was surprised to learn that there was a real lack of young people in the Landcare movement. Many existing groups were of retirement age and no significant new recruitment was occurring. So I started to question why this was the case and why I had been attracted to volunteering and what was lacking that was deterring younger people from joining.
In 2009 I set up Illawarra Youth Landcare and run the group in my own time. Illawarra Youth Landcare is a Landcare group exclusive for young people aged between late teens to early thirties. We travel around once a month and visit an existing Landcare or Bushcare group in the Illawarra and assist them with their on-ground work. This gives the host group an opportunity to share their knowledge and skills with a younger generation and volunteers are able to explore the region and develop awareness about the environmental management issues we are facing. In addition to local projects I also organise overnight expeditions to other parts of the state. We partner up with other organisations and look at what other environmental issues persist beyond the Illawarra. These trips allow for volunteers to bond and develop friendships while giving something back to the environment.
To date we have a membership of over 70 people and over 120 followers on Facebook. Volunteers come from all sorts of backgrounds and are motivated for all different reasons to volunteer with the group. The key is flexibility, variety and opportunity for a fun social experience. It’s all about having a good time because at the end of the day, if it’s not enjoyable people are not going to become involved. I wouldn’t. Landcare is just as much about the people as it is the environment, and gen Y are generally time-poor and prioritise study, career and social commitments. So it’s difficult to gain any long term commitment from volunteers of this demographic. So I simply try to cater to this.
Over the last few years we’ve been involved in some amazing projects, a highlight for me was the Hawkesbury Source to Sea paddle we did with Willow Warriors in 2010. On this extremely hot (43 degrees in fact) weekend, we paddled along the Colo River working with a range of different Landcare and Bushcare groups. The weekend was jam packed full of swimming, kayaking, more swimming, rope swings, BBQs and a few beers (which I also love), fishing and oh yeah, some bush regeneration and a whole lot of laughing!
Here’s a short video of our adventures so far…
In 2011 I was awarded the Be Natural Young Landcare Leader award for NSW and am now a finalist in the National Landcare Awards as the NSW representative under this category. This is a huge achievement and being nominated means a lot. But living in a country as beautiful and diverse as ours, I could never stand back and not be involved in making it a better place for future generations to enjoy the way I did.
You can check out more about Illawarra Youth Landcare at www.illawarrayouthlandcare.com.au