Virginia Bear


The smell of a blackbutt forest on a warm, wet morning was powerful and delicious to my young senses. It’s one of the earliest things I remember. The bush was a short walk away from home, in the sandstone country on Sydney’s North Shore. I felt at home there. I wanted to know its secrets.

But one day there was a shock in store. A large chunk of it was gone. There were houses being built. So I became aware early on that humans don’t instinctively look after the natural environment—and I’m still puzzled by that.

Later I realised that a short walk in the other direction would once have led to the Blue Gum High Forest—except that it had been almost completely destroyed. I would never experience it—except for small remnants.

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of repairing damaged bushland. Finding out, in 1988, that people did bush regeneration for a living was a revelation. I had to be in this and volunteered to work on a professional team with the National Trust (the main employer of bush regenerators in Sydney at the time). I remember, on my first day, wondering if I would ever get the different between trad and commelina, even though Louise Brodie was patiently enough to show me over and over again.

I soon had a position as a trainee, and was travelling to a different part of the Sydney region every day and learning the trade from an amazing group of people. I felt very optimistic about the future for our industry.

Some of my teammates were involved in AABR and encouraged to be part of it. I was excited to hear that an association for Bush Regenerators had been formed. I became vice president in 1990 and was president from 1991 to 93. A strong ecological restoration culture and industry is vitally important for Australia. I pictured a future where it was a normal thing we do, or expect—and thought AABR could help that happen.

Jobwise, I was now a permanent bush regenerator with Ku-ring-gai Council. And I was working for Tein McDonald, who was already a legend! I enjoyed those 4 years, but was keen for some more responsibility so moved to a Bushland Management role with Blue Mountains City Council. That was a great adventure! I had a similar role at Baulkham Hills Council, and also did some Bush Regeneration teaching at TAFE, and bushcare training with Hornsby Council.

In 1999 I was fortunate enough to work on a book with Danie Ondinea and Doug Benson, Missing Jigsaw Pieces, the Bushplants of the Cooks River Valley. A significant experience—it sowed the seeds for a career change.

I had studied science at Macquarie Uni after finishing school, and greatly valued the opportunity, but graphic design had been a hot contender.

I was often doing some sort of photography or design work. I produced the weed control illustrations for the National Trust Handbook in 1991. They’ve gone on to have a life of there own, and pop up in various places. I was involved with the AABR newsletter for many years, but recently passed that job on to Louise Brodie.

And, of course, the most extraordinary revolution had been underway in the technology world. Eventually it was too exciting to keep away from. I left permanent work in 2002. I’m full time with my own business now: designing, writing, editing, producing video, illustrating.

So these days I’m mostly found behind a camera or a computer. I’m doing stuff I could not have imagined when I started my career, with tools that mostly didn’t exist. I’m rarely bored!

It not just bushland work—I enjoy working in different industries. Whenever people are passionate about something, it’s interesting. But helping other people to connect with natural ecosystems remains a big driver for me.

Right now I’m heavily into saltmarsh—because who wouldn’t be once you realise what’s going on there. We have to show people!

Our reaction to climate change has knocked me around a bit. But its made the chance to work with like minded people even more important.

One of my AABR projects was the tick protection guide that Lynne Rees and I produced in 2013. It seems amazing that we had to do this—that such a thing didn’t exist. Neither of us really had time but we felt it was too important not to do. AABR’s video platform is currently keeping me busy, and I’m helping to manage our brand.

AABR seems to be really coming into its own now. It was a struggle to keep it going at times, with too few people and too much to do. I appreciate the huge effort Tein and Jane and others have put in to get us there. Its very reassuring to see this.

I live in a blackbutt forest now and enjoy sharing my place with many wild things.

March 2015