Tein McDonald – Member of the Order of Australia
For significant service to conservation and the environment.
“… she is a shining example of selfless giving to the community and the environment. She is certainly a rare individual of disarming modesty matched by quiet determination.”- Professor Kingsley Dixon (John Curtin Distinguished Professor)
Dr Tein McDonald is a scholar, respected community educator, highly esteemed bush regenerator and passionate change agent who has been responsible for driving profound ecological restoration reform in Australia and internationally. Since 1987 when she established Australia’s first Bushcare program in Ku-ring-gai Council, Tein has worked to bring about both physical and structural change to ecological restoration and management, and in the process has become a leading authority in the field. Alongside this focus over the decades Tein has become an intimate friend to the Bandjalang people of the Bundjalung Nation, assisting in preservation of their language, cultural integrity and restoration and management of their native bushland.
Natural environments throughout the world are now highly fragmented and much of what remains is degraded to various degrees. Tein’s enduring action to protect the natural environment and promote and implement the highest ecological management standards is exceptional, and of both national and international significance. Her keen understanding of both social and environmental issues at all levels means that her work for the health of these communities (social and environmental) is constantly intertwined. Tein’s work has been to:
- Develop international and national standards of practice to connect and restore natural areas
- Influence professional communities of practice, through encouraging scholars and practitioners to protect, care for and build knowledge of natural environments
- Facilitate Indigenous land management through language, culture and bush regeneration initiatives with Bandjalang people from the Bundjalung Nation
- Collaborate with local communities to arrest the decline of specific environments in her geographic area through ceaseless advocacy, community engagement and manual labor.
In her typically understated way Tein summarises her ongoing commitments as combining
“… a range of restoration-oriented activities including on-ground works supervision, training and mentoring an Indigenous land management group and journal editing – with roles on committees and boards of the Australian Association of Bush Regenerators and the Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia.”
Much of Tein’s work as detailed below has been undertaken in a voluntary capacity or on minimal pay – she lives as she talks, with integrity, reliability and commitment.
INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS FOR PRACTICE OF ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION
An important culmination of Tein’s work led to the Society for Ecological Restoration’s launch of the first International Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration, in December 2016 at the Conference of the Parties of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Cancun, Mexico. These are significant resources for long-term protection of the environment that have standardised the international language of restoration and measurable outcomes to be achieved in relationship to a reference ecosystem.
In the lead-up to the development of these international standards, Tein initiated and headed a consortium of experts from all peak organisations in Australia involved in ecological restoration. The aim was to develop the first set of National Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration in Australia. The document has been adopted by the Federal Government (Department of Energy and Environment) as providing the guiding principles in environmental repair and offsets in Australia.
A Special Recognition Award was given by the Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia (SERA) through the 2016 SERA awards for excellence to “Dr Tein McDonald for outstanding leadership in the profession of ecological restoration, in conceiving and leading the creation of the Australian Standards in Ecological Restoration and the first International Standards in Ecological Restoration.”
INFLUENCE PROFESSIONAL COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE
In her professional sphere, Tein’s understated approach is noted by those she encounters. She strives to bring together practitioners, scholars and representatives from peak bodies to collaborate in building and disseminating knowledge, and to ensure the protection and custodianship of natural environments. She typically aims to recognise the work of others – whether pioneers in bush regeneration, members of professional societies, or practitioners who seek a forum to share insights, hard-won from experience.
As President of the Australian Association of Bush Regenerators (AABR) since 2012, Tein has demonstrated impressive leadership, as well as injecting boundless enthusiasm and passion into the organisation, being the driving force for:
- 3 symposia each attended by at least 200 practitioners and landholder agency staff:
- 2013 ‘Working with Natural Processes’
- 2014 ‘Rebuilding Ecosystems, what are the principles?’
- 2016 ‘Experience Counts: 30 years of restoration’ – including awards to commemorate AABR’s 30th Birthday and recognise the pioneering efforts of early bush regenerators such as Joan and Eileen Bradley
- Regular submission of “President’s Perspective” for AABR quarterly newsletter
- Regular submission of scholarly news articles for the website.
In August 2017, Tein conceived a perpetual award for innovation in ecological restoration, The Albert Morris Award, to commemorate and revitalise the work of Albert Morris and to formally recognise one of the first bush regeneration projects in the world.
In addition, as President of AABR, Tein has been instrumental in driving AABR’s education agenda, successfully applying for an Environmental Trust Education Grant to produce video case studies demonstrating the many approaches to ecological restoration throughout Australia and beyond. regenTV videos are accompanied by educational resources for teachers and students.
Throughout the decade from 1997–2007, Tein was employed as a teacher at TAFE (initially Ryde, Sydney and then Wollongbar, North Coast NSW) to teach subjects aligned with bush regeneration, ecological restoration and bushland management.
As a Board member of the Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia, Tein now travels widely and frequently to present at international conferences on the importance and means of achieving high biodiversity outcomes in ecological restoration – a practice that is increasing together with a growing awareness of improved biodiversity outcomes.
Ever the advocate for putting theory into practice, Tein envisioned a practitioner-based journal to provide an avenue for sharing information between research scientists and practitioners. In 2000, funding through a Land & Water Australia grant plus support from the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA), allowed the ESA management oriented journal Ecological Management and Restoration (EMR) to become a reality. Tein is the founding and continuing Editor of this professional journal that has succeeded in bridging the gap between the perspectives of academic ecologists and on-ground natural resource managers.
Tein is herself a published author as well as having input to a range of articles and reports in which it is difficult to find evidence of her often significant but self-effacing contribution. At VII World Conference on Ecological Restoration, Iguassu Brazil 2017, Tein’s oral presentation for the session – From Theory To Action: Implementing New International Standards For The Practice Of Ecological Restoration – is a core example of her conviction to inform and influence a professional community of practice.
FACILITATE INDIGENOUS LAND MANAGEMENT VIA LANGUAGE, CULTURE AND BUSH REGENERATION INITIATIVES WITH BANDJALANG PEOPLE OF THE BUNDJALUNG NATION
Tein is engaged in a number of other significant environmental activities including her work with the Minyumai Landholding Aboriginal Corporation on the Far North Coast of NSW. During its initial establishment, Tein was instrumental in developing the Plan of Management, and her ongoing championing for the management of 2,100 hectares has resulted in Minyumai’s designation in 2011 as an Indigenous Protected Area. Tein has continuously engaged with the Traditional Owners of Bundjalung lands and the Bandjalang community, to facilitate training and promote the group’s self management. She has successfully applied for numerous operating grants, and notably supporting the implementation of a Firesticks project – a fire management plan to improve and sustain the health of bushland at Minyumai.
Since 1985 Tein has spent time with Bandjalang families in Coraki to play word games with children, help capture vocabulary and grammar, and to focus on culture and history. Through a grant that concluded in 2004, Tein conducted and recorded a series of interviews with Bandjalang Elders and transcribed these recordings for the families and community. During these years of communication and collaboration with one Elder, Lawrence Wilson, Tein significantly contributed to a living archive of “Bundjalung language elicitation, cultural discussions, oral history accounts and genealogical information”. As well as being kept in trust by the families, these recordings and transcripts are now also located in the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) database, Canberra. Tein continues this work today, helping Bandjalang people to retain links with tradition, culture and relationship to land.
In nearby Evans Head, in the mid-1980s Tein was pivotal to community action to protect Dirawong (a spiritual creature also known as the goanna spirit). Some from Bundjalung Nation believe that the Rainbow snake and Dirawong together created parts of the Richmond River and Goanna Headland at Evans Head. Tein stimulated local Indigenous Coraki and Cabbage Tree Island women to undertake bush regeneration activities at Goanna Headland, and in 1985 a 16 hectare section (southern part of Goanna Headland) became the first Aboriginal land grant in NSW. A major part of Goanna Headland is now a reserve, managed for the wider community by the Dirawong Trust.
COLLABORATE WITH LOCAL COMMUNITIES TO ARREST THE DECLINE OF SPECIFIC ENVIRONMENTS IN HER GEOGRAPHIC AREA
From 2008, Tein has encouraged, supported and facilitated neighbouring landholders in their concern for protecting remnant bushland. Specifically, she completed species surveys, identified three endangered ecological communities and now continues to assist in regenerating at least two private properties situated in threatened coastal floodplains. Gently nudging at weed time, with sensitivity to individuals’ circumstances is her gift
Following this experience, Tein brought the concept back to her home community and consequently, at Korinderie Ridge, the Community Advancement Cooperative of which Tein is a member, there is now an annual week of bush regeneration for volunteers. The program has been running for 15 years and has now successfully eradicated lantana from the majority of the 196 hectares.
Also in 2001, the Northern Rivers branch of NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service recognised broad scale invasion of bitou bush in the local area. Tein was sought to advise and develop a restoration plan for Bundjalung National Park. As it happened, a severe wildfire late in 2001 prompted an opportunistic aerial spraying of the park, effectively preventing re-incursion of bitou. Tein’s input to the overall weed management plan for Bundjalung NP can be seen in the resource held by NSW NPWS, and also later referenced in an article featured in the journal Ecological Management & Restoration.
Earlier in life, while employed in bushland management at Ku-ring-gai Council in 1987-1991, Tein formalised and expanded the first local government-run volunteer bush regeneration program in Australia, later named Bushcare. The initiative is still in place today; represents an environmental flagship for the Council through Ku-ring-gai Bushcare Association (KBA); and has been widely adopted by Local Government. The program allows residents to gain a better understanding of their local bushland and in cooperation with bush regeneration contractors, volunteers work to restore and protect Ku-ring-gai’s bushland.
Tein was also an encouraging mentor for long-term projects such as the Habitat Restoration in Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve. In 1996, following this early work in the field, Tein completed her PhD titled “Ecosystem Resilience and Restoration of Damaged Plant Communities: a discussion focusing on Australian case studies” – a first in the discipline area of bush regeneration.