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  Not the usual heroesKim Forde
 
  After Fire Collection (Artwork: Anna Curtis)  
 
  After Fire Collection (Artwork: Anna Curtis).  

Clearings for roads and powerlines are often quoted as a major threat to the World Heritage Area, but the people who work in these industries are doing their best to protect the Wet Tropics forests and wildlife while maintaining busier roads and larger powerlines. It is not an easy task to get infrastructure workers to take complex environmental science and the ‘desired outcomes’ of a Wet Tropics permit and turn them into real and practical on-ground outcomes.

This was my task when I was employed by Stanwell Corporation which owns and operates the Barron Gorge and Kareeya Hydro Power Stations within the World Heritage Area. The hydro stations had operated from the early 1960s when environmental conditions were not as strict. I was female, middle-aged and doing what was perceived to be a ‘warm and fuzzy’ job, so my first few months were tough. Organisational change to embrace good environmental practice does not happen overnight, or just because the boss says so. It needs time, effort and support to make it happen. I was fortunate – I had all the required elements.

I had the support from my bosses and was willing to get in and get my hands dirty and do the same jobs and training as the team, including learning to drive the cable-car and abseil out of it. Slowly I began to see a change in the workers’ behaviour and a desire to protect the Area.

I was rapt when Rhodney Dodds, a mechanical fitter on the site, volunteered to help a student who was tagging pythons in the Tully Gorge when I could not be there. Rhodney turned out to be one of my greatest assets. He took on a role that we pioneered at the site – Environmental Liaison Officer. Rhodney became my eyes and ears on the ground and helped me to monitor water quality. At Barron Gorge I had similarly great support from Bruce Voss and then Phil Kenward.

I knew we had converted the Kareeya team when one of the guys reported that a tin of paint had been spilled on the station floor and some may have spilt into the tailrace which led into the river. I excused myself and raced for the river, grabbing the spill kit on my way. When I arrived at the riverbank I started to spread the spill pads on the water surface and I turned to find the entire team, all 12 of them, standing waist deep with me in the water. They were all making sure that the paint did not spread down into the river and pollute it or affect the white-water rafters only 100 metres from the station gate. These guys eventually took responsibility for reporting on inappropriate clearing, road slips, dumping of rubbish and the movement of cassowaries or other animals. They generally took pride in how well they managed the Area.

 
  Cycads in the Moonlight (Artwork: Anna Curtis)  
 
  Cycads in the Moonlight (Artwork: Anna Curtis)  

When I first started training, many infrastructure workers used to push road slips and large trees over the edges of the highway to quickly get the roads open. They would clear under powerlines to bare earth, use graders and large equipment to reinstate drains and put in ‘bypass detours’ to get around a problem. Now, long before each wet season, they are out identifying safe, flat and erosion protected sites to store slip material; trimming trees or branches likely to fall; and clearing out drains to ensure water goes where there is minimal impact. Some even avoid maintenance work in key areas at certain times of the year to avoid breeding lizards or birds.

Over the years I have met some of the most wonderful men and women in this role – dedicated professional people who do their jobs in often remote and dangerous conditions. Many times they leave their own families and homes to go out and work in heavy rain, dark, lightning or floods to make sure the roads are open or the power comes back on as soon as possible. They rarely complain, they retain their sense of humour and they work damned hard. And they protect the World Heritage Area from additional damage whilst they do it, often suggesting improvements to the process. This is a long way from where they were 15 years ago. They are truly unsung heroes.

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Kim Forde

Kim has a degree in Environmental Science and Education and has worked for over 15 years to train and educate infrastructure workers about environmental issues. In 1996 Kim worked on the ‘Code of Practice for Design and Maintenance in the Wet Tropics’ – a joint project between WTMA, the Rainforest CRC and Main Roads. She then developed a ’glovebox’ edition and delivered a training package. In 1998 she also developed the ‘glovebox’ edition of the Electricity Industry Code of Practice (the QESI Code) with John Peeters from Ergon. Kim has also been employed by Stanwell Corporation and now works in her own consultancy business, The Missing Link Resource Coordinators.

Anna Curtis

Anna was born in Wangaratta, Victoria, in 1960. She completed a Diploma of Fine Art at Bendigo College of Advanced Education in 1981. She has travelled extensively through Australia and overseas and now lives in tropical north Queensland. Anna has held numerous solo and group exhibitions in galleries around Australia and has won awards for her fine linoprints. Her work is represented in private and public collections. Anna has extensive teaching experience in printmaking, fabric painting, drawing and design.

 
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