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  Nature nativesCathy Allen
  Wet Tropics (Artwork: Manraj Ghuman)  
  Wet Tropics (Artwork: Manraj Ghuman)  

As we embark on another camping adventure with our two children, I stop and attempt to clear the lump of pride from my throat. Here is my daughter, all of two years old, trying to help me untangle the many ropes that will hold our annex in place over the next two weeks of much loved camping. I spin quickly to check that, in this peaceful moment, my three year old son has not found any trouble in the rocky heap where he has been watching the ants carry butterfly wings into their nest. As a march fly lands on my shoulder, I take a moment to let my mind wander back to the very roots of my camping lifestyle as a young toddler where a rope strung between trees was enough to warn us children that we were close to the murky river below. I chuckle to think of the trust that our parents had in us to be aware of our surroundings. I hope that I can begin to instil the same environmental understanding in my own children. This basic appreciation of nature, which was promoted at such a tender age, has profoundly influenced my life and that of my children.

These memories were just a small part of a dream childhood for me, growing up as rangers’ children on state forests and then Lakefield National Park on Cape York. My family then moved to Innisfail, near the heart of the Wet Tropics. I struggled to adapt to living in suburbia and I longed for the open savanna plains and the dancing of brolgas near our house. I felt deeply lost in a classroom after completing four years of Distance Education. Leaving Lakefield was like a stab to my heart but, at ten years old, I was not yet aware of how influential my time there was going to be throughout my life.

  Butterflies (Artwork: Bill Mason)  
Butterflies (Artwork: Bill Mason)

Living in Innisfail I started to see images from Jeannie Baker’s picture book ‘Window’ – the trees and birds disappeared to be replaced by houses and roads. I began to think about our world tomorrow and what I could do today to plan a better future for my children. I decided to promote environmental education amongst children in my local community and began to coordinate the Nature Natives Youth Club to teach them about the spectacular environment that we had around us. I wasn’t interested in chaining myself to trees or protesting with signs in front of bulldozers. I was interested to ensure that children knew that they should wet their hands if they were going to pat a frog; or that snakes are just snakes, not monsters that just want to bite you; or that crocodiles demand respect and deserve to live in peace without water skiers, swimmers or traps interfering with their placid lifestyle. I did this for five years. As a group we went bushwalking, spotlighting, camping, investigating, searching and, above all, appreciating our natural environment. Now I recognise that I was helping other children develop an awareness of their surroundings, just as my parents did for me all those years earlier.

Butterfly (Artwork: Mia Brennan)
Butterflies (Artwork: Mia Brennan)
Later I went on to discuss environmental policy with Federal Government Ministers through the National Youth Roundtable, but environmental education remains my passion – developing the high environmental standards critical for a national curriculum.

But for now, I must look after my own back yard first to ensure that my children are given opportunities to watch and learn, and be trusted to develop their own instincts and opinions about their life and the environment in which they live. When I think what the World Heritage Area means to me, descriptions such as spectacular, worth preserving, beautiful and diverse spring to mind. But for me, above all, it simply taught me how to live – to live with respect and appreciation.

So, as I swing my hat to swoosh another march fly and watch as my son lies on the ground to get a closer look at the ants and how they are moving, or how my daughter has paused to make a pile of leaves that are the same shade of green, I sigh and am confident that my children will grow to appreciate the same childhood I did. And I hope that, maybe, other Nature Natives are also raising their children like this, so that perhaps I have made a difference.

Green ants (Artwork: Daryl Dickson)Top

Cathy Allen

Cathy has had a life surrounded by nature whilst growing up on Lakefield National Park, Cape York Peninsula. With dedicated park rangers as parents, Cathy started to realise that other children were not aware of the amazing environment which surrounded them. This led to a commitment to the Wet Tropics Volunteer program, leading a youth group and assisting with on-park activities to raise awareness of our environment. Following this, Cathy was a participant on the National Youth Roundtable, focusing on policy development for the environment, and has completed her Bachelor of Education with a vision for influencing the environmental education standards on a national level. She is currently busy raising her two most promising students, Sam (4) and Emily (3).

Manraj Ghuman

Manraj is a 10 year old student at Gordonvale State School. Every time she sees rainforest she sees birds, butterflies and lots more. She drew a picture of the rainforest so it would be like seeing the rainforest every day.

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