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Koala Country

Meet the Northern Tablelands Team

04 Nov 2022
Community & partnerships

John Turbill, Threatened Species Officer, and Des Anderson, Koala Officer, lead the delivery of koala conservation actions across the Northern Tablelands region under the NSW Koala Strategy. Based at Southern New England Landcare, Des provides partners, stakeholders and community members with on ground support for koala conservation projects, while John coordinates the implementation of actions under the NSW Koala Strategy from within the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE). 

We recently sat down with John and Des to find out more about their background, career and most importantly what drives them to do the work they do.

John Turbill, Threatened Species Officer
John Turbill, Threatened Species Officer
What is your background?

John: I grew up in the Caringbah/Cronulla area of Sydney spending a lot of my time surfing and exploring in and around Cronulla and many areas of the south coast. When my parents retired and moved north out of Sydney in the late 1980’s, I also had the chance to move and found myself on a small farm in the Coffs Harbour area. From my early years spent surfing and exploring the south coast, I developed a strong connection to the ocean and the land environment.

Des: I spent the first 12 years of my life growing up in the Blue Mountains of NSW. Spending most of this time outdoors in the bush has fine-tuned my appreciation of the natural environment.  Since then, I’ve spent most of my time in the New England region, living on bush blocks with abundant wildlife.

From my early years spent surfing and exploring the south coast, I developed a strong connection to the ocean and the land environment. 

What has your career path looked like?

John: Initially my career started as a Draftsman and then later as a Land Surveyor working on the fast-developing north coast of NSW. In the mid 1990’s I achieved a degree in ecology, wildlife management, from Charles Sturt University before working as a Wildlife Consultant for about a decade. I then commenced a role with National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in the early 2000’s working on the Comprehensive (fauna and flora) Regional Assessments of the north coast. For over 25 years now, I have worked in the koala conservation and management space on the north coast and am currently Threatened Species Officer, Koala Ecologist, working within DPE. 

Des: I have a Master’s of Environmental Management and 16 years’ experience as an environmental practitioner. My first job in 2006 was with Western Land Planning in Dubbo and involved working with irrigators throughout western NSW to produce On Farm Water Efficiency Plans – the very first phase of what is now part of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. My first “away from home” trip involved camping in a swag by a billabong under the shade of coolabah trees near Brewarrina in northwest NSW, complete with jumbucks close by. Since then, I’ve worked with Government, private and not for profit organisations all focused on environmental management.

What does your job entail? Can you take us through an average day?

John: My work focuses on a number of koala conservation and management targets under the NSW Koala Strategy which include surveying, identifying and mapping koala habitat and populations, identifying and assessing localised threats to koalas and supporting regional koala recovery partnerships with local koala ecologists, communities, landholders, local councils and universities. These partnerships develop networks within their local communities to support and fund projects to conserve and manage koalas in their areas including on-ground works with landholders, community information days and working with koala carer groups. My typical day in the office (mostly a home office now) involves working through emails and linking up with colleagues and people working within the koala partnerships, discussing issues and projects and providing advice often via “Zoom” virtual meetings, as well as at times assessing and analysing survey data, using computing mapping programs to map and/or plan surveys and on-ground projects. I also at times plan and help to undertake field site surveys and assessments of koalas to gather information for projects and assess properties for their value for koalas. Overall, I realise that, whilst it can be busy and challenging, I have a very enjoyable and rewarding job.

Des: No such thing, every day is different! Generally, I try and share my time between catching up with landholders on site to help design habitat restoration and conservation projects, and the office where the “nuts and bolts” of project planning, scheduling and administration occurs. I’m lucky to have a small team working with me with the knowledge and skills to help carry out our project milestones, particularly with activities related to koala care and community awareness raising. We also get out and about whenever possible to deliver smaller, localised community meetings to try and tap into local interests and concerns to help support our koala populations.

It's simply fantastic to work with people who share the same passion for helping protect our natural environment and the plants and animals it supports, including humans. 

Why do you do what you do?

John: I consider that I am very lucky that I have a job that is also one of my passions, working in the environment with an ‘iconic” much loved Australian animal, in many beautiful parts of NSW, and with dedicated and professional work colleagues and friends with the same interest and desire for strong outcomes.

Des: I heard a saying once; “make your passion your profession and you’ll never have to work”.  It’s simply fantastic to work with people who share the same passion for helping protect our natural environment and the plants and animals it supports, including humans.