Joe Stammers, Regional Partnership Officer and Xuela Sledge, Koala Officer lead the delivery of koala conservation actions across the South-west Sydney region under the NSW Koala Strategy. Based at Greater Sydney Landcare, Xuela provides partners, stakeholders and community members with on ground support for koala conservation projects, while Joe coordinates the implementation of actions under the NSW Koala Strategy from within the Department of Planning and Environment.
We recently sat down with Joe and Xuela to find out more about their background, career and most importantly what drives them to do the work they do.
What is your background?
Joe: I have lived in the outer southwestern area of Sydney most of my life, spending many days walking or running along the endless bush trails, often accompanied by the family dog. I have very fond memories as a kid reading the MacKoala column in the local newspaper written by esteemed koala researcher Professor Rob Close, who provided weekly updates about the local Campbelltown population and other environmental issues. Living in Appin throughout my teenage years has been a major influence in my life, as the bushland surrounding the upper Georges River became my happy place. It was also where I first became aware of environmental issues, having come across a fleet of trucks on one of my bushwalks, pumping concrete into the cracked bed of the Georges River in an attempt to fix subsidence caused by the local coal mine. I wasn't to know then, but 20+ years later I would be writing my honours thesis on the environmental impacts of coal seam gas in the southern coalfield.
Xuela: I grew up in the leafy suburbs of the north shore in Sydney. It was here where I developed a love for nature. But it was through my grandmother’s kitchen window, in Palm Beach, where I saw my first koala. I moved around a lot when I was young so also lived in the bush on the Hawkesbury River, without electricity or running water and spent a lot of time in outback South Australia.
Leaving Sydney for university in Bathurst I only ever returned when between jobs or houses. Now I live in the Blue Mountains and have been here for over 20 years. I also spend as much time as I can on a little farm near Bathurst, where my children and I have goats – and a lot of blackberries!
Contrary to what my family and friends think I do i.e., wander around the bush looking for koalas every day, I actually spend most of my days in my office in front of a computer answering emails, managing projects, editing documents, attending virtual meetings and chatting with people in the local community.
What has your career path looked like?
Joe: My early career was in graphic design and photography, with a dream of travelling the world as a landscape photographer. The arrival of children, responsibilities and increasing concern about climate change led me to re-assess my career choice, and after completing an environmental science degree at Wollongong University I landed a job as an Environment Officer at Wingecarribee Council in the Southern Highlands. It was there I helped establish the Southern Highlands Koala Conservation Project with colleagues from the (then) NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, a project that has been the catalyst for over $30 million in koala conservation initiatives in the region, including the establishment of Guula Ngurra National Park and private land conservation agreements protecting over 2,500 hectares of koala habitat in perpetuity. Prior to joining the NSW Koala Strategy team, I worked at Local Land Services for a couple of years, delivering on-ground environmental works to help improve water management and biodiversity values within the Sydney drinking water catchment, including post-bushfire koala habitat restoration.
Xuela: I have been working with Greater Sydney Landcare as a Coordinator and Project Officer since 2016. Before then I had various roles related to external grants with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), including a million-dollar Landholder Incentives Program and as the Community Programs Facilitator for five priority threatened species in the Blue Mountains and Lithgow area.
A favourite role with NPWS was working as a Technical Officer for the Resorts Section in Jindabyne. This was amazing as I got to visit the snow and carry out wildlife management work. This was on par with surveying for Brumbies in the Warragamba Special Area (catchment land). Not only was I entering restricted areas in this latter role, but I got to do it on horseback.
I have also been a Teacher for Natural Area Restoration at TAFE and done numerous contracting roles as a wildlife ecologist. I studied at Charles Sturt University, in the 90s (Environmental Science) and later as an Adult Educator (TAFE Teacher).
What does your day-to-day role entail?
Joe: Contrary to what my family and friends think I do i.e., wander around in the bush looking for koalas every day, I actually spend most of my days in my office at home in front of a computer monitor answering emails, managing projects, editing documents, attending virtual meetings, talking to colleagues and chatting with people in the local community. I like to get out and run a few times a week, so working from home has been great, giving me back the two hours a day I previously spent commuting, which has definitely helped me find a better work life-family balance.
Xuela: My job as Koala Officer for the South-west Sydney Koala Project has only just begun, so I am not familiar with an ‘average’ day yet. In the past, I have worked in the south-west supporting the koala community however, which involved a lot of liaison, meetings, mapping, promotion, grant applications, social media, landholder events, private land conservation education and more. I presume I will be doing the same in this new role, with the one – huge – difference being I have lots of dedicated time to the koalas in Sydney’s south-west, and also a budget for on-ground koala habitat restoration works, which I am looking forward to spending.
I love creating restoration programs for species and communities that will bring back some hope for their longevity - and can put some 20 years of experience behind delivering this now.
Why do you do what you do?
Joe: Preventing biodiversity loss in the face of climate change drives pretty much everything I do, and koalas seem to be one of the most effective tools we have in helping solve this problem; they require large areas of connected habitat, they have special environmental legislation written specifically for them, they attract a lot of funding, and they are, of course, ridiculously cute. Each day I get up for work I know that I'm working towards the long-term preservation of entire ecosystems. It's a pretty cool job.
Xuela: I started my environmental career in the Blue Mountains, which was very satisfying and important, but before long I realised the Blue Mountains was ‘safe’ and ‘wilderness-like’ compared to many other areas in Sydney. This included western Sydney, and the Cumberland Plain. I am on my third funded project working collaboratively to restore parts of western Sydney, specifically the critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland, and hope to carry this work into the future. I love creating restoration programs for species and communities that will bring back some hope for their longevity – and can put some 20 years of experience behind delivering this now.