Sally Miller, Regional Partnership Officer and Kirrily Gould, Koala Officer, lead the delivery of koala conservation actions across the Southern Tablelands region under the NSW Koala Strategy. Based at South East Local Land Services (SE LLS), Kirrily provides partners, stakeholders and community members with on ground support for koala conservation projects, while Sally coordinates the implementation of actions under the NSW Koala Strategy from within the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE).
We recently sat down with Sally and Kirrily to find out more about their background, career and most importantly what drives them to do the work they do.
What is your background?
Sally: I grew up around the north shore of Sydney where my home backed onto bushland that I spent many after school and weekend hours exploring and enjoying. Many school holidays were spent camping in the bushland surrounding Sydney and the Blue Mountains. I always wanted to work outdoors and with animals, although originally, I was working towards being a rural vet; something like a female James Herriot. My teens were spent in the New England region of the USA where I again spent much of my time exploring and enjoying the natural environment. Changing countries when I returned to Australia meant I could no longer follow the veterinary pathway, so I switched to Zoology for my bachelors degree. I fell in love with the unique Australian wildlife and focussed my study in that direction.
Kirrily: I studied Systems Agriculture at university and have always loved working outdoors on farm, in nature and with animals of all kinds. I’ve worked in many areas of the agricultural and horticultural sector, which led me to working with what is now known as Local Land Services (LLS). During my time at LLS, I have worked across a variety of roles from admin, animal health, bushfire recovery and natural resource management.
In my spare time, I work and train koala detection dogs after I was approached by the late ecologist Dr Jim Shields in 2018, who trained Australia’s first koala detection dog, ‘Oscar’. I continue to train and work with Jim’s koala detection dog ‘Diesel’ and have also trained a young Border Collie called ‘Tilly’, who is now just over 12 months old.
I always wanted to work outdoors and with animals, although originally, I was working towards being a rural vet; something like a female James Herriot.
What led you to joining the Koala Strategy team?
Sally: After completing my honours in reproductive behaviour in a wallaby species at UNSW, I worked as an associate lecturer in Zoology at the University of New England for 4 years. I then moved to Coffs Harbour to undertake my PhD on koala ecology, health and management in a timber production forest. After completing the field work, I moved south to Jindabyne in the NSW Snowy Mountains and began 15 years of working with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in Kosciuszko National Park. Throughout this time, I held a variety of roles beginning in the Utilities section, before moving to the Resorts team providing advice on threatened species management. I wrapped up my time with NPWS with 5 years at the Kosciuszko Education Centre, creating and running educational programs to schools visiting the area plus some sideline projects including a program presented at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney in 2014. In 2019, I moved to Saving our Species as the Database Support Officer overseeing planning and reporting for all threatened species conservation projects across southern NSW. In October 2021, I joined the NSW Koala Strategy team in my current role as Southern Tablelands Regional Partnerships Officer.
Kirrily: After the devastating 2019-2020 bushfires, I was given the opportunity to coordinate the bushfire recovery Habitat and Wildlife Recovery Project – Enhancing Koala Habitat. From there, the ‘Cold Country Koalas’ project was developed to engage with local landholders, raising awareness of koalas in the area, and importantly to protect, enhance and restore koala habitat in and around the stronghold population in the Southern Tablelands. This work allowed me to host community engagement days as well as work with landholders to coordinate pest animal control in koala habitat areas, establish revegetation planting of koala habitat and feed trees, and to control weeds. I really enjoyed engaging with landholders and community members through this project, so when the opportunity to continue this work in partnership with the NSW Koala Strategy came along, I was very excited.
What does your day-to-day role entail?
Sally: My job is all about supporting the local community to learn more about the koalas in the area and to work together to improve land management for the conservation of koalas. So, even though the job is about koalas, it is just as much about people. I work very closely with Kirrily to deliver the resources provided through the NSW Koala Strategy to the community. We also work closely with the two Landcare networks within the region, particularly with habitat restoration activities. Depending on the time of year, I may be reviewing applications for habitat restoration and supporting SE LLS and Landcare to deliver the program or may be planning and delivering a koala survey and monitoring program. I may be guiding the local vets and wildlife care organisation to better support vulnerable koalas, particularly those that encounter the road network or in preparation for wildfire events. I liaise with NPWS and Forestry NSW as land managers and the Rural Fire Service (RFS) to better understand koala distribution across their estate and/or activities. I am also working with Kosciuszko Education Centre to develop a koala education program for local delivery, through the Koala Smart website. I liaise with the local Council to support koala conservation activities such as koala awareness signs around roads. And I try to keep up with research on koalas to increase the accessibility of this information for all these organisations and the community, particularly through contact with researchers in this region. There’s a lot of juggling but I love the variety.
Kirrily: As part of the regional koala survey, I am working with NPWS and private landholders to deploy audio monitors called song meters in locations right across the region. The song meters record from dusk until dawn and hopefully pick up the calls of the male koala. This data will help us to work out where koalas are located across the region and find out more about the extent of the population in the Southern Tablelands.
Part of my role is to complete landholder funding agreements and coordinate the on-ground works with these private landholders. These works range from installation of wildlife friendly fencing to exclude livestock from koala habitat areas, establishment of revegetation planting, and/or weed control works to protect and enhance the koala habitat in the Area of Regional Koala Significance (ARKS).
I really enjoy engaging with landholders and educating them about the koalas in our area. The best thing is when I take a walk with a landholder through their property and find them a koala! I always get a buzz out of seeing these iconic animals in their natural habitat.
Why do you do what you do?
Sally: My PhD was an intensive period of study of koalas for four years. It started me on the pathway of working in the area of threatened species conservation and management. When this job came up I was excited to return to a focus on koalas after 20 years away from them. For such an iconic species, there’s so much we don’t know about them, particularly in this region. I’m excited to bring together those groups within the community who have a role to play in koala conservation and support them, as well as individual community members to learn more and take on actions that will support the local koala population to thrive. I have found a community of enthusiastic and committed people who are determined to improve the status of the koalas of the Southern Tablelands. It’s these people and having a small part to play in their koala conservation achievements that keeps me going.
Kirrily: The Southern Tablelands is home to a unique koala population – one which many people (even those who live here) and not really aware of!
I really enjoy engaging with our landholders and educating them about the koalas in our area. The best thing is when I take a walk with a landholder through their property and find them a koala! I always get a buzz out of seeing these iconic animals in their natural habitat and I think that the more we can do to raise awareness, protect and enhance their habitat, and preserve this population the better.