National Park Experience – Winter 2020 – National Parks Association of Queensland

National Park Experience – Winter 2020

Author: Colleen Thornton, Councillor, National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ)

A deep breath, a calming moment of peace, the crisp fresh feeling of clean air –

This is the experience that makes me fall in love with parks every time – the connection with peace, the lack of noise and the disappearance of anxiety or stress.

I met with Deb, Yvonne and Graeme in early 2019 with a hope that as the Secretary, Vice President and President, these important people would see a person with a useful skill set in marketing, authenticity and a willingness to join a great cause and give back. I had answers to all their questions rehearsed and ready, then when they asked, “what do National Parks mean to you?”, my rehearsed answer went out the door and the honesty came out.

National Parks, nature, the great outdoors, were so incredibly important to my mother and father. Dad, I found out had apprenticed in the Pechey Forestry in high school making the commute from Dalby in the 70s before finally deciding to pursue a career as a police officer. Mum was an avid girl guide in New Zealand who claimed to have learned survival skills from Sir Edmund (still unverified, she also had a “shark bite” that was suspiciously like a knee reconstruction). They met in central Queensland as the resident police officer and nurse albeit one in Birdsville, the other in Bedourie. In the ensuing years, along came their four children and around regional Queensland we moved.

Mum was a louder voice in the community, Dad her rock of support (even if she would lovingly yell “Tree Murderer” any time he so much as trimmed a branch on a tree). She was often advocating for rural health and protesting developments that disturb flora, fauna or the native peoples. The most memorable slogan that comes to mind is, “Keep your cottonpicking hands off Coopers Creek”, a unique alliance of scientists, graziers and environmentalists, protesting the large scale irrigation of the Coopers Creek flood plains in the mid 1990s. Mum wasn’t a scientist or grazier but she was fiercely protective and she understood that the great outdoors
needed protecting from profit. My sixyear-old mind kept hold of that slogan and strong conviction, even if I didn’t truly understand what irrigation was, I knew the animals and land wouldn’t be happy!

We eventually moved to Toowoomba, the garden city, where Mum would always point out when someone in the neighbourhood cut down another tree. Living outside was our routine, from gardening, to bushwalks and camping, boats and the open ocean, even nibbles with the neighbours under the giant poinciana. To walk in to our
family home, it was like a bomb had gone off, things everywhere, but boy was the garden always spectacular.

In 2014, they both passed away, a mere 10 days apart. Mum’s life in the sun saw her grow melanomas that metastasised to her brain and Dad had Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. To cope with my grief, I would go for early morning walks, weekend walks, I would go outside to my comfort zone and even attempt balcony gardening.

When the grief had passed and my life had settled into a solid career, the time was right to think about giving back and as fate would have it, NPAQ advertised a vacancy for a volunteer council member.

I volunteer as a council member with NPAQ because nature and the great outdoors are something that was important to my parents, it’s something that they taught me to see as important, cherish, connect with and seek to protect.

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