Native Title support and curlew reintroduction projects awarded University Medals

The Fenner School farewelled 2020 with two of our graduates receiving The University Medal for their studies. Master of Environment (Advanced) graduate Anna Normyle, and Bachelor of Science (Advanced) (Honours) graduate Shoshana Rapley, were both recognised for their outstanding contributions to research within their respective degrees.

The University Medal recognises students who have obtained First Class Honours (or Masters Advanced Equivalent) and demonstrated exceptional academic excellence across their studies.

 

Anna Normyle’s Masters research worked in collaboration with the Yawuru Traditional Owners in Broome, WA, to develop a proof of concept for using remote sensing and Environmental Accounting to assist with Native Title decision making.

“As part of this project, I developed a set of trial experimental environmental accounts to capture fire impacts and seasonal vegetation dynamics over the past 20 years on Yawuru Country. I couldn’t have done the project without the incredible partnership developed between my supervisor A/Prof. Bruce Doran and the Yawuru Traditional Owners, and was so grateful for the opportunity to visit Broome just a couple of days before the COVID border closures!”

Anna came to The Fenner School after spending much of her time growing up in the Snowy-Monaro region. This first-hand experience of the depth, richness, and importance of the environment propelled her to environmental work.

“I was drawn to the Fenner School for its focus on complex issues related to environmental management and sustainable development. Once I got a taste of the Fenner School, I haven’t been able to leave! The combination of passionate and inspiring lecturers and tutors, hands-on field experiences and international study opportunities were the absolute highlights of both my undergraduate and graduate studies.”

On hearing of her award, Anna says was shocked and humbled.

“I was completely blown-away. I feel so privileged to have been able to study at the Fenner School over the last 5 years and for me, the award is a testament to all the passionate and inspiring people I have been able to meet and learn from.”

 

Honours Medallist Shoshana Rapley, spent the final year of her Undergraduate program working on the 5th year of an intergenerational native bird reintroduction program in Canberra.

“Bush stone-curlews (warabin or mulyara in Ngunnawal language) are lanky long-legged, yellow-eyed nocturnal birds known for their spooky call (their nickname is murderbird). They went extinct in the ACT in the 1970s and have been missing from the landscape, the food-web and from country ever since. A project to reintroduce them started in 2014 at Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary. I released a new cohort of birds and for the first time put GPS tracker backpacks on them. Given they’ve been missing from south-eastern grassy woodlands we didn’t know much about how they used the landscape, so I used the GPS data to study their movement behaviours. This information can be used to inform future reintroduction attempts elsewhere in their former range.”

Shoshana’s journey to The Fenner School started at Newcastle University, where she studied biomedicine, despite the fact that ecology - and birds in particular - were her true passion. 

“In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I spent my days at the campus wetlands writing eBird lists instead of studying for chemistry exams. After the first semester I decided to take a leap and leave my hometown. Honestly, I chose the Fenner school because there seemed to be lots of bird-nerds. Also, I was familiar with the campus having spent three summers at the National Youth Science Forum.”

Shoshana feels amazed at the capacity of her co-workers’ secret-keeping skills, and relieved to have a achieved a long-held goal.

“It’s important to have goals,” she says, “Especially when the outcomes seem really far away or even impossible. In future, I want to make a difference in conservation. The challenges beleaguering nature are huge, nebulous wicked problems, which makes “making a difference” a hard goal. The weight of it can feel like an albatross-tangled-in-longline around many conservationists’ necks. Keeping the goal in mind and maintaining optimism makes it easier to keep striving.”

 

As for what’s next – both Anna and Shoshana will be commencing a PhD in 2021 at The Fenner School, to build on their research: Anna will develop more comprehensive environmental accounts in the Indigenous context, and Shoshana will be diving into research with the team of academics, researchers and optimists she has come to thrive alongside at ANU.