Victorian Landcare Magazine - Spring 2022, Issue 85

My story of working on Country

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Aboriginal On Country Young leaders

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Above Annalise Varker standing under the shade cloth at a wetland revegetation day at Reed Bed Swamp in May 2021. “The soil was very hard clay so digging was a pain in the behind. We were very happy to complete the job at the end of the day. We had two Tradit

By Annalise Varker


I was born in Bendigo and have been living and working here my whole life. My favourite thing to do is just being on Country and spending time walking around the bush. Every time I’m out on Country I feel safe and positive about myself.

I’ve always been an outside sort of person and didn’t enjoy being in the classroom. Being on Country is always different. From the reason we are out, to being in a new environment and often meeting new people, there has never been a day the same while being on Country.


What I loved about this program was that I was able to complete school, work at the same time, and be out on Country with the Elders and community members.

In 2019 when I was in year 11 and skipping classes and not really going to school, the opportunity to join the Indigenous School Based Trainee Program came up. 

Trainee program builds friendships and connections

Once I was placed at the North Central CMA, I was really focused on keeping the traineeship. It meant I only had to go to school four days a week. I spent every Tuesday at the CMA learning about horticulture and natural resource management. I learnt so much about how important the CMA is and what their role is in the environment and how they work in partnership with other organisations.

Annalise Varker testing water from waterways around Bendigo for salinity.<br />

Above: Annalise Varker testing water from waterways around Bendigo for salinity.

I got to work with Chase Norfolk, another student in the Indigenous School Based Trainee program. We were at the CMA together, and I can definitely let you know that no Tuesdays were the same when Chase and I were around. We also caught up with other students in the program. The big take away for me was to learn that I wasn’t the only one struggling in school and that I could still be passionate about my culture and want to learn more and to take up opportunities. I didn’t feel alone or isolated. I felt safe with the people I was around.

A special day for Elders

One of the absolute best experiences was when I worked with the other trainees, Chase Norfolk and Ruby Norman, a trainee with Parks Victoria, to organise a special event for our Elders. Elders Day was a way of us meeting and learning from our Elders and showing them how much they mean to us. If there was another opportunity, I would do this again for sure.

I went on to work at the North Central CMA as a Water for Country Support Officer.

I helped the CMA be more efficient and organised when it came to holding Barapa Barapa and Wamba Wemba Steering Committee meetings. I also helped the CMA get on track with streamlining processes and have had positive feedback from the Traditional Owners.

In 2021 I got into a La Trobe University course for my Certificate IV in Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management that I was able to complete while working.

Annalise Varker at Bendigo Creek collecting a sample for water quality testing.

Above: Annalise Varker at Bendigo Creek collecting a sample for water quality testing.

I did lots of different things at the CMA including facilitating events for kids, helping other staff with their projects and fieldwork in the Gunbower, Kerang and Swan Hill area. I prefer being out in field than be in the office. I like the vibe and energy you share with the crew. When we work with Traditional Owners you hear their sadness and their happiness. You can really hear their emotions as they are talking to you. They answer your questions and there is so much to learn.

Engaging young people in Landcare

Last year I went out with Tess Grieves, the North Central CMA Regional Landcare Coordinator, on site visits for the Victorian Landcare Grant Projects. The places we went were amazing and we got to hear about the work that might happen and to meet people that told us how much the environment had changed up until now.

It made me understand why people become passionate about the environment, getting to know all the plants and animals, and working together to create a place where there is just peace and quiet. When all you can hear are the birds going off, the water rushing, and yourself breathing calmly, you feel at peace.

I think there are some good opportunities for involving more young people in Landcare. One of my suggestions would be to try to have a young person on your team.

A young person can help get the word out, keep your message engaging, and help to make your point really clear.

Young people love social media, so you can definitely use that to your advantage. I’d also say it’s good not to bore people, keep it fun and don’t make everything so formal.

I would definitely encourage young people to take that first step into a career in natural resource management and see where it takes them. At first, I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do, what I really liked, but once I took my first step in this area, it opened up so many different doors and opportunities, and you make strong connections within yourself, and with the community.

The support I’ve had from family, friends and co-workers has been huge and it just keeps coming. They all push me to do my best. They keep me in line as well as let me learn from my mistakes and stop me from falling too far backwards. They all keep pushing, encouraging me to continue to stand up for what I believe in.

Annalise Varker having fun with the youngsters at Golden Square Kindergarten during a waterbug identification session.

Above: Annalise Varker having fun with the youngsters at Golden Square Kindergarten during a waterbug identification session.

The future – we need to do better

When I think about the future, I feel positive about the work we are doing caring for the environment, but sometimes overwhelmed because there’s some really big and urgent problems we need to fix. Global warming, land degradation, the loss of our native animals, water quality and pollution are serious problems.

I know that organisations and agencies like the North Central CMA, Parks Victoria and DELWP are doing what they can, but everyone needs to be involved and it’s going to take time. We need to take a stand and make changes, even if it’s a small change, I don’t care. Everything we do in the environment is a step towards healing Country.

For more information on the North Central CMA go to Annalise Varker is currently undertaking a new traineeship in the Natural Reserves team at the City of Greater Bendigo Council.



Above: Bendigo

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Aboriginal On Country Young leaders

By Annalise Varker