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The map man

Published 14 Nov 2018 by Kate Thorburn

November 14 is International GIS Day so we sat down with Bush Heritage's Spatial Information Coordinator Paul Young to learn more about this incredible system.

Hi Paul, so what exactly is GIS?!

GIS stands for Geographic Information System. It’s a tool for facilitating cartography – basically for making pretty maps.

It’s a lot of other things but certainly the thing that most people see from using GIS is maps.

Have you always been into it?

No – I’d never really thought about maps – I liked looking at maps when I was a kid but then when I went to university I studied Environmental Science with a major in Geography and I was introduced to GIS through that.

It was kind of like a lightbulb moment – the clouds parted and I’ve been doing it ever since! That was 12 years ago. I’ve been at Bush Heritage for seven years now.

Cool. What does your day at Bush Heritage look like?

My day varies a lot. I do a bit of map making and training but I focus a lot on data management and curation. When you’ve got a lot of people doing different bits and pieces it’s really important to have strong data management practises and good systems around that.

I’m fortunate to go out to reserves and partnerships where I might collect data using GPS or tablets and phones or produce maps to facilitate conversations to plan for the future or training people to use GIS.

My most recent trip was to Bon Bon Station Reserve in South Australia for the 10 year management plan review.

But I’m not the only person at Bush Heritage that has GIS capability. I’m the main person and I do a lot of training and tech support to help other people but we do have a lot of in-house capability, which is really useful.

So reserve managers, ecologists, Healthy Landscape Managers – there’s a suite of people across the organisation.

It’s quite a niche area – are there any misconceptions around what you do?

When I tell people I’m a cartographer they sometimes think I’m a cardiographer and ask what hospital I work at!

No, I don’t find people’s expectations to be incorrect or unreasonable. If anything, the biggest misconception is that people think things can’t be done with GIS when they can be (in terms of the type of products you can create and analysis that you can do).

GIS is almost limitless – if you can think of it, you can probably do it. So it’s pretty powerful.

Any advice for the budding cartographers out there?

Volunteering is a great way to get your foot in the door, especially if you’re interested in conservation. Experience is vital so don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and do whatever you can!

I’ve had many volunteers work with me over the years and I’m always interested in seeing who else is out there and is keen to help out.

Also technology is changing pretty rapidly so find a way to be across that or perhaps to specialise because it’s pretty broad.

Spatial Information Coordinator, Paul Young. Spatial Information Coordinator, Paul Young.
Discussing maps out on reserve during conservation planning. Discussing maps out on reserve during conservation planning.
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