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A homecoming

Published 04 Oct 2017 

Annette Dean’s childhood consisted largely of long days spent out bush with her brothers, swimming in wild rivers and climbing mountains. She would return home to her family’s shack in the Liffey Valley of northern Tasmania only when hunger demanded it.

Annette Dean, at home in the Tasmanian bush. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Annette Dean, at home in the Tasmanian bush. Photo Annette Ruzicka.

“I can’t emphasise how magical that time was for me,” she says. “But of course, you don’t realise how lucky you are until you’re an adult and you see how many kids miss out on that.” Annette spent her weekends and school holidays at her family’s shack – now called ‘Oura Oura’ – until she was seven years old, the age her son William is now. She clearly remembers the bittersweet moment when her parents decided to sell the shack to Bush Heritage’s founder-to-be, Bob Brown. “Bob came knocking on the door and had a chat with my parents,” says Annette. “They decided to sell to him, but he always said, ‘the place is yours – come and stay whenever you want’.”

Annette Dean and her brother find shelter in a tree in the Liffey Valley.
Annette Dean and her brother find shelter in a tree in the Liffey Valley.

Decades later, Annette has returned to the Liffey Valley as Regional Reserve Manager, Tasmania, for Bush Heritage. She says her childhood at Oura Oura, combined with a trip to the now damned Lake Pedder in the state’s south-west, were what ultimately drove her to pursue a career dedicated to the environment.

“Liffey shaped my love of nature, as well as going to Lake Pedder and knowing that I would never see it looking the same again. As a child, it made me realise you can’t take nature for granted,” she says.

After working with the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service for over a decade, Annette went on to work as ranger-in-charge at two of New South Wales’ largest national parks, and as chief executive of the Kokoda Track Authority.

In her role as Regional Reserve Manager, Tasmania, Annette will apply her considerable experience to the maintenance and management of all of Bush Heritage’s Tasmanian reserves. This includes Oura Oura and the other Liffey Valley reserves, as well as Friendly Beaches Reserve in the state’s south-east.

Drys Bluff viewed from Oura Oura Reserve.
Drys Bluff viewed from Oura Oura Reserve.
Photo: Annette Ruzicka

“I always felt I had to return to Tasmania. It’s similar to Bob’s story of when he first saw the Liffey Valley; he wrote, ‘I’m home now, I’ve found my home’, and that’s how I feel,” says Annette.

On the surface, the valley’s tall eucalypt forests and the banks of the Liffey River look much the same as they did in Annette’s childhood. “But then you look closer, and it’s shocking to see how things have changed,” says Annette.

In the past 10 years, weeds and feral cats have become a major problem. Managing those threats will be a priority for Annette over the coming years, but it’s not something she plans to do on her own.

“The only way we’re really going to make progress is if we take a whole of community approach to these issues,” she says.

Annette will be hosting a Liffey Valley working bee on 14-15 October. Email [email protected] for more information or to confirm your attendance.