Monica Durcan is a name synonymous with Landcare. Having worked in the industry for over 30 years, she reflects on the catalyst that sparked her long and illustrious career.
After moving to Bickley from Scotland in 1987 with her husband Eamon and sons Dwayne and Luke, she joined the Wildflower Society. She watched a screening of Barrie Oldfield’s documentary Wheat Today, What Tomorrow? at the AGM and it was this chance sighting that opened her eyes to what was happening in the WA Wheatbelt.
“It was a totally life-changing moment. I had no idea that over the hill things were so bad. I thought, I’ve got to something for the environment,” she said.
And with that she signed up to volunteer with Men of the Trees, and soon after became their full-time nursery manager. She didn’t know anything about running a nursery but was good with people and a good organiser. She got the nursery going seven days a week and developed a program of activities for the increasing number of nursery volunteers.
She looks back fondly at that time in the environmental movement.
“It was like this huge dance everyone wanted to be involved in. A huge surge of people wanting to do something positive for the environment. It was great to be part of it.”
After seven years (she says her life works in seven year cycles), she had a quick stint at the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers when she was taken under the wing of Bevan Bessan from Tuna Blue Consulting who introduced her to environmental consultancy. During this time, she coordinated agroforestry tours in the Wheatbelt, developed Landcare resources, ran engagement events and coordinated the State Landcare Awards. Again, learning new skills and technologies on the job, she made each project a success.
Avongro Wheatbelt Tree Cropping Chair, Ian Hall, worked with Monica for eight years and was impressed at her willingness to step out of her comfort zone.
“Monica loved her work. She has a terrific network and has been able to embrace new technologies as they develop. I didn’t need a timesheet from her, we couldn’t have afforded her. She made me, her boss, look good,” he said.
After setting up her own business, Landcare Promotions, in 2000, Monica worked for Avongro as its Executive Officer. She helped develop a Private Forestry Development Committee for the Wheatbelt, directed the documentary Greener Horizons and wrote the book Branching out Big Time. She also secured a grant of $440,000, the second largest Caring for our Country grant in Australia in the transition year, to develop a farm forestry modelling tool for the low rainfall Wheatbelt.
A long-standing project she always recalls passionately is the Landcare exhibit at the Perth Royal Show. This grew more and more elaborate each year as she rallied friends, families and complete strangers to do her will. She has a knack for this. But her intent was always honourable, and always the same. Engaging everyday people in Landcare. Whether it was creating a cattle crossing, tree top walk or underground tunnel, Monica could make it happen.
South West Agroforesty Network executive and good friend, Richard Moore, knows Monica’s secret to getting things done.
“Let’s find a way of doing this sums up Monica’s approach for me. It’s collaborative, determined, enthusiastic, efficient, passionate and innovative,” he said.
Like so many industries where people are driven by their desire to make the world a better place, Landcare employees and volunteers are not immune to burn-out, scepticism or becoming downright jaded. Not Monica. She puts everything into her work and has remained as spirited and enthusiastic as ever. She also sees a bright future for the industry she leaves behind.
“I see a resurgence in Landcare and I’m grateful that I’ve seen this before retiring. In this new iteration, I hope that we can keep Landcare to mean all of the ‘cares’, as well as to mean that looking after your agricultural resources is good Landcare. Good Landcare should equal better and healthier production systems with better bottom line for the farmer,” she said.
“Done well at a landscape-scale, Landcare can deliver these and result in healthier waterways and protection of flora and fauna – the whole system. That was always the original intention.”
Monica has lived in three different continents and travelled the world. If you pick up on her subtle southern drawl, she will rather facetiously exclaim, “I was born in Texas!” This is where she spent her childhood but her heart is with the exotic. New Zealand will be her first stop in retirement before an extended trip to India.
In her most recent role as the Regional Landcare Facilitator for the South West Catchments Council (SWCC), Monica worked with grassroots Landcare and catchment groups in efforts to promote Landcare practices to farmers across the South West. Although part of a national network of facilitators, the Regional Landcare Facilitator position acknowledges the importance of local Landcare groups in engaging with landholders and rural communities.
Nerilee Boshammer, SWCC Community Engagement Program Manager, worked with Monica for over three years in supporting these local Landcare networks.
“From the moment we interviewed Monica, I was struck by her love of Landcare and her unique way of engaging people so well in it,” she said.
“It’s not often you meet someone like her. She is one of those rare people who still have such a passion and drive for what they do after so many years. And just in general, her perpetual lust for life is infectious.
“She leaves an epic Landcare legacy that I hope we can continue to foster into the future.”
Monica finished up with SWCC this month. Although she looks forward to leaving the commitment of work behind, she will inevitably miss the people, the creativity and the projects. Landcare may be losing a legend but the passion, enthusiasm and creativity that Monica injected into the industry will remain long after she is gone.
The South West Catchments Council’s Regional Landcare Facilitator Programme is funded through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.