Launceston-based forester, Bonnie Galbraith recently joined SFM Environmental Solutions, where she has become an integral part of the business’ newly launched ActivAcre project. Bonnie’s pathway to forestry– although not ‘linear’– is one she is glad to have followed. She believes many women and girls in the broader community are unaware of the richly diverse career options available to them in an industry she says doesn’t just support, but rather encourages women to pursue their goals.
What were your interests at school and what career paths did you consider?
I honestly had no idea what my career would be! Neither of my parents finished high school and I saw how challenging that had made their lives at times, so all I knew was that I wanted to obtain a further qualification so I would have more opportunities than them. As a kid I was often at the beach or running around the bush with my mates. That’s probably the start of my interest in understanding the natural environment, which led me to decide to go to Uni to study science but I wasn’t sure where it would take me. I was fortunate to have some mentors who steered me to applying for a graduate botanist role. From there I just followed what I was interested in. Unfortunately when I was at uni the ‘forest wars’ were in full swing and the polarising image I saw meant I didn’t even think about a career in forestry. I’m happy to have found my way to forestry after a few detours, it’s a diverse, rewarding, and interesting career.
Bonnie Galbraith at work
What was your pathway to the forest industry and what drew you to the Tasmanian sector?
My pathway has been not at all traditional. My professional background is prior to forestry was mostly environmental consulting in Tasmania and Western Australia. Originally I’m from Tasmania, but moved to Western Australia about 18 months after I finished uni. Prior to joining the forest industry, I was working for a renewable energy business in Tasmania in a contract role and knew that I needed more job security. I was considering roles within Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries initially. I’ve always had a passion for land management and after talking to a few people and looking at what roles were available I found a role as a Harvest Manager that looked challenging and interesting, and the rest is history!
What do you think the Tasmanian forest industry does well?
We work well together to solve problems. The cooperation between individuals, corporate entities and the regulator is quite extraordinary. We are incredibly innovative and determined to aim for better outcomes. I’ve never worked with a team of such committed, innovative and motivate people on such a broad scale.
How do you think the sector could improve?
Broaden our approach to new and novel ideas and concepts. While for the most part we’re a very innovative industry however occasionally we are suspicious of different approaches. There seems to be an acknowledgment within the industry that an openness to new approaches is a good thing and this can only help us move forward.
What is ActivAcre, and how can it benefit the industry?
ActivAcre is a New Forests backed project that is looking to create additional plantation estate within Northern Tasmania in conjunction with the Plantation Forestry carbon faming method developed by the Federal Government’s Emissions Reductions Fund. The idea is to lease areas of lower productivity land from private landowners and establish a long rotation plantation. ActivAcre will cover all establishment, management and harvest costs over the lease period in addition to paying lease rates. The ACCUs generated are retained by New Forests.
The future plantation resource will go some way to addressing the predicted shortfall of timber in the future as well as sustaining contractors who work within forestry. It creates benefits for landowners as well, by way of regular lease payments and the benefits of trees in the landscape. Appropriate placement of trees in agricultural landscapes can contribute to healthier and more productive ecosystems.
You are one of the recipients of the TFFPN’s Women in Leadership scholarships… how have you found this experience?
It’s been incredibly valuable. The classes for the Foundations of Directorship course have just concluded and I’ve learnt so much about how businesses operate from a strategic perspective. It also helped me examine my own skill set and identify areas that I would like to develop.
Receiving a membership to the AICD has been more rewarding than I could have realised. The resources that are available as part of that membership are so useful to get a broader perspective. I’ve really enjoyed looking at the challenges other industries face and how they adapt accordingly.
What advice would you give young women and girls to consider forestry as a career option?
It’s a great industry to get into, there are so many opportunities, more than is obvious from the outside looking in. The industry is incredible supportive of newcomers, women in particular, so it’s worth talking to someone who can help you figure out which path you’d like to follow. Reach out to one of the industry bodies or someone working in the industry or find an academic (if you’re interested in the academic pathway) to speak to about the opportunities available. Don’t underestimate the skills you already have, a willingness to learn will get you a long way.
In 10 years I hope to be…
Still contributing to practical sustainable land management in Tasmania. I’m passionate about sustainable land management and cooperation between industry and the community. As an industry we have a lot to offer in terms of managing our land resource in response to the changing climate. The fire management area is particularly interesting, from an emergency response, interoperability with emergency management agencies and a broader land management and research perspective.
One thing people would be surprised to know about me is…
I had a short career in the Royal Australian Navy and qualified as a Maritime Warfare Officer. There were a lot of highlights during my time in the RAN, but a standout was the opportunity to march as an ally in the Sydney Mardi Gras. We were in uniform, not in glittery costumes unfortunately, but it’s certainly an experience I’ll never forget! I was particularly proud to be part of such an important cultural event celebrating the LGBTQI+ community.