Who’s who in the Connecting Country zoo: Frances
Posted on 13 February, 2020 by Ivan
We thought it might be nice for our friends and supporters to get to know the team at Connecting Country, and learn about why they joined us. First off the ranks is our director and superb (fairy wren) leader, Frances Howe.
Frances joined Connecting Country in 2017, after a career in assessing and managing environmental and social impacts of large development projects, across Australia and around the world. She has led environmental teams in Melbourne, Adelaide and Dubai, and been an environmental advisor for a non-government organisation in Lesotho (Africa). Her qualifications including a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and Master of Environment from the University of Melbourne. Having travelled far and wide, including living in the Middle East, Africa and the United States, Frances returned to settle in Castlemaine. She lives with her husband and dog on a bush block outside Castlemaine, surrounded by the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, where she enjoys watching the wildlife and rehabilitating the degraded landscape.
What motivated you to join Connecting Country?
Throughout my life and career I’ve focused on practical ways to reverse environmental problems, initially in addressing the effects of land contamination, then in managing natural resource projects to reduce environmental and social impacts. Connecting Country offered a new challenge, a compelling opportunity to use my skills to help my local environment and community.
After 20 years as an environmental consultant, I was ready for a more meaningful role, helping make a difference on the ground. Connecting Country impressed me because it does real stuff to stop environmental degradation and improve habitat at a grassroots level. We don’t just talk, we work with community to deliver practical actions based on scientific evidence. I think that’s pretty cool.
What have you learnt from your time at Connecting Country?
The Connecting Country team have taught me heaps about our local plants and animals, but I still have much to learn! I am endlessly amazed by the rich pool of visionary, knowledgeable, committed and resourceful people within our local community, and their capacity to drive positive change. So many locals freely dedicate their time, land, skills and money to repair the land and care for wildlife. I’ve also learnt it’s really difficult to get funding, even when our work is essential to secure a viable future for ourselves and fellow inhabitants of the land.
Which projects do you manage at Connecting Country?
I manage the team and the overall organisation, rather than individual projects. A big part of my role is developing projects and sourcing funding. I work with Connecting Country’s dedicated management committee, oversee finance and administration, review documents, manage staff and support the team as needed. As a people manager, I aim to empower and support the team to plan and run their own projects. I’m proud and impressed how each of them has stepped up to build their skills and develop as project managers. It’s an honour and pleasure to work with such a collaborative, committed and talented bunch of people.
How did you first become interested in our natural environment and our unique ecosystems?
As a kid, all my annual summer holidays were spent camping in the lush forest of the Otways. There I got curious about the plants and animals, why they were there and how they all fitted together. At university I initially enrolled on a different path, but another camping trip made me reassess and change to study ecology. Growing up, I also spent a lot of time at my aunt and uncle’s tiny cottage near Daylesford, which is how I came to love central Victoria.
How do you spend your time away from work?
I’m fortunate to be passionate about my work, so there is little distinction between work and everything else. When not in the office I like to do yoga, grow veggies, enjoy good food and wine with my man, hang out with my dog and chooks, fix up old stuff and work on restoring my land. I’m an avid traveller – I’ve been to a lot of places, but currently enjoy being in one place.
What is your favourite movie and why?
I love a lot of movies but my favourite is Lantana. It’s a carefully crafted mystery, but really so much more about trust, relationships and chance. And it’s named after a weed!
What is your favourite place to visit in our region and why?
If I have to choose just one, it’s Leanganook Track along Forest Creek in Wesley Hill. Castlemaine Landcare has done an incredible job of converting it from a highly disturbed wasteland into a beautiful home for native plants, frogs and birds. It’s inspiring.