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Women at Work: Nadia Rhodes

Laura Peppas

In this new series, Women at Work, Laura Edwards chat with women working in unusual, inspiring or male-dominated industries to share their career challenges, passions and aspirations.

From chasing possums out of chimneys to flying in helicopters, there’s rarely a dull day in the office for park ranger Nadia Rhodes.

For the past six years the bubbly mother of one has been the head park ranger at the ACT Parks and Conservation Service – and she says she couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“I usually get a few interested or surprised looks when I tell people what I do for a living,” Nadia laughs.

“It can be long hours and it can be very physical, but I love it because I love working with wildlife.”

Currently juggling the position part time with her three year old son Lachlan, Nadia says she only ever wanted to be a ranger.

“I remember when I was young my parents taking me to the park and I’d see the rangers feeding the animals – it just hit a note with me and I thought that’s what I want to do, to be one of these people working outside and taking care of the environment,” she says.

The 37 year old studied a degree in environmental science at Charles Sturt University by correspondence before undergoing a traineeship as a park ranger in 1997.

Nadia describes the role as “physically demanding” but rewarding – as part of her position, she and her colleagues must undergo regular training to ensure their strength is up to scratch, which includes walking 5 kilometers while carrying a 20 kilo pack in under 45 minutes.

One of the most challenging aspects of Nadia’s role is fire management, including supervising and flying in helicopters for the Rural Fire Service.

“I’m basically in charge of the fire crews and tell them what they need to do to get control of a fire when there is one. I need to go up with the pilot and inspect what’s going on from above,” she says.

“You need lots of navigation training to do this, like learning how to use the radio and mapping system, and communicating with the crew. There’s also some behind the desk work, such as working on fire management policies as well as getting out to Mount Taylor or Mount Ainslie and making sure the natural environment is preserved.”

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Nadia says while it’s always been a largely male dominated industry, things are improving.

“It’s kind of touch and go I guess, some years we get a lot of females, other years none,” she says.

“I certainly was the only female park worker for a really long time. Now there’s a couple of female workers at any of the depots, but certainly the majority are male. Thinking back on it now, so many females leave because they have kids, or have to take time off, so it’s a little bit difficult to get back into it because there’s late shifts involved and irregular hours.

“But recently, it’s sort of moved on and built up a more family friendly work space, enabling women to go back to work part time and share positions. So it means I don’t feel like I’m missing out on home time with my little boy and husband [Tim], and I also don’t feel like I’m letting work slip either.”

Fortunately, Nadia says she doesn’t encounter any sexism in the office.

“I think in the past it may have been a sexist environment, but certainly not now – we’ve got a really level workforce and harmonious depot, everyone gets along with everyone and there’s a variety of different ages and backgrounds. It’s a nice work environment,” she says.

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Nadia Rhodes - head park ranger at the ACT Parks and Conservation Service.

One of Nadia’s biggest career challenges was working during the 2003 Canberra bushfires.

“I was a crew leader at the time, so I was out in the field and I still remember spraying water on the fire when it first started in the bush,” she says.

“It was a challenging time and I remember doing night shifts which would extend out to 13-hour days and you’d go home and come back again, just trying to contain the fires. I guess I felt quite deflated, especially when we knew that all that hard work that we put in didn’t have any affect on the intensity on that fire.

“There were a lot of people without houses; we lost our conservation programs, walking tracks, everything we worked on was gone. There were so many animals we had to euthanise – it was really quite devastating.”

She says the most rewarding part of being a park ranger is making the public happy.

“Usually people call us if they have an issue or problem with something, so being able to help them is really rewarding, whether it’s removing a snake from the house or putting an animal who is injured out of their pain, so it’s good to know you’re making people’s lives a little bit easier.”

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Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

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