Nature Stewards


Growing up in regional and coastal Victoria, ignited an interest in the natural environment for Nicole. Encouraged by her Biology teaching father, Nicole pursued her passion in Botany and Zoology and has worked as a Science educator in both the Government and Independent school sectors for many years, developing expertise in Senior Biology.

This has seen her encouraging and nurturing young adults to view the Outdoors as a dynamic environment to be explored, studied and appreciated. Nicole is excited to be involved in the Nature Stewards Initiative and believes that no matter what our past experiences, we can all benefit from a greater understanding of our environment. The family passion for the natural environment has continued with her own children studying Environmental Science and Population Geography and Science at a tertiary level.

Jack is a motivated and experienced nature communicator with a passion for Australia’s unique natural environment. He has a diversity of experiences in the environmental field, including working for government, universities, NGO’s and private companies.

He is particularly interested in developing effective science communication, as well as citizen science programs having worked closely alongside Birdlife Australia to implement their beach-nesting bird program on the Mornington Peninsula. He is very excited to be involved in the Nature Stewards program to share his experiences and to learn from a likeminded community.

Jeff was born in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up experiencing the natural wonders and landscapes of the Northeast USA. As a student, he studied ecology, geography and natural history and developed a passion for education, sustainability and advocating for wild places and wild creatures. His love for Nature eventually drew him to the rugged and majestic mountains, forests and coastlines of Oregon where he worked in community environment programs focusing on education, conservation and ecological restoration.

Jeff moved to Australia in 2008 and was awestruck by the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, the ancient landscapes of Central Australia and the forests and highlands of Tasmania and Victoria. Since coming to Melbourne he has earned a Master’s degree in Environment & Sustainability from Monash University. He has worked in environmental education, community development, permaculture and community mental health. Currently he is studying ecological psychology and exploring the benefits of Nature connection and forest therapy with clients.

Growing up as a migrant kid in Melbourne’s polluted industrial western suburbs, George fell in love with Victoria’s natural places, with every family picnic and school excursion. A weekend school bushwalk in 1977 to Wilsons Promontory’s at the impressionable age of 15, to Sealers Cove, led by Monash Uni naturalists, set George on a lifetime quest to explore wild natural places and rivers! Studying Agricultural Science, George got involved in many hands-on volunteer conservation & naturalist groups.

His involvement in native freshwater fish conservation efforts/groups led him to a major in fish ecology and environmental science in his undergraduate degree. George has made a long career as an environmental educator and ranger, involving many tangible and longitudinal bushland & wetland ecological restoration and conservation management projects; particularly with near 4 decades at La Trobe University’s Wildlife Sanctuary and Reserves.

George is driven about practical things we can do to support local biodiversity & wildlife, through indigenous gardening choices, right up to taking community revegetation & bushland management action, in our neighbourhood public land and reserves. As an avid wildlife watcher, George is passionate about re-growing habitat for our local animals, through understanding their basic ecological needs, with an emphasis on our local urban environment.

Danielle has been working in environmental science for 20 years starting her career as a public servant advising policymakers in Canberra, then joining an NGO in Broome, coordinating a citizen science project. Danielle discovered the importance of nature connection while travelling around Australia, realising that it’s the crucial first step for people to want to care for the environment. 

This started Danielle’s journey as a passionate advocate and facilitator for nature play, outdoor activities and environmental education.  The Nature Stewards program is a perfect culmination of all of the above. Danielle looks forward to sharing her knowledge and passion with the Nature Stewards participants in 2022.

Tash is an environmental scientist with experience working in the public sector and environmental advocacy. They also have over two years experience working in STEM education. Tash studied plant science and earth science at Monash University, and they have a particular interest in native ecology, plants and fungi.

Tash is also working for the Australian Conservation Foundation, and they are also a regular Landcare volunteer. They are passionate about the conservation and rehabilitation of Australian ecosystems, and building the resilience of communities in the face of climate change.

Mia has always been immersed in the minute particulars. She is enchanted by ‘belly plants’—those which are so small you have to be on your belly to really see and appreciate—and the whole of nature is her love.

Mia currently works as the gardener at Melbourne Rudolf Steiner School in Warranwood and has worked in habitat management for over 20 years.

Jordan has a decade’s worth of experience in conservation and land management and arboriculture industries working across all land tenures including national parks, bushland reserves and private property and is passionate about thoughtful and meaningful management of natural areas for conservation of our precious and irreplaceable plants, animals and ecosystems.

Jordan is formally qualified in Conservation and Land Management and Arboriculture.

Jordan is also a Nature Campaigner at the Victorian National Parks Association.

Julie is the co-founder of Environmental Evolution – an environmental consultancy that works with local government, businesses and international corporations to empower them to become sustainable in all of their operations.

Before Julie was a consultant she was a teacher – enjoying teaching sustainability and science to students ranging from Prep through to Year 12. She worked with over 60 schools to help them become certified with ResourceSmart and designed innovative and creative programs while she taught at Earth Ed Specialist Science Centre.

Prior to that, her humble beginnings begun as extension officer for the State Government in the land management area – dealing with all things related to salinity – be it dryland, irrigation or urban salinity.

When Julie is not at work you will find her hiking in the bush, boxing in the gym or hanging out at home with her family. A personal passion other than the environmental is Ayurveda – a wholistic method to heal the body. Julie is a certified Yoga Health Coach and runs a 12 month program called Living Wisely. This program radically changes peoples lives through 10 simple, yet powerful habits, that aligns them to natures daily rhythm.

Guest Presenters

Learning Facilitator Lenka Vanderboom grew up on her Yawuru homelands in the Kimberley and is now based on Wadawurrung lands in Victoria. As a producer, group work facilitator and eco-educator across Australia and the globe (online) Lenka has a focus on encouraging brave and considered strategic engagement and codesign processes.

Among a range of creative positions, Lenka works at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria specialising in engaging students, educators, and the public in general, in wellbeing and nature-based learning largely through First Nations’ STEAM, history and cultural enquiry.

Alex Maisey is a postdoctoral researcher in ecology at La Trobe University. He is interested in ecosystem function and the many ways biota interact with their environment. Alex’s PhD research topic was the ecosystem engineering role of the iconic Superb Lyrebird in Victoria’s central highlands.

This project required extensive fieldwork over two years, leading him to explore the world of microbial ecology, soil chemistry, entomology, as well as the more familiar fields of botany and zoology. With over 20 years of experience volunteering with environmental groups in the Dandenong Ranges, he has a long commitment to local forest restoration and conservation.

Born and raised in the forests and gardens of Mt Macedon, Greg trained horticulturist and plant collector, with a passion for natural science, the natural world and of course, fungi.

Tim has 43 years of experience in land and pest management across a variety of roles in state governments, councils and private businesses in Victoria and interstate.

He has helped develop and manage environmental strategies and action plans for community groups and governments.

Tim worked as a consultant to the Tasmanian government managing its Red Fox incursion and was co-author and implementer of the successful Phillip Island Fox Eradication Project. His lifelong interest in landscapes has driven a desire to help others, especially in regard to managing rabbit impacts on our ecosystems. He is a mentor for the community based Victorian Rabbit Action Network, which seeks to help people, help heal the land. Before becoming a fulltime consultant, Tim worked on the Grow West program that assists  landholders to rehabilitate land through landscape scale planting programs in the west of Melbourne. A keen ‘birdo’ Tim has a particular interest in rehabilitating our degraded landscapes to become self-sustaining for future generations of native species and people.

Environment First

President of The Field Naturalist Club of Victoria (4 years). Biologist and active field naturalist for over 50 years with a special interest in invertebrates and biodiversity. Max is strongly committed to the establishment of the Nature Stewards program.

The Field Naturalists Club of Victoria

I’ve been a bird nerd since the early years of high school in the 1970s.  From then to now I’ve been involved in volunteer activities with organisations like BirdLife Australia, and somewhere along the way I finished a PhD on bird ecology. 

I’m best known for knowing about birds, but I’m also into bats and frogs, and know a bit about some native plants as well. At Melton it’s my responsibility to see that our natural areas are being looked after, and that residents have the chance to  enjoy wildlife and native plants in their  gardens and neighbourhoods, and in some of our conservation reserves.

City of Melton

Lynda is a zoologist, climatologist and traditional knowledge specialist who has had a long career with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. She specialises in impacts, adaptation and vulnerability of Australian flora and fauna to climate variability and change.

She was the project leader for the COSPPac project on the use of traditional knowledge in weather and climate forecasting in the Pacific and was a founding partner of the citizen science project ClimateWatch.

Lynda was also a contributing author to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability).

Jess has worked in research, NGOs, education, government and private sectors. She has technical expertise in soils including a PhD on soil rehabilitation, organic waste processing and use on land, agriculture, land management, systems thinking, chemicals in the environment and land rehabilitation/restoration. 

Jess also has a passion for education, communication, open and accessible science. Great science and problem solving is done through collaboration, listening and reflecting.

​Murrang Earth Sciences

I have been fortunate enough to be able to combine my lifelong interest in Australia’s unique fauna with archaeology. This has enabled me to pursue a research career focusing on zooarchaeology or the role of animals in Australian archaeology. I am particularly interested in how the First Australian’s interacted with animals, what species they chose to hunt and how they butchered and cooked them, as well as what secondary products they used such as fur skins and bone tools.

I have been involved innumerous Australian archaeology and palaeontological (specifically focusing on extinct megafauna) research projects including bone assemblages from southwest Tasmania, Lake Mungo and Cuddie Springs in NSW, and in Lancefield in VIC. My current research focuses on human occupation and use of the landscape in the central Murray River Valley in northwest Victoria at Trust for Nature’s Neds Corner Station and the adjacent Murray-Sunset (Yanga Nowie) National Park, and in northwest and eastern Tasmania.

La Trobe University: Department of Archaeology & History

Peter is one of the most experienced wildlife ecologists in Victoria, having been involved in fauna surveys since the mid-1960s. His early years of wildlife studies were with the Field Naturalist’s Club of Victoria, but for the last 20 years he has conducted field studies as a consultant for many clients across most of Victoria. These studies have included threatened species surveys for a range of mammals and frogs, including Smoky Mouse, Growling Grass Frog, Southern Brown Bandicoot, Green and Golden Bell Frog and New Holland Mouse. 

Peter is also employed by RMIT University and Melbourne Polytechnic, where he supervises Diploma of Conservation and Land Management students conducting fauna surveys in the Anglesea and Wonthaggi heathlands. For the last 15 years he has conducted annual fauna surveys for the City of Whittlesea at several important conservation reserves, including Quarry Hills Regional Parkland.

Ben has been working and volunteering in the outdoors all his life, including in defence, nature tourism, agriculture, outdoor education, catchment management, bushcare, and landcare. 

He is passionate about helping people to develop a relationship with the land and landscape they inhabit, to understand their role in it, and build their capacity to take responsibility for managing it. 

City of Melton

I have enjoyed watching birds since I was a youngster in the Dandenong Ranges, and this led to an interest in nature conservation.  As an environmental planner I have worked at the University of Melbourne, in the Victorian Public Service and as a consultant. I have volunteered with environmental groups for over 40 years, particularly focused on the Merri Creek.

Through volunteering I have learnt a lot, made many friends, and had the pleasure of seeing bushland protected, re-established and appreciated. After hearing about the US Master Naturalist programs, I was inspired (with strong support from my family) to introduce the model in Victoria as a means of connecting people more deeply with nature and encouraging them to enjoy the many benefits of environmental volunteering.

Friends of the Merri Creek

Growing up in rural Western Victoria, near the Grampians/Gariwerd instilled a passion for the outdoors and nature. I loved geography, bush walking and playing Aussie Rules Football. My father introduced me to bird watching and growing native plants. I am an active research scientist with training in biology, land management, adult education and organisation leadership.

For many years I have volunteered with environmental groups in environmental protection and restoration, waterway management, and outdoor recreation. This led to a Victorian Environmental Friends Network Best Friend Award in 2015. I currently volunteer with the Victorian National Parks Association, Trust for Nature and BirdLife Australia.

Victorian National Parks Association

Sapphire is an ecologist who has special interest in the conservation of biodiversity, particularly the macrofungi and mosses. Sapphire has been actively involved with Fungimap* since 1999. She is also active with Australian scientific groups like the Education Subcommittee of the Australasian Mycological Society, the Ecological Society of Australia.

Australian Bryophyte Workshops and community groups including many field naturalist clubs and Landcare groups. Having lived in four states and travelled across Australia’s landscapes she has been involved in many of the fungal community groups over the years. She has worked with many of these groups to raise the profile of local fungi and the important roles fungi play in our environment. She is involved in Greening Australia’s Habitat Conservation and Management Course and the new Victorian Nature Stewards program. She particularly enjoys getting out into the bush to discover fungal treasures as often as she can.

Fun Fungi Ecology

I have had an interest in the outdoors and nature conservation since childhood, especially after joining the Scouts. Having unspoiled areas to explore and marvel at is important for people who spend most of their lives in the city or suburbs. For no particular reason I started collecting rocks when I was at school and this interest took me to university to study geology.

The best part of field geology is getting outdoors and exploring the countryside, enjoying the plants and animals as well as the rocks. My geological studies have all been field based, in NSW, Queensland and Victoria, and they have taken me to some wonderful places where nature is at her best. I was a lecturer in geology at Ballarat University, then spent 15 years working for the Geological Survey of Victoria making geological maps of various parts of the state. After that I ran the first year geology course at La Trobe University, and now I am a practical demonstrator there. I love showing people how to read the rocks and the landscape.

Kirsten Parris is an Associate Professor of Urban Ecology in the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences at The University of Melbourne, and the Leader of the NESP Hub for Clean Air and Urban Landscapes (CAUL).

She has a deep affinity with frogs, and research interests that span urban ecology, conservation biology, animal behaviour, field survey methods and ecological ethics. In 2016, Kirsten published Ecology of Urban Environments (Wiley Blackwell), a text book for upper-level undergraduate and Masters students that provides an accessible introduction to urban ecology, using existing ecological theory to identify generalities in the complexity of urban environments. Kirsten’s current research projects focus on the impacts of urban noise on acoustic communication in birds and frogs; the ecological costs and benefits of artificial wetlands in urban landscapes; community ecology in cities; and practical ways in which humans can better share the urban environment with other species. She also enjoys science communication including stand-up science comedy. You can read more about her research at

Carolyn has over 30 years of experience in Education, Training and Group Facilitation, specifically in the field of Environmental Sustainability, Social Justice and Wellness. She has spent much of her career working in the outdoors. Currently Carolyn works as a Learning Facilitator at the Royal Botanic Gardens and Teaches Yoga and Meditation in her spare time.

Through both personal experience and her training, Carolyn understands the mental and physical benefits of spending time outdoors in a natural environment. In her current role at The Gardens she shares her two great passions: mindfulness and nature. She loves finding ways to make both accessible for all.

Dean Stewart is a proud and passionate Wemba Wemba-Wergaia Aboriginal man of Victoria with well over 20 years’ experience developing, co-ordinating and conducting Cultural tourism, education, environmental and interpretation programs. Dean was the creator and coordinator of the highly successful ‘Aboriginal Heritage Walks’ while employed as Aboriginal Liaison for the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne and Cranbourne.

He also assisted in initiating similar Aboriginal Cultural walks for the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens. After his many years there he continued his passion as the Senior Manager of Cultural Education Programs for the Koorie Heritage Trust and Aboriginal Tourism Victoria.

In his earlier life Dean was a professional revegetation and conservation coordinator and he continues his deep connection of caring for country and our shared custodianship for the land through his Grasslands projects.

All fertile grounding, which he continues to weave into all his cultural tours and programs.

Dean’s Aboriginal Cultural programs provide deep and thought provoking experiences at many levels, and too innumerable people – today almost 15,000 Melbournians share in Dean’s cultural programs and knowledge, and connections every year. All share in a journey of immersive knowledge in our shared and rich history. His Aboriginal Cultural tours and program are insightful, challenging, and may even be inspiring!

Dean loves sharing his culture, and his connections, and in particular enjoys getting Melbournians to better understand “their own backyard”, and the rich and deep history of this special Place and People – striving to plant an indigenous seed of knowledge and connection for everyone for everyone; within the place that we now all call ‘Home’ – as the very newest custodians of this ancient land!

“I acknowledge the Kulin custodians, past and present, the Elders and Ancestral Spirits of
this special land upon which I live and work.”

Jim Szonyi has a background in environmental science and has worked for the past 15 years in the natural resource management sector as a park ranger, environmental educator and as a specialist dedicated to restoring and repairing Victoria’s native habitats. Jim joined the City of Melbourne in 2012 where he works to develop and deliver biodiversity education programs for schools and early learning centres with the goal of inspiring young people to become our future nature stewards. 

City of Melbourne

Dr Leanne Webb currently works as a Climate Change Knowledge Broker with the Climate Services Centre at CSIRO offering tailored climate projection data and services to climate change impact researchers and industry stakeholders in Australia and the Pacific. In this position Leanne draws on experience gained from more than fifteen years involved in studying climate change impacts and potential adaptation strategies across many sectors, though most particularly agriculture. 

Leanne was part of the team that prepared the most recent climate projections for Australia, released in 2016, funded by the Commonwealth Government’s Regional Natural Resource Management (NRM)Planning for Climate Change Fund.
Prior to this work, and for over a decade, the Australian wine industry was the focus of Leanne’s research. Doctoral research explored the potential impacts of climate change on the Australian wine industry with subsequent post-doctoral studies focused on identifying potential adaptation options.Leanne is a contributing author to the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report.

My interest in geology started with a fascination for reconstructing the story of the earth.  I find it endlessly exciting that we can look far back in time using evidence left in landscapes and rocky outcrops. My first geological work was in Victoria’s oldest underground gold mine at Chewton which ultimately led to postgraduate studies on the way that gold is clustered in some areas and not others; the detailed study of ancient marine fossils was a key part of this work.

I spent 21 years with a mapping team in the Geological Survey of Victoria studying areas from the goldfields of central Victoria to the eastern mountains.  Our fundamental task was to map the distribution of different rocks, but more importantly, the team attempted to unravel the history of the earth by uncovering the sequence of events that has affected the land. I currently make educational films in the earth sciences and love bringing the earth’s history to a wider audience.

Geology Films