Handled with care…the natural world and cultural history in safe hands

For more than 40 years, Liz Downes has been volunteering her time, expertise and skill for a number of community organisations. She currently volunteers for Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland and the JCU’s Mabo Library (Special Collections).

Liz said, “I have always been passionate about nature conservation and protecting our environment and wildlife so it seemed natural to want to put that into practice. My volunteering with JCU’s Mabo Library was prompted by my interest in local history and cultural heritage and a wish to remain connected with the institution where I had worked for many years.”

Involved with the conservation movement since the 1980s, Liz cites her involvement with the historic Torres Strait pigeon monitoring project off the coast of Cardwell as a highlight. She first started taking part in the project in 1994.

“It has been a joy and a privilege to be a part of such a nationally important endeavour that keeps watch over one of our most beautiful birds, once pushed almost to extinction by illegal shoots, dramatic loss of habitat along the coast and the devastation of cyclones. The dedication of the volunteers who have been keeping this project going for over 50 years is both a great inspiration and a true labour of love,” Liz said.

“Nature conservation can be a heart-breaking activity as we see more and more species pushed to the brink and more and more habitats and ecosystems degraded or lost. Maintaining hope and purpose in such circumstances can be very difficult and burn-out is always waiting in the wings.”

Liz recently came across this quotation from a 19th century American author: ‘I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.’

The quote resonated with Liz because she felt it perfectly reflected her friend’s philosophy and that its message may help other volunteers guard against feelings of helplessness or burn-out. Liz explained, “In the early 1980s, I was fortunate to meet Arthur and Margaret Thorsborne, a remarkable North Queensland couple who dedicated their lives to living lightly on the earth and to the study and protection of the natural world. Margaret remained a dear friend and a profound inspiration until her death in 2018. Despite increasing age, frailty and other hardships she never gave up and remembering her passion and perseverance can be a powerful motivator.”

Liz will be well known to many through a regular radio series as well as her entertaining blog posts that number more than 60. It is Liz’ research and storytelling ability that has enabled the Special Collections at JCU Library to gain such a following. Her gift in locating and revealing stories of historical significance has been instrumental in connecting our history to around 14,000 radio listeners to the ‘White Gloves’ series on ABC North Queensland.

“The Special Collections of JCU’s Mabo Library is a wonderful repository of north Queensland’s cultural heritage and history that is made available to the wider community as well as to academic researchers, Liz said.”

The recipient of the Heart of Volunteering Award at this year’s Virtual NQ Volunteer of the Year Awards, Liz humbly declared she’s sure all volunteers will agree that all achievements are made possible through the work of a team, not just one individual.

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