“The sky turned black and there was an eerie red glow on the horizon; embers were falling out of the sky right across the city; we drove across town to my cousin’s house and saw fires burning in city bushland, but was nobody fighting them. “
That was the scene from the devastating Canberra bushfires of 2003 which inspired Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Parks and Conservation Service Fire Management Officer, Adam Leavesley to pursue a career in the industry.
The former journalist was looking for a change when the fire storm hit Canberra causing four fatalities and burning down 488 homes.
“I had become disenchanted with journalism – it was all telephone calls and typing on the computer – so I gave it up and went back to university to study biology.,” said Adam.
“In one of the classes at the Australian National University I met the father of the fire regime concept, Dr Malcolm Gill, and became interested in bushfires.”
One thing led to another and in 2008 Adam graduated from ANU with a PhD in fire ecology.
“I’d never wanted to be an academic and I always thought when I graduated I’d probably end up back in journalism or perhaps some sort of land management communications job.
“But before I graduated a bushfire job opened up in a remote part of central Australia and I grabbed the opportunity.”
“For 12 months I worked for Bushfires NT in Alice Springs, driving the desert in my Toyota Landcruiser, meeting and working with pastoralists, park rangers and Aboriginal people across a 330,0002 km block.
“It was a sensational job and when I think back on it I remember the smell of burnt Spinifex which has a sort of fresher kind of smell than the Sorghum grass that you burn in the Top End of Australia.
“The best part of the day was the early evening, the temperature drops, the flies go to bed and you cook your lamb chops on the ashes of the burn you’ve just finished. And as you chew the bones, you sit in your camp chair and watch the stars as the moon comes up.”
In 2010 Adam moved back to Canberra and got a job with ACT Parks and Conservation Service. “In hindsight,” Adam reflected, “the desert job was really good because when I got back to Canberra I could demonstrate lots of experience and a high level of responsibility that is very hard to get in such a short time in south-eastern Australia.
“At ACT Parks my main job is assessing development applications for compliance with bushfire regulations and I’m also linked in with the national bushfire research agenda through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre and the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council.
“I’m in the position to write papers about the work that we’re doing to improve bushfire management, I’m helping to bring new research and technology into our agency, and helping to shape the future of bushfire management.”
Adam’s job still gives him a connection to the bush and burning.
“When we’ve got bushfire operations, I’m a crew leader and a member of the Remote Area Fire Team which is deployed to fires by helicopter. I feel very lucky to have a foot in both the research and development camp and in on-ground fire management. I’ve got a great job and I love it,” said Adam.
Beginning this issue, Adam is also joining our roster of Contributing Editors for Wildfire Magazine.