Narelle Debenham is a Frankston resident who for many years has been passionate about enhancing the education of kids and their families by involving them in their natural environment. Between implementing innovative award-winning environmental educational programs and writing for Mornington Peninsula Magazine and other media, she’s also focused on raising the profile of environmental projects to inspire the community to do the same or similar. It comes as no surprise that she’s just been announced as the recipient of the Dame Phyllis Frost Award 2019.
What made you start volunteering?
Volunteering was an integral part of my childhood. My grandparents and parents dedicated their time, talents and energy to make a difference in their communities. Volunteering together as a family to contribute to our community also helped develop a personal sense of pride and identity and gave us causes to care about as children. Volunteering is so rich and diverse. Even the smallest individual acts of kindness help to bind our community together. I love being a member of our local neighbourhood. There is so much reciprocity across the generations and for multiple causes. The value of this volunteerism to our community is priceless. Each day l see so many ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
What volunteer groups and organisations are you currently a member of and work in support of?
JOTE community garden, Frankston Beach Association, Kananook Creek Association, Junior Landcare, FHS community, mentoring pre-service teachers from Monash University, Local Teachers Environmental Friends network run by council. I am lucky that l have been able to combine my passion for the natural environment and education of young people to give my life great purpose, both in my work and community life. A huge thank you to the rangers in the Frankston Council coastal and parks management teams who have been very welcoming of and huge advocates for my work over more than a decade, and other local departments, organisations and management of both public and private parks, gardens, nurseries and natural spaces, such as the late Dame Elisabeth (Murdoch)'s Cruden farm, who have provided a platform for me to help facilitate opportunities to turn public intent into action. Too many to name; you know who you are. This award belongs to you too.
Did you ever expect this award? What were your first thoughts when you heard you’d received it?
I attended the awards night as l had nominated one of the members of my Natured Kids Junior Landcare group, eight-year-old Oscar Baldaccino, because of his amazing work by one so young to save the helmeted honeyeater. I was also there because one of the rangers on the Frankston coastal management team had nominated Natured Kids for the collective work we had done over the years as volunteers, helping revegetate the coastal dunes at Keast Park in Seaford to help the threatened swamp skink, for beautifying the Kananook Creek trail and participating in numerous citizen science projects such as the backyard bird watch, the Wild Pollinator Count, annual frog watch, beach litter audits, seashell surveys and the feather map of Australia. Both Oscar and Natured Kids received Highly Commended awards on the night for our efforts. It was a shock to hear my name called out to receive the Dame Phyllis Frost Award because l do believe there are countless people deserving of recognition, many of whom have also been my teachers and mentors. l accepted the award in recognition of all those people past and present who have also devoted their time and energy to mentor the young emerging environmental advocates who follow us, instilling important values and demonstrating how to love and care for the natural environment.
What does this award mean for you? What’s next on your agenda? Do you have a five-year goal?
I am passionate about the importance of educating young people in our natural environment, teaching them to value traditional ecological knowledge and Indigenous wisdom and to care for our country: the land, fresh water, and the sea around Port Phillip Bay. It is critical we facilitate regular opportunities for our young people to link in with skilled mentors, empowering them to contribute to their communities in meaningful, conscious and purposeful ways, as long-term custodians of their nearby nature. I feel this award has added value to my voice. l intend to continue encouraging people to connect with, contribute to and care for the natural environment and to link in with and learn from their local environmental volunteer groups. (There is) so much current environmental angst; the best antidote is action. I hope to spend the next 10 years creating partnerships with kindergartens, schools, universities and communities in support of more outdoor teaching and learning experiences encouraging environmental advocacy.
Narelle’s Natured Kids outdoor playgroup starts on October 9 and runs for 8 weeks. Families interested in sharing in the outdoor adventures can email [email protected] for details.