On the environmental frontline - UOW Outlook Magazine

On the environmental frontline

By William Verity

UOW alumni all over the world are working to tackle climate change and conserve our natural environment. We spoke to three alumni working on different environmental causes.

Dr Andrew Read

Director at Parks Australia, is in charge of marine parks authorisation and compliance.


Andrew Read returned to university in the middle of his career because he could feel that his knowledge was becoming less relevant, and less contemporary. 

“It was extremely hard,” he says. “It’s a self-discipline that I can’t explain. “I had just taken on this job so I would wake up at 5am, work two hours, go off to a demanding job and then return home and work until midnight. 

“I also got married during that period, and on my wedding night, I got up to work at 4am for three hours because I had a dream about my PhD and wanted to get it down before it went away.”

Read is a visiting fellow at UOW with the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS) at the Innovation Campus. He says the doctorate – The Effective management of NSW Marine Parks – was critical to his employment and allowed him to claim with confidence that he was aware of the most current thinking in the field. 

Although marine parks have been around for some decades, they expanded five-fold in 2012 to cover 30 per cent of Commonwealth waters – 58 parks over three million square kilometres. Read heads a team that issues permits and licenses for any activity in the parks – commercial fishing, mining, diving, scientific research. He is also responsible for ensuring compliance of the strict environmental regulations for areas of the ocean which are, by their nature, hard to police. He is currently managing two innovative projects – one to geo- fence the parks to send a text message to vessels as they enter the area (“It’s a bit like a virtual signpost”), and another pilot project to track and identify vessels simply by their acoustic footprint. 

“Marine parks are internationally recognised as the most powerful tools for marine conservation in the world,” Read says. “The work with compliance means that our marine resources in Australia can be monitored effectively. “To protect these areas effectively means that future generations will be able to enjoy these marine environments.” 

Jenny Feltham

Working with the United Nations in Vietnam to combat the rapidly escalating trafficking of endangered wildlife products.


Jenny Feltham is a traveller – in the mundane sense that she has travelled the world, but also in a more profound sense, that she is a free spirit. She’s lived in Hanoi for six years now, working first for NGOs, and now for the United Nations, on contracts to help save the environment.  It’s meaningful work, and interesting too, but well-paid it is not. 

“Maybe I am a bit unusual, but I don’t worry about financial security. I don’t have a family to support, so I have the luxury of having a lot of freedom,” she said. “It means I don’t have to be so organised about having a long-term plan. I don’t think I have ever had permanent work, so I am used to working contracts. I now have the confidence that something else will come up.”

Her current contract with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime based in Vietnam is about trying to target the illicit international trade in threatened wildlife – elephant ivory, rhino horns, African pangolins and more. 

“This is transnational organised crime, that for example is moving ivory from Africa to Asia in shipping container loads that might contain the tusks of hundreds, or even thousands of elephants,” Feltham says. “These items are used in Asian countries for medicinal purposes or as luxury items and they can command very high prices, once they reach the market.” 

Her job is to raise awareness of the crime – until recently seen as both minor and victimless – with a view to strengthening law enforcement and laws. It’s a long way from working as a radio producer at ABC Illawarra in Nowra. This was the first job she secured after graduating from UOW in 2006. 

After working for a while, she left to travel in Central America for a year, reconsider her options, and then return to UOW to study a postgraduate course in project management. Given her career trajectory, she wonders whether she would have been better off studying environmental science – but then planning has never been her way. 

“I haven’t planned anything so far. I couldn’t have predicted any of this happening. I just follow my interests and see where I end up.”

Rick Mulhall

General Manager of Recycling for the Smith Family, says innovation is critical to make an impact in tight constraints.


“I know it sounds like a cliché, but there comes a time when you are in your mid to late 50s, your family has grown up, when you get to the point that you want to give back.” 

Rick Mulhall had spent a career working for shareholder companies – BHP, AGL and Boral – before deciding to use his skills for The Smith Family. He runs the commercial arm of the charity, a business that runs 19 shops in NSW and the ACT, has an annual turnover of $20 million and that recycles 12 million kilograms of clothing and textiles every year. 

“It’s my first experience of working in a not-for-profit and I have been pleasantly surprised at the degree of commercial rigour that exists,” he says. “There is a perception that not-for-profits are nice people doing fluffy things but – once you are on the inside – you realise the innovation required to get things done within tight constraints.” 

The Smith Family funds education programs for disadvantaged Australian children and the money that the recycling business earns helps to fund those programs. Clothing left at 950 bins statewide is taken to Villawood where it is sorted by and waste. Even the 30 per cent that is deemed to be waste is then used – for combustible bricks to be used instead of coal in power stations. Only three per cent of all donations go to landfill. 

Study at UOW has been critical to the success of Mulhall’s career. His undergraduate degree in commerce and accountancy was part of a BHP traineeship in the mid-1980s and launched his career. He later returned part-time, graduating in 1993 with a Masters in Commerce, majoring in management. “I wanted to transition from accountancy to more operational management, and the masters was critical in allowing me to make that transition,” he says. 

That move took him from management to leadership. 

“There’s a massive difference,” he says. “If you lead with ethics, clear communication, respect and empathy, you will also get the desired result.”

Dr Andrew Read

Doctor of Philosophy (Laws), 2014

Jenny Feltham

Bachelor of Communications and Media Studies, 2006
Graduate Certificate in Project Management, 2012

Rick Mulhall

Bachelor of Commerce, 1984
Master of Commerce, 1989


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