Passing on his knowledge…

Mark Parre in his propagation hot house. © Serena Kirby

With retirement on the horizon and after nearly 30 years with his local shire office in Denmark, Mark Parre is busy passing on his skills and knowledge to the next generation.

Mark began work at the Shire in 1993 as team leader for a group of workers contracted to create a nursery and seed bank. Originally only a six-month contract, Mark was then retained to plant the trees that he and his team had propagated.

“Pardon the pun, but things just grew from there,” Mark said.

As the local revegetation officer, Mark has been involved in the planting of more than 700,000 native seedlings. But now his focus has shifted to cultivating and nurturing his legacy via his apprentice and successor, 25-year-old Terran Ablett. 

“What I do in my job is built on years and years of experience,” Mark said. “It’s important to pass on my knowledge and the best way to do that is to take Terran out in the field as that is literally my classroom. 

“I’m so lucky that my employer has provided this opportunity for continuity in this role. While much of what I do is skill-based, the deeper understanding and knowledge only comes from experience.”

Mark said his teaching technique is one of working side by side with Terran.

Mark Parre with Terran Ablett amongst the hundreds of native seedlings they are currently nurturing in the nursery Mark created for his local Shire. © Serena Kirby

“I’ll explain something then step back and watch to see how he interprets it. I’ll then advise on adjustments. I can’t totally transfer 30 years’ experience but I can show him what has been successful and how to get the best results.”

Terran, who has been volunteering with Mark on and off since he was 14, now works with Mark three days a week and will take over from him when he retires early next year. 

“Terran has already done his Certificate IV in Conservation and Land Management but more importantly he has the interest and passion to carry the job forward. His position with me is a permanent one which is important as he has the security of knowing he’ll continue in the role after I leave.”

American-born Mark relocated to Australia in his early teens and spent years on a large property just south of the Stirling Range.

“I grew up exploring the large areas of native bush where I lived and it was a magical wonderland, a place of discovery and it was here that my interest in native plants first began.

“While I’d been interested in native plants well before working with my local Shire I’d never actually been employed in this kind of role before.

“I did have a Certificate II in Horticulture and I later got involved in running a bush care course but it wasn’t until much later that I went and got my Diploma in Conservation and Land Management.”

Mark, who has taught students at TAFE and at schools, said the process of teaching his successor has created a unique learning experience for him as well.

“People say I’m a good communicator but it’s very different when you’re teaching one-on-one. It’s more personal and very much a two-way exchange. When you have to explain what you do and why you do it in a particular way there’s a crystallisation that occurs. It’s so interesting for me to look at the reasons behind what I do and it’s an incredibly satisfying process.”

When reflecting on his long career Mark said the highlight has simply been the ability to do what he does.

“The work is the greatest reward and when I revisit a site I planted up years before and see the diversity of flora and fauna it really makes my heart sing. I know all my efforts will now be in Terran’s safe hands and that will be the second great reward.”