In rain, severe winds or fire, a dedicated group of rangers protect the natural environment.
Every year on July 31, their work is celebrated on World Ranger Day. The day commemorates rangers killed or injured in the line of duty and celebrates the work rangers do to protect the planet's natural treasures and cultural heritage.
Ranger Team Leader Creswick, Kyra Winduss, is one of 600 rangers - including almost 40 Aboriginal rangers - employed through Parks Victoria.
She completed a Diploma of Natural Resource Management and began working in consulting where she had a realisation:
"I realised that sitting in the office all day wasn't really what I was after. I wanted to be outside and give back to our wonderful natural world."
With an innate love of the great outdoors, she made the decision to change the direction of her career.
Starting her career with Parks Victoria at Wilsons Promontory National Park as an information officer one summer almost 20 years ago, she later secured a role as a ranger based in Creswick in November 2003.
As team leader, she and her team cover a wide area - encompassing Hepburn, Creswick and up to Mt Beckworth, across to Ararat and Lake Bolac.
I'm so fortunate to be able to say that I absolutely love my job.Kyra Winduss
"I left my office job and pursued a career as a ranger and I'm so fortunate to be able to say that I absolutely love my job.
"Everyday is a highlight because of the variety of things we do. Being able to come to work everyday, working outside and protecting beautiful parks and reserves around here is fantastic.
"Sometimes I'm out there and think 'wow, this is my job and I'm so lucky.'"
Ms Winduss said rangers were important as they helped the community connect with nature safely, while working to ensure the state's unique natural environment was protected for future generations.
"We work hard - in partnership with Traditional Owners - to maintain the health and wellbeing of our parks, reserves, forests, and marine sanctuaries for our current and future generations," she explained.
It is a diverse career, with each and every day working as a ranger different - from protecting parks and the plants and animals within them to running environmental programs and cultural heritage management.
In this region that includes Indigenous heritage, as well as sites such as Andersons Mill in Smeaton.
Rangers ensure visitor facilities such as campgrounds, walking tracks and roads are managed for people to enjoy and plan for the summer period through planned burning - not only to minimise fuel loads but also in the best way for the environment.
Rangers also respond to bushfires and other emergencies.
Ms Winduss enjoys working in a team environment in which everyone has the same goals and passions, and seeing how the changes the team implements in parks and reserves develop over time.
She is "really proud and honoured" to have a lead role in running the Brush-Tailed Phascogale monitoring program for Parks Victoria in the Hepburn area - running for about 20 years, it the longest-running conservation program in the state for the species.
It involves staff from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and TAFE volunteers.
"It's a trapping program to collect DNA from the species to understand the genetic diversity and we link that across the state," she explained.
It is hoped the program can be expanded to other areas of the state.
"To have a long-running program that can track data over time is important so you have a good basis to analyse what's happening and look at trends," she explained, adding the data helped inform strategies to protect the threatened species.
She said this included looking at how to increase habitat linkages and mitigating the threats to the species, while also analysing any changes to biodiversity in the area.
"What we have learnt has allowed our management of fire in the landscape to be modified to protect Victorians while supporting our precious threatened species."
Ms Winduss also enjoys working to revitalise facilities to motivate more people to enjoy what nature has to offer across the region.
Rangers were excited to recently welcome people back to the Blowhole - a unique historical remnant of Victoria's gold rush - in Hepburn Regional Park after an extensive closure due to flooding in 2016.
The flooding caused parts of the cliff face to collapse next to the walking track and damaged the foundation of the viewing platform. It was reopened late last year.
"It's been great to see that happen - from the devastation of the storm impact in 2016 to working through getting that site revitalised so people can enjoy that safely," Ms Winduss said.
"A walk down there this time of year is well worth it and a great opportunity to immerse yourself in nature."
Ms Winduss is also proud to work with Traditional Owners. In her patch, Parks Victoria jointly manages Hepburn Regional Park with the traditional owners of the land, the Dja Dja Wurrung people.
As part of this, there are some "exciting programs", including the "Walking Together" program that sees the two work together to realise their aspirations for country.
Ms Winduss said there were many challenges in being a ranger - from natural challenges like fires and storms to human challenges.
With more than 100 million visits to the estate each year, visitor behaviour and littering are just some of the issues rangers deal with.
"We want visitors to understand that taking care of our natural places is a shared responsibility," Ms Winduss said.
For her personally, a challenge has been returning to her role in a part-time capacity after having children and finding the right work-life balance.
"Parks Victoria and my team members specifically have been incredibly supportive and made that transition easier to overcome," she added.
At the moment, one of the key focuses for the region's five rangers is the continued clean up following the severe storms which battered the region on June 9.
Hepburn Regional Park, Macedon Regional Park and Coliban River Scenic Reserve (Trentham Falls) were seriously impacted by the storms and are still closed due to the damage.
Ms Winduss said rangers were working to ensure the sites were made safe so visitors could be welcomed back again in the near future.
Other current projects include investment in Lalgambook (Mt Franklin) in the Hepburn Regional Park, in conjunction with the Dja Dja Wurrung people.
This investment will be for improved visitor amenities to showcase the living culture of the Dja Dja Wurrung with the wider community.
Rangers are also currently working on pest animal and plant programs in rural landscapes.
DAY OF REFLECTION
Ms Winduss said World Ranger Day was an important time to reflect and remember those who had made significant sacrifices to protect natural environments across the world.
In some parts, such as Africa, rangers are killed by poachers while in Australia, rangers have also been killed on the job.
These include Bill Slade - a veteran with 40 years' service with Parks Victoria and as a Forest Fire Management Victoria firefighter. He died while on active duty in East Gippsland during the Black Summer bushfires on January 11, 2020.
Zach Robba, 23, also died off the Great Barrier Reef last year.
"We are at the frontline, often, working in all conditions to protect some of these amazing landscapes year-round.
"It is a great time to reflect and remember what people do across the world and that we are working together and remembering those who were not so fortunate here in Victoria, across Australia and the world."
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