Don Rowlands, Munga-Thirri National Park

Don Rowlands © Luke Barrowcliffe

Don Rowlands is Ranger in Charge at Munga-Thirri National Park (Simpson Desert), in Central West Queensland Region. He is a descendant of the Watti Watti family and a Wangkangurru Yarluyandi Elder. After some time working in the cattle industry, Don felt it was time for a change. His passion for looking after Country, natural environments and everything that depends on them, set him on his path to becoming a Park Ranger. In 1994, Don successfully secured a position with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) … and the rest is history.

What is your most memorable moment?

My most memorable moment was when I received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for my services to my community and the environment in particular. I have to give a huge amount of credit to the Department of Environment and Science for their wonderful support over the last 26 years and to the many wonderful mentors who helped me achieve my goals. It was a special part of my working life that I look back on very fondly.

Can you describe your favourite national parks experience?

Traveling across Munga-Thirri National Park with an archaeologist, linguist, and anthropologist to record and share my people’s traditional stories, that stretch back more than 60,000 years. The expedition started from Witjira (Dalhousie Springs) on the desert’s western side, to Wirrari (Birdsville).

This journey followed the trails of my ancestors, which is now captured in the Dreamtime story, Thurtirla Pula, The Two Boys, a story map of waterholes and fishing holes by which First Nations people have lived sustainably in the desert for tens of thousands of years. Not everyone is aware that First Nations people once successfully lived here, long before cars and air-conditioning. It’s my job to tell everyone and share the history, I love that!

What is the best part about working in a National Park?

As a descendant from the Watti Watti family and a Wangkangurru Yarluyandi Elder, working on Country in Munga-Thirri National Park is quite special. Truly, for me the best part of working in a national park is the opportunity to record sites and places retracing my song lines as a way to reconnect to the memory of my ancestors, and to ensure these stories are available for generations to come, now and into the future.

I also love talking to people from all walks of life, out here in the wide-open spaces. They can relax and get in touch with the environment and the world around them. As Rangers, we look after some of the most spectacular countries on Earth, we help when needed, share information and skills, and this is for me is an amazing privilege. I would not change a thing, I would do it all over again!

What is your top tip for visitors to parks?

I love sharing my backyard and all its hidden treasure—for those who spend big dollars buying 4WDs, Munga-Thirri National Park is one of the last great 4WD experiences. My tip would be: when visiting any park, be well prepared! Do a little reading up about where you’re going. Carry a small backpack with water, snacks and a basic first aid kit. Take your rubbish with you when you leave; don’t bury it. Leave your campsite better than you found it. When driving, stay on marked trails and most of all take time to stop, breathe and ‘feel’ the environment around you. These spaces are here for everyone to enjoy and experience their wonder.

What is your top tip for campers?

Ensure you have a camping permit and are well-equipped to cope with your environment. Leave your campsite better than you found it and take all your rubbish with you. Respect other campers!