Dr Sally Townley

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Recently elected to Coffs Harbour Council, Dr. Sally Townley is a passionate, forward-thinking environmental scientist who plans to work with local community members to improve our lifestyle – not just environmentally, but also economically and socially.


Hi, my name is Sally Townley. I am an environmental scientist. I specialise in the ecology of native animals. For the past twenty years, I have worked in the forests of NSW and QLD as a wildlife biologist. I studied at Southern Cross University in Lismore, completing a PhD in 2000. I am fascinated by our Australian wildlife and love studying these sometimes cryptic creatures. Much of our fauna, in particular the mammals, are nocturnal and secretive, so it takes a bit of detective work. This can involve spotlighting at night, using special live traps, and using radio tracking equipment. Not many people have the opportunity to see some of our wildlife face to face, and I am passionate about educating people, particularly children, about the secret lives of native animals.

Congratulations, you’ve recently been elected to the Coffs Harbour Council. What are your priorities in your new role?

I feel extremely honoured to have been elected to Council. I represent the NSW Greens, but my interest is not restricted to environmental issues alone. The role of local government has a wide scope, with a lot to offer in making our community an even better place to live. My priorities are to work with Council staff and community members, to make sure that sustainability and imagination shape the way we grow. Our basic needs, in terms of clean water, agricultural resources and adequate housing, must not compromised. As our population grows, development must be balanced in a way that improves our lifestyle, not just in an economic sense, but socially and environmentally as well.

There are some big land use decisions ahead; for example, we need to ensure that large-scale industrial mining activities are not allowed to ruin our water and farm land permanently. There is a strong feeling among all sectors of the community that the experience of areas where mining has destroyed communities should not be repeated here in Coffs Harbour and the surrounding areas.

Our natural environment is the basis for much of our agricultural and tourism industries and must be maintained and enhanced, not sold off for the short term gain of multinational corporations.
Talk us through us through your involvement in Steiner School?

My two children have been at the Casuarina Steiner School for the past eight years, and I feel very lucky that Coffs Harbour has this unique educational opportunity for local kids. The students learn the same subject material as required by the Department of Education, but in addition, they learn a range of additional concepts based around the work of Dr Rudolf Steiner, who was a scientist and educator.

The curriculum includes the use of art and music as forms of self-expression, as well as a focus on how the rhythms of nature affect human society. The result is a holistic form of education, where children learn about how to fulfil their potential as people in an academic as well as social environment. I have been continually impressed by the professional dedication of the staff at Casuarina and the effort that they put into creating a nurturing, creative environment for their students.

The school is run as a co-operative and has been operating in Coffs Harbour for 21 years. It has grown from a handful of students and a couple of buildings to a full primary school from kindergarten to Year 7. Rudolf Steiner contributed tremendously to architectural theory, and part of his teachings suggest that children will be more receptive to learning in an aesthetically pleasing environment. The buildings at Casuarina are handcrafted using local stone and timber and have lots of natural light.

As a co-operative, the school is run by a voluntary Board of Directors, usually parents or associates of the school. I have been a director over the past 8 years and have enjoyed the opportunity to put something back into the school which has given hundreds of Coffs Harbour children a tremendous foundation for life.
And you run the Coffs Coast Community Circus. Talk us through what a day in the office involves there? 

The Coffs Coast Community Circus is a collective of friends who have an interest in circus skills as a recreational activity. We had all done a lot of training in various areas of circus, such as trapeze, juggling, hula hoops, acrobatics and more.

We all loved the health benefits that these skills brought to us and our children, and we decided to form a circus school. We have been running in our current location at the PCYC for a few years now and have an ever-growing group of students. We run classes for all ages from 3 years upwards, with no upper age limit for adults. We offer school sport activities to most of the local high schools and some primary schools.

Circus skills are a fantastic way to have fun and get fit. We find that there is something for everyone, and there are also mental and emotional benefits. For children, there is a direct relationship between improving physical co-ordination and dexterity and improving mental processes. Many neural pathways are enhanced by precise movements, and there is a lot of educational theory about the importance of ‘crossing the midline’. This means that where children gain co-ordination in activities which require, for example, the left hand crossing to the right side of the body, they gain increased development of intellectual processes. Circus skills, such as juggling and other object manipulation activities, are an ideal way to achieve this in a fun setting.
How do you juggle so many hats?

It is difficult, but I feel lucky to have so many opportunities. I would not be able to achieve nearly so much without the support of my amazing partner, Dave, and my two daughters. I also have a tremendous network of friends who help and encourage me. I get a huge amount of reward from the circus school in seeing kids achieve physical skills and the resulting improvement in their confidence and self esteem.

During the lead up to the election, I met so many people who encouraged me to represent their views about how they would like to see the Coffs community grow. There is a massive amount of support for sustaining our waterways, farmlands and forests into the future, and I feel honoured to represent these ideals.
How long have you been in Coffs Harbour, and what brought you here? What do you love about the area?

I have been in Coffs for 12 years, coming here to take a job with the NPWS. The job lasted for six years, but now I have such a network of wonderful friends and feel such a part of the community, that I have no plans to leave. I love the natural setting of our area: the beaches, the forests, the rivers and the hinterland. I think we are in a great position to really be a model for community development which sustains our natural resources while creatively developing our social and economic environment.
What big plans do you have for 2013?

Mainly I want to focus on working with Council and the community to develop ways to improve the way we do business. Waste disposal will be a focus; we have some great stuff happening, but there is a lot of room for improved recycling and re-use. Energy efficiency is also an area where we can improve.

Creation of public facilities like the skate park has been a long time coming and will come to fruition in 2013. I look forward to hearing the views of the local community as to how we can create a living space that just gets better and better.

This story was published in issue 27 Coffs Coast

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