CSIRO – Livestock Industries

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Just ten kilometres south of Armidale on the New England Highway is a big set of security gates leading to the CSIRO, and beyond that is a huge satellite dish perched on the top of a hill. Caretaker Julie Willis gives us an insight into her role with the csiro and the important work being done there.

How did you come to work at the CSIRO?

I started working for CSIRO in 2002. I had relocated back to Armidale after working for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Unit of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG), headed up by Gary Ella. After the Olympic Games. I spent some time working for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and a stint overseas … I was homesick and missing my family.

I decided to move home and worked for about a year at Grant McCarroll Ford. A change in career was needed, so I applied for a position as a receptionist in the administrative team at CSIRO Livestock Industries F D McMaster Laboratory located at Chiswick, just north of Uralla.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world. CSIRO conducts scale, long-term, multidisciplinary science to address Australia’s major national challenges and opportunities.

The Division I work for is Livestock Industries. CSIRO is supporting Australia’s livestock and allied industries to become stronger global competitors in the 21st century. We deliver world class scientific solutions to the meat, dairy and aquaculture industries, as well as allied enterprises.

In addition to providing general administrative support to the Armidale science groups, the project support team provides a variety of services to staff located at Livestock Industries sites at Brisbane, Townsville, Rockhampton and Perth.

Not only does this present an opportunity to gain insight into some very interesting research being conducted by our science teams across a range of science disciplines, it also means there is not a typical day on the job.

Aside from the general administrative and financial activities associated with an office environment, the project support team is also involved with the co-ordination of workshops, visits by school and university groups and dealing with a vast array of enquiries from the general public.

Describe the property?

CSIRO‚ F D McMaster Laboratory at Armidale comprises of two properties, Chiswick and the nearby Arding field station – a total over 1,800 ha. The laboratory is set up for a wide range of experimental activities with sheep and cattle, particularly those requiring intensive recording and monitoring.

The Chiswick property was originally part of the East Saumarez property and was bought by the then CSIRO in the early 1940s. It is a lovely property, with avenues of poplars and ornamental fruit trees on the main entry. Eucalypt dieback on the Northern Tablelands in the 1970s decimated millions of native trees and left the property devoid of vegetation, apart from pasture plants.

Recently the site has partnered with Landcare and neighbouring land owners to undertake a major project that planted approximately 30,000 native trees and shrubs, creating a riparian wildlife corridor across four adjoining properties.

In years gone by, Chiswick played host to a number of CSIRO staff and family functions. With a tennis court and swimming pool, it was also a popular venue for local events such as sporting presentations, birthday parties, Christmas parties and other social functions.

Growing up, it was common knowledge that you could ride your bike out to Chiswick on the weekend and swim in the pool for free. It’s ironic that the site is now secure on the weekends, and one of my roles as a tenant is to manage after hours and weekend security. The tennis court is still here, but it is a long time since the swimming pool was used for swimming. It is now the emergency water supply for fire fighting.

Many past and present staff have shared a story or two from the good old days with me. Those who have worked here develop and maintain friendships and unique bonds that seem to stand the test of time.

How long have you lived on site?

CSIRO had several caretaker cottages on Chiswick and the other research station, Arding. Only two cottages remain. My partner Bob and I have lived in one of the cottages at Chiswick for about 6 years. Although I live where I work, whenever I’m at home it doesn’t feel like I’m living at work. It really is so peaceful.

Having grown up in the Uralla area, I thought I was a bit ‘country’. But I think I have developed a greater appreciation for the land since living here. We have become more aware of the subtle changes of the landscape as one season rolls into another.

How many scientists work there, and what type of research is done?

Approximately sixty staff and students are located at CSIRO Armidale. About twelve scientists conduct research in areas of genetic improvement, management of livestock production systems and the improvement of welfare for farmed animals.

The research undertaken seeks to provide science based solutions to assist the Australian Livestock sector, while addressing society concerns about present and future livestock management practices and their impact on the animals and the environment.

What can you tell us about the satellite dish on the property?

One aspect of the site that generates a lot of interest are the satellite dishes located on Big Ridge Road. Locals and travellers passing by often call in to our reception area to enquire about the dishes.

The facility is used to park commercial communication satellites into orbit around the earth. The satellites are usually launched in the northern hemisphere. It is owned by Lockheed Martin and located on a section of the Chiswick property on Big Ridge Road, Uralla.

What are your interests?

My hobbies and interests vary. Camping and fishing trips are total relaxation for me. If the fish aren’t biting, I’m very content lying on the swag and reading a book and sipping a wine. At night there is nothing better than sitting around the campfire, with your dogs at your feet and listening to the fish jump or the stories your mates tell you.

Our mates are a pretty funny bunch of characters. One of these mates once told me, “I only have 52 chances a year to go fishing, and that’s every weekend!”

Plans for the future?

Our plans for the future are to take each day as it comes and live it like it’s our last!

Thank you Julie.

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