THERE'S something about the Aussie bush that has always resonated with Eric Claussen of Port Macquarie.
It is part of him and he has a role to protect it, tread lightly and from lessons learned, ensure future generations are educated and equipped guardians of the natural landscape.
As a kid growing up on the Central Coast with the bush beckoning at his back door, Eric blames the TV show Skippy for his unwavering passion for the environment.
"That looked like an awesome job to have," he laughed.
Eric has earned a meritorious public service award in the 2020 Queen's Birthday Honours for his dedication and contributions to the environment through the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).
Eric has worked for NSW NPWS as a field officer, ranger, fire management officer and manager. His expertise is in fire and incident management, and training development.
He has worked in many parts of the state in a career spanning more than 40 years, and is currently the lessons learned coordinator in the fire and incident management branch.
"I'm absolutely overwhelmed, it's really nice recognition. Being a public servant is something that I've delighted in," Eric said.
"Straight from school I was always attracted to managing the environment.
"I grew up on the Central Coast and our place backed on to a national park and that was my literal connection."
After university Eric took up a posting in Bathurst before moving to South West Rocks and then to Port Macquarie in 1991.
"I always had a love for the bush - what better thing to have stewardship over it and protect it.
"Natural land management is similar to any land management. It's trying to minimise the unnatural processes.
"To deal with pests and weeds and manage the parks so people can enjoy it, provide infrastructure, walking trails, campgrounds and get the fire management regime right is a great challenge.
"But that's what I love about it."
Eric has faced the challenges of fire across the state from the Central Coast, Sydney, Blue Mountains, Grafton, Lismore, Glen Innes, Mid North Coast, Upper Hunter, Central West, South Coast and Kosciuszko. He has also been deployed to Victoria, the ACT and Tasmania to assist with major fire events including the horrific Black Summer fires of 2019-2020.
He has used his broad operational experience to develop a series of training programs aimed at fire and incident management. He specialises in prescribed burning, strategic planning and fire behaviour analysis.
"From that perspective, the most important thing to get right is the fire regime and I found myself concentrating on fire management and that blossomed into incident management," he said.
"The thing that gives me joy is having a hand in developing effective training for my colleagues and contribute to their safety and welfare on the fire ground.
"We've got to hand the organisation over to the next generation.
"Last summer was arduous and challenging. It also gives me great joy that we can work so effectively with colleagues form different areas and other agencies and that's the kicker about being part of the public service - it doesn't really matter whose badge you've got on your shoulder, it's important from a community perspective they can rely on an all agencies approach.
"That's really rewarding. I can go to the Wauchope fire control centre and there'll be 10 different agencies moving together to protect the community in NSW. That's very cool to have a hand in that."
If you live in Australia you live with spiders, snakes and fires - it's just the thing and we've got to get used to that.Eric Claussen
The last fire season was extraordinary. Not just because of its ferocity - it challenged humans on the ground like never before.
"Being resilient is pretty important and building community resilience is our next big challenge I think," Eric said.
"We're a long way there. I think our community is very resilient and these disasters bring out the best in Australians and we do tend to work well together. To bring that into the next generation is a great challenge.
"Fire management is so important for our children. If you live in Australia you live with spiders, snakes and fires - it's just the thing and we've got to get used to that.
"We didn't just struggle through this fire season - we actually performed. That's remarkable when you consider what was faced and we got through it, and not just got through it - we were effective despite of what was in front of us.
"It's a tragedy that we lost life and property, but at the same time the resilience that kept us going through a long fire season was something else.
The bush is very special. It's part of us and the two are not mutually exclusive.Eric Claussen
"We were confronted by things we'd never seen before. We were inventing new ideas and new approaches as well. That is an utter joy to be able to do that.
"What I'm trying to do now is capture that from a strategic planning function and develop more training in that space. Fire prediction for the longer term outlook and strategic planning is what's intriguing now.
"These are all emerging roles from those events.
"The bush is very special. It's part of us and the two are not mutually exclusive.
"There's nothing like the Aussie bush - it's where you grew up that's a special thing. It's home and it's also where you recharge your batteries.
"To have a role in managing and caring for it is very special it's part of our DNA.
"It's part of who we are."
Eric Claussen is one of four people in Port Macquarie-Hastings who are the recipients of Queen's Birthday Honours.
Receiving OAMs are: