Bat man to the res­cue

Wanneroo Weekender - - Weekender - Mark Don­ald­son

IN a 45-year ca­reer, re­tired sci­en­tist Nor­man McKen­zie worked thou­sands of 18hour days ob­sessed with con­serv­ing the nat­u­ral beauty of WA.

But he does not think he de­serves to be ap­pointed a Mem­ber of the Or­der of Aus­tralia (AM) to­day.

No doubt there are many who would dis­agree with his modest self-as­sess­ment.

The Edge­wa­ter res­i­dent (71) is one of 175 hon­ourees na­tion­wide and just 10 in WA to re­ceive the post-nom­i­nal ti­tle AM.

He is the only lo­cal res­i­dent to at­tain the hon­our, which is a level above re­ceiv­ing a Medal of the Or­der of Aus­tralia (OAM).

Mr McKen­zie, a zo­ol­o­gist, re­tired from the WA Depart­ment of Parks and Wildlife two years ago, end­ing a near half-cen­tury ten­ure.

He was an im­por­tant point of ref­er­ence in the creation of many of WA’s ma­jor na­tional parks, work­ing in ar­eas such as the Great Sandy Desert, the Kim­ber­ley, the Pil­bara, the Great Vic­to­ria Desert, the Gold­fields and the Wheat­belt.

“Get­ting a large na­tional park or na­ture re­serve cre­ated for the fu­ture and for the plants and an­i­mals of the state… that’s re­ward­ing,” he said.

“It’s re­ward­ing be­cause you know their val­ues and un­less peo­ple make an ef­fort to pro­tect them, those sorts of land­scapes can de­grade very quickly.”

The sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian holds a par­tic­u­lar fas­ci­na­tion for WA’s bats. On his ar­rival in the state in the early ’70s, he be­gan to study the quirks of the mys­te­ri­ous crea­tures, say­ing “no one was very in­ter­ested in them at the time”.

In re­cent years, he col­lab­o­rated with an aero­nau­ti­cal en­gi­neer to un­der­stand their flight ca­pa­bil­i­ties and hunt­ing be­hav­iours.

“They’re the only group of our mam­mals that hasn’t been badly af­fected by hu­man set­tle­ment in Aus­tralia,” he said.

“Bats can fly, which makes them about 10 times more ef­fi­cient in hunt­ing for food com­pared to mam­mals that run on the ground or climb.”

His in­trigue led him to com­pile an im­por­tant li­brary of WA bat calls.

In an in­di­ca­tion of his ex­per­tise in a va­ri­ety of fields, Mr McKen­zie re­mains a vol­un­tary mem­ber of a com­mit­tee that helps a com­mu­nity of in­dige­nous peo­ple man­age their ti­tle lands in the north­ern Kim­ber­ley.

“In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties across north­ern Aus­tralia have re­gained con­trol of most of their tra­di­tional coun­try and are tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for its care,” he said.

“It’s a plea­sure to help with that be­cause I spent so much bush-time in the Kim­ber­ley dur­ing my 45-year ca­reer as a field zo­ol­o­gist.”

Re­flect­ing on his work­ing life, he said it had been “lots of fun” with “lots of ad­ven­tures” to some re­mote parts of WA.

It also came at a cost to fam­ily time, with Mr McKen­zie reg­u­larly away from home.

He con­sid­ers this ded­i­ca­tion a likely fac­tor in him gain­ing the ti­tle of AM to­day.

“My wife and fam­ily sac­ri­ficed a lot be­cause I wasn’t here, or if I was here my mind was fo­cused on some­thing else,” he said.

Pic­ture: Bruce Hunt­mu­ni­ d464444

Nor­man McKen­zie now. Mr McKen­zie dur­ing a 1987 Kim­ber­ley rain­for­est sur­vey.

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