Jobs at DOC: Helen Gillespie, Project Coordinator

Department of Conservation —  15/04/2016

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Helen Gillespie, Healthy Nature Healthy People Project Coordinator in Hokitika.

At work…

Some things I do in my job include:

Developing Healthy Nature Healthy People for DOC and connecting with others who also want to connect people with nature for the benefit of both.

At the moment that is with the health, disability and sport and recreation sectors through Mental Health Foundation, Ministry of Health, Office for Seniors, Halberg Disability Sport Foundation and New Zealand Recreation Association.

Helen running along Avalanche Peak.

Running along Avalanche Peak — the photos remind you that we are just a tiny part of nature

The best bit about my job is:

That I don’t have to convince people or organisations that this makes sense. So many people and agencies are working in this space and success would be the collective impact achieved by working together. I’m inspired by the fact that so many other organisations also have the same fundamental goals – albeit framed in different ways.

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

Sharing a field trip lunch break with colleagues in the hills. I know that you can’t always pick the weather when it’s time to stop for food but on this particular day the sun was shining, we were high enough up that the sandflies were absent and the company (in this case Rob Harrison and Iain Buckman) was in good humour. I reckon that any lunch break outdoors on a fine day is hard to beat and there aren’t too many occupations where you get such a variety of potential lunch stops!

Lunch break in the field.

Lunch breaks on field trips is one of the perks of working for DOC

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most:

Are those who have gone before us. They paved the way for us and inspired us to join the journey. In many cases they worked in the ways we want to work and were humble and understated about their achievements. They carry a great deal of mana both within and outside our organisation.

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that:

I am the proud owner of a silver fern running singlet. Yes I did earn it! I ran for New Zealand at the World Mountain Running Champs in Edinburgh 1995 (yikes that is a long time ago). I have always loved running and hills. Great combination – the quicker you get up to the top the sooner you get the view.  Better still, if you get there first you get to savour the moment of solitude and contemplation before others get there. On reflection that probably seems a bit selfish and to be honest when you are racing there’s not much time for contemplation!  The photos make it seem as though I had the whole place to myself.

My happy place is:

Anywhere in nature that includes hills, views and preferably running. My favourites would be the Routeburn Track, Avalanche Peak or closer to home up the Toaroha Track to the Cedar Flats Hot Pools.

When I only have a small window of opportunity I can run into the hot pools, have a quick soak and be home by midday – tramping would be an overnighter!

When you run these tracks you don’t see the small stuff but you do get the vast landscapes and when you get your race photos you realise how small we are and how vast the wilderness is that surrounds us.

My greatest sporting moment:

When I raced Avalanche Peak for the first time in 1997. I was new to the West Coast and suddenly racing in real mountains. No more steep hills; These were really big, sharp pointy things with exposure and scree slopes!

If I could trade places with any other person for a week:

It would be Dr Seuss –  Wise, funny, a bit odd but enduring and ageless. When we go ‘bush’ with the kids Dr Seuss is everywhere – so many plants look like something he has since created in art. Some examples:


My greatest sporting moment:

When I raced Avalanche Peak for the first time in 1997. I was new to the West Coast and suddenly racing in real mountains. No more steep hills, these were really big, sharp pointy things with exposure and scree slopes. It took years for me to decide whether I actually liked the race or not but the enduring moment which I cherish to this day is a kea with wings outstretched facing me and flying past right in front of me as I popped out above the bush line.

At that moment and ever since I realised the incredible privilege of being able to run and to experience these things in a matter of hours. I’m injured at the moment and now I’m experiencing ‘slow nature’ – rich, detailed and so much more depth when you move more slowly and take your time to soak it all up.

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

A gem my parents used to trot out when I was navigating my teenage years (does anyone else wonder how on earth we made it through that period)? The quote, which I’m sure originated from someone wise and famous (and probably dead now) was: “Be a leader not a follower”. That has steered me away from some sticky situations and led me to some amazing opportunities.

Helen running the Routeburn Classic.

Running the Routeburn Classic. The trouble with racing is you don’t see what you’ve run past until you get the photos. When was the last time you saw a smiling runner! They do exist.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is:

“Get outside.” My mother used to say this to us and we were never sure if it was a demand, a suggestion or a threat but the consequence was that we spent a whole lot of time outdoors. Cheers Mum.

When I was a kid our ‘nature’ was our 300ha sheep and beef cattle farm. No native vegetation in sight and plenty of cultivation but I still had that sense of guardianship that we all share in DOC for Our Nature.

In work and life I am motivated by:

People who want to help others succeed. Not surprisingly they are amazingly interesting people to know.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

‘Spend more time outdoors, more often and we’ll all be better off’.