The gift of nature

Alderley Creek

Photo: Alderley Creek close by to the Stroud Field Station is teeming with life.

Thanks to Betty Campbell, environmental science researchers are literally getting their hands dirty.

The location is easily missed. 20 minutes northwest of Newcastle on the NSW Central Coast, nestled between the Barrington Tops National Park and the Myall Lakes, is the UTS Stroud Field Station, a veritable jewel in the arena of environmental science. For more than 30 years, it has been a boon to UTS students with an interest in wildlife and freshwater ecology, but none of it would have been possible were it not for one of the university’s lesser-known personalities, Betty Campbell.

“Visiting Stroud was an invaluable experience for me. You can’t beat a hands–on, in situ learning experience”
– Ashleigh Boss, student

“Betty Campbell literally ran all the printing requirements for the School of Life Sciences,” explains Peter Jones, an honorary academic at UTS’s School of Life Sciences. Jones first met Campbell on the Gore Hill campus of the NSW Institute of Technology (one of UTS’s antecedent institutions) when he was a laboratory attendant in 1976.

At the time, Campbell owned 14–acres of land in Stroud, which was too remote and difficult for her to maintain. She was also the last living member of her family, and she wanted to ensure the land remained useful after she passed on. So, when she retired in March 1984, she donated the land to UTS for the continued benefit of students studying the environment.

Each year, Jones takes groups of students on excursions to the Stroud Field Station. It’s one of the highlights of the year, where they set up tents and a camp, and then do everything from measuring tree growth and trapping mammals overnight, mapping the topography of the land and studying how rivers form and flow across the landscape.

Untouched for three decades, the grounds are thickly overgrown and teeming with life, thanks to regular flooding from the nearby Alderley Creek. The air beneath its canopy is noticeably fresher; the ground ripe with vegetation.

Peter Jone“Visiting Stroud was an invaluable experience for me. You can’t beat a hands–on, in situ learning experience,” says Ashleigh Boss, who visited the station as part of her studies into wildlife ecology at UTS.

“I believe there is nothing better in consolidating subject knowledge than getting out in the field. You are able to visualise concepts in the field that may be otherwise elusive in the lecture theatre.”

Out behind the field station’s staff cottage, while looking for the best place to mount a memorial plaque, Jones reflects, “I hope people will appreciate that Betty Campbell represents many of the ordinary staff members who make a tremendous difference to the university. On paper, Betty was just a typist. But her legacy will be carried on for generations.”

Betty Campbell passed away in 2016.

Story and photography by Kevin Cheung