We are often told to ‘never work with animals or children’. Joanne and Chris Bull have spent their careers working with both.
The Sydney-born high school teachers moved to Bundaberg the day before the 2013 floods. After years of travelling and multiple career moves, the pair found a place to settle and raise a family.
“We never expected to move so far north,” Joanne said.
“It’s a slower paced, easier life in Bundaberg. People are always friendly, smiling and happy.”
She said it was important to her and Chris that their children, Hadley and Lennox, could enjoy a simple, country meets the ocean, upbringing.
“They’re going to grow up knowing where their food comes from and that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good lifestyle. Nature is free. The beach is free.”
That innate love of nature has guided Joanne, every step of her career. As a teenager she worked as an instructor at a Sydney horse-riding ranch, before starting a dog obedience school. At university she studied marine biology and entered the highly-competitive field of dolphin training.
“There are probably only 20 to 30 marine mammal training positions within Australia,” she said.
“I started out working overseas to build up my skills and then came back. It gave me an edge over people that were only just completing their degrees.”
Joanne and Chris met 11 years ago while working together at Coffs Harbour Marine Conservation Park.
“I was a dolphin trainer and Chris was a seal trainer, so it was a match made in heaven, really,” Joanne laughed.
The pair moved to Brisbane, where Joanne worked as an eco-ranger at Tangalooma Island Resort.
“It’s a wonderful industry and my job never felt like work, but as you get older it’s not a very family-friendly industry. Weekend and holiday shifts take away from your own family. Ironically, I developed a fish allergy from overexposure, so that gave me the extra push I needed to take my career in another direction.”
Joanne returned to university to study secondary teaching, while working as an inspector for the RSPCA.
“I still wanted to make a difference. It wasn’t conservation based, but I was helping ensure people were upholding their duty of care to their domestic animals,” she said.
Joanne said the skills she learnt working with animals are still being put to good use as a parent and teacher.
“Everything is about consistency: timing, reinforcement and motivation. Working with animals, children and pet owners, you can be walking into the unknown. Although, it’s a lot more challenging with your own children than it is with animals or students,” she joked.
“Teaching is a natural next step from animal training because you still get to talk about marine biology. You’re still involved in it and instilling a passion for it in younger generations, and I really get a kick out of that. I love what I’m doing now.”