Feature Friday: Remember The Wild and the “Look at me!” podcast

This Feature Friday we’re shining the spotlight in another of our former students, Chris McCormack. He took our Science Communication subjects as part of his Masters in 2013-2015. After completing his degree, he worked for the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Victoria in Citizen Science. He’s now studying a PhD in Conservation Psychology looking at narrative communication and connection with nature. In 2013, he started a not-for-profit called Remember The Wild, Australia’s first nature-connection charity. It began as a website and Facebook page run by university students passionate about protecting their local environment.

“For the first four years we existed as Wild Melbourne, a not-for-profit set up to inform and inspire Victorians about their local environment and the species that call it home. When we began, our focus was on educating people through digital articles, however, we soon realised we had stumbled into a niche with far greater worth than we had anticipated. Universities, government bodies, community groups and more, all began coming to us for advice and assistance. They needed help telling engaging stories, raising awareness, or designing and delivering on projects aimed at engaging people with the environment. Those four years as Wild Melbourne acted as an applied form of market research. In the process we have become a company capable of offering professional quality video productions, engagement and communications strategy and advice, interpretive board design, environmental education school programs, and much more.” – Chris McCormack

Chris (front) and some colleagues after 3 days of intensive field work (image supplied by Chris McCormack)

Since rebranding to Remember The Wild, they have dedicated their lives to building a loyal audience, improving their interdisciplinary skills, and attracting like-minded individuals. Today, they have a strong online presence, have completed numerous on-ground projects, and partnered with several leading bodies within the environment industry.

“Our entire purpose as an organisation is to connect people with nature so that they might come to better appreciate our natural environments. We do this through educating, entertaining, and enabling experiences on an individual level. Remember The Wild exists to contribute to a cultural shift whereby our communities come to value the environment. Without this affective connection, we cannot hope to circumvent the impending environmental crisis, and nor can we hope to build healthy and happy communities well into the future.”

Chris works as the Managing Director of Remember The Wild, which includes tasks like business management, public speaking, running events and workshops, leading tours and guided walks in nature, writing for broad audiences, producing podcasts and films, managing staff and volunteers, conducting surveys, analysing data, LOTS of grant writing, and, in his words, “spending way too much time indoors at a computer while telling people to go outside, and dealing with that crushing hypocrisy on a daily basis…”.

“I’m not particularly skilled at videography, writing, or podcasting; I’ve just tried a lot of stuff and pushed on until we have gotten results. Normally I start doing something and then people see we are doing it and come and join us. They bring their skills and make the thing actually work. Then I get to be the ‘manager’ of an organisation that did that. It has been a lot of hard work, but it is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of experiences that I just can’t imagine having had in any other profession.”

He says that apart from taking our subjects, most of his science communication training has been on the job, either through his first role at the EPA or through Remember The Wild. For him, storytelling is a crucial element of science communication. It takes data and turns it into narratives and images that people can connect to. Storytelling is at the heart of what they do at Remember The Wild.

“I would contend that the mere act of communicating science has value only through the value the communicator, and audience, can perceive. I think we often act like throwing out information about things will solve problems and has some static quality of goodness – it doesn’t. I think that communicating science is not as important as the way we communicate science, including our intentions. The importance of science communication is really in the science of communication: what works and what doesn’t.”

“Look at me!” the podcast

Most recently, Chris has partnered with The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and The Guardian to launch a nature podcast, called “Look at me!”, hosted by Chris and Australian author and journalist Ben Law. Each episode they discuss a different uncommon Australian animal. During the COVID-19 restrictions, they migrated to Facebook and Instagram live-series, where they approached broader themes, such as backyard wildlife and wildlife in the home. They typically involve interviewing people with firsthand knowledge of the animal or theme, and relating these interviews to Ben, who represents the more general population. They’ve produced one season so far and are in the process of creating a second season.

“Look at me!” episode 1 featured a tour of the wildlife in Osher Günsberg’s backyard, hosted by Ben law (left) and Chris McCormack (right).

“We try to tread a line between humour and drama. There’s a lot of piss-taking but also some very genuine moments – mostly on the part of the interviewees who really love the animals we are discussing.”

You can catch episodes of Look At Me on the Remember The Wild website, as well as on their Facebook and Instagram pages.

Chris’ PhD supervisor is none other than our own Dr Jenny Martin, who also taught him in the Science Communication classes.

“To say Jen is an inspiring teacher is an understatement; but most people reading this blog would be well aware of that. It’s probably fair to say Jenny doesn’t really stop being someone’s teacher. She has certainly continued to mentor me and members of my team. As one of my PhD supervisors she has resumed mentoring me in a formal sense; but even before that she was always looking out for us and there to offer advice.” – Chris McCormack

Remember The Wild also run a number of other projects and initiatives:

The Connected to Port Phillip initiative aims to increase the local community’s understanding and appreciation of the Bay they call home, so we can protect it now and into the future.
Along with our dedicated partners, we hope to inspire new and stronger connections with this extraordinary ecosystem and support those who work hard to look after it.

Community Conservationists celebrates tree planters, wildlife carers, citizen scientists and other inspirational people who are putting in the hard yards to care for nature.
By telling their stories and providing communications and marketing support, this initiative aims to raise the profile of the people in our community who are dedicated to conserving our natural world.
We seek funding for this initiative so that our Community Conservationists can spend their money where it counts.

The Wild by Nature Short Film Festival celebrates everything we love about Victoria’s incredible natural environment.
Open to people of all ages who are living in Victoria, the inaugural Wild by Nature highlights the amazing local nature we have in our state, explores why spending time in nature is so good for us and showcases what people are doing to care for it.

PANA is a community of practice that aims to bring together experts and practitioners working in various fields relevant to human-nature relationships. We facilitate discussion and collaboration between people interested in nature connection, human health and the environment, conservation behaviour change, and more.

Since 2018, Remember The Wild has worked with Eucalypt Australia to promote the significance of Australia’s eucalypts.
Each year we manage the engagement around National Eucalypt Day, including generating media interest for the annual Eucalypt of the Year competition and promoting local events.
We are also proud to announce the release of Eucalypt – a five-part documentary series we have produced about these essential trees, funded by Eucalypt Australia.

In collaboration with key groups and individuals involved in Plains-wanderer conservation, we are producing a documentary film that explores this special bird’s evolutionary uniqueness, conservation status and the human stories behind saving the species from extinction.
This film will be the first of its kind to feature cinema-grade footage of the Plains-wanderer.

If you’d like to read more about Chris’ work and Remember The Wild, be sure to check out their website, Facebook and Instagram pages.

Chris was also recently interviewed for the ACF’s magazine Habitat, and with Eggpicnic. He also wrote a very poignant article about the human experience through extinction, which is available here on Remember The Wild’s website.

– Written by Rosie Arnold