Telling the story of soil
IT is not very often that someone trained in the arts is invited to speak to scientists about their pet subject.
But that is exactly what happened to long-serving communications officer with the Department of Primary Industries at Wollongbar: Rebecca Lines-Kelly.
Last week she was invited to Lismore's Southern Cross University to give the annual Harald Jensen Lecture to NSW branch members of the Soil Science Society of Australia.
When Rebecca relocated from Melbourne to Mullumbimby 27 years ago she left corporate PR behind and immersed herself in the very real world of natural sciences.
She found work communicating soils to farmers, and despite her lack of soils knowledge quickly became passionate about the subject.
With her DPI colleagues, she published soil books and pamphlets, and organised field days and educational displays on soils and their health.
"Farmers recognised that soil was their main asset and wanted to know more," she said.
Rebecca told the gathered scientists attending her lecture that the best way to garner enthusiasm was to inspire interest, curiosity and emotion so that people were motivated to find out more themselves.
One of the biggest changes she has seen in the past 20 years is the rise of the internet, which has enabled soil science to become more engaging and interactive.
"The rise and rise of soil biology has also been a profound change, particularly with climate and the increasing interest in sequestering soil carbon, she said.
"It has become clear to us that soil is alive, so if we look after it, it creates life for us.
"If we feed it, it produces food for us. It is our perfect, natural recycler."
Rebecca said working in soils introduced her to a fascinating area of science that was relevant to everyone because it was crucial for life and human survival.
"We need to celebrate soil, not treat it as a problem," she said.
"Soils are so easy to love. They're colourful, tactile, diverse, complex, alive; almost human!
"They are crucial to farming and agriculture.
"They are the basis of human culture and creativity - art, decoration, pottery, buildings, even cities.
"They epitomise the human condition.
"They are crucial to survival on earth. They are universal.
"They are always telling us something new."
"Think soils, think life.