Meet Chris Day, the ranger with the best office in the world. Adelaide raised, Chris first came to Central Australia as a ranger at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station. It was here where he first met his wife, she asked him to identify a bird and the rest they say is history. The Larapinta Trail, one of the most spectacular hiking trails in the world is Chris’ favourite and one of the reasons why he loves his day job.
Chris Lives His Dream In World's Best Office - Chris Day's Story ...
It was the year of the flood. 31 March 1988. The heavy rains descended upon Central Australia like a million hooves pounding the ground. Within 24 hours, 300mm of rainfall was recorded in the West MacDonnell Ranges and 205mm in Alice Springs. This was 80% of the town’s annual rainfall and the flood reached a gauge height of 3.98m. Around 300 people in low-lying areas were evacuated and there were three tragic fatalities.
For one young family trapped at Finke Gorge National Park, memories of that day are still vivid. Chris Day, Acting Director of Central Australian Parks, was one of two rangers based at Finke Gorge that year. He and his family narrowly escaped the rising waters. It was his wife Fay who sensed the danger that morning and as the rains got heavier, they had just enough time to grab their two young children, one under each arm and sought shelter on higher ground. By mid-afternoon they were rescued by a helicopter while over one metre of water flowed through their house. It was a traumatic experience for the young family at the time but living with nature and natural occurrences were part and parcel of a ranger’s life.
Chris is one of those rare people who, at the age of 15 knew exactly what he wanted to do in life. There was only one career path for him. Raised on a farm in Nairne, South Australia, Chris’ enlightenment came during a school camping trip to the Flinders Ranges.
“On camp I met some rangers, they were giving us these interesting talks and I just fell in love with the landscape there which is very similar to Central Australia. That was the defining period when I wanted to become a ranger”
Fast forward five years and the newly certified ranger arrived at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station for his first posting. He also met Fay shortly after.
“I was working this one weekend and this pretty lady had been bird watching and she saw a bird that she couldn’t identify and she asked me what it was (a Pied Butcherbird) and that’s how it started. She asked me out and the rest is history”
Chris and Fay were married in 1983 and moved to Palm Valley where they lived for seven years. This was followed by four years in Watarrka before moving into Alice Springs. Their family expanded with the addition of three extra Day members during their 11 years living out bush: Melanie, Matthew and Sam.
During the year of the flood, Fay was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She was an avid hiker and together with Chris, they spent countless days exploring Central Australia as well as other trips abroad such as their honeymoon, where they hiked the Milford Track in New Zealand. Over the years, her condition worsened.
“Fay is now permanently in a wheelchair. She was a really keen walker and one of the really sad things about her condition now is that we can’t go bush walking together but she’s so supportive of me going out there and doing my thing”
And his ‘thing’ is nature, conservation and showcasing our rugged national parks to the rest of Australia and the world. In his 34 year career as a ranger, Chris has seen the increasing popularity of hiking and in particular the 223km Larapinta Trail. Rivalling other Australian iconic walks such as the Overland Track in Tasmania and The Great Ocean Walk in Victoria, Larapinta Trail consistently ranks in the top ten walks in travelling magazines such as Australian Geographic. The full Larapinta Trail has only been opened for 12 years, but keen walkers from around the country and the world are coming to Central Australia especially for this experience.
“There are people coming from Israel, France, UK, America. Hiking is a great way to get you out in the environment, observing the environment. If you’re interested in birds, in plants, in animals or if you’re interested in just looking at landforms, it’s a great way to get you out and experiencing it all. Hiking is also about your personal resilience and the challenge of it”
The fact that the Larapinta Trail is 223km means that it traverses through a diverse cross section of West MacDonnell National Park. Some key attractions are also local favourites including Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole and Glen Helen. One of the greatest things that Chris loves about the Larapinta are the elevated viewing points like Mount Sonder, Brinkleys Bluff and Counts Point.
“You can camp on many of these high points and wake up to experience a Central Australian sunrise with majestic views or experiencing the night time skies and just enjoy the stars”
For Chris, nature and conservation go hand in hand and being the head ranger in Central Australia is not just a daily job but also a way of life.
“The diversity of the job is a huge part of it for me and I pinch myself to think how lucky I’ve been to do some of the things that I’ve done, see some of the things that I’ve seen and been to some of the places that I’ve been. At no point in my career did I ever imagine myself doing anything else”
As Chris often says, he has the best office in the world.