Jessie Burke: The Bushwalking Advocate Bringing Balance and Nature to a New Generation

Jessie Burke looks over her beloved Blue Mountains (Photo: Jessie Burke)

Story by Gabiann Marin

In the lead up to International Women’s Day we are celebrating inspiring women in our community. Jessie Burke, the current president of Springwood Bushwalking Club, is a strong and positive advocate for nature and the natural world, using her position in one of the Mountain’s oldest clubs to open up the joys of bush walking and bush care to a whole new generation of locals.

Key Points:

  • Bushwalking is a great way to increase your own fitness and appreciate˜ nature, building understanding and opportunities to caretake our local environment.
  • Local bushwalking clubs offer opportunities to venture into our best known and hidden bushwalking sites safely.
  • Jessie Burke and the team of volunteers at Springwood Bushwalking Club offer walks suitable for most ages and fitness levels.

“What I love about being out bushwalking is that when you are out in these environments, you start to slow down and match the pace of nature. 

We are so ‘go go go’, but when we are out in nature we can’t help but slow down to its pace. Nothing out there is in a rush.”- Jessie Burke

Jessie Burke bushwalking in Springwood

Bushwalking allows us to slow down and take in the natural world, something Jessie believes is essential if we are to be healthy, happy and well balanced.  (Photo: Jessie Burke)

Jessie Burke’s love of bushwalking and nature defines her; it is obvious in everything she does and forms a huge part of who she is. So it’s hardly surprising that she was voted in as President of the Blue Mountains’ largest and most active bushwalking community, The Springwood Bushwalking Club.

Not only does her volunteer role mean that Jessie gets an opportunity to go out exploring the various Blue Mountains bushwalking tracks, she also uses the platform to promote the key idea of her club: that humans aren’t just users of the bushland, but also nature’s caregivers. Her energy and determination is helping to encourage a new generation of locals to pull on their hiking boots and appreciate the unique landscape of our beautiful environment.

Jessie Burke takes care to always engage ethically and sustainably with the bush, even with unusual creatures like This Giant Pink Slug (Photo: Jessie Burke)

After joining the club only three years ago, Jessie’s rise is unusual to say the least. 

Prior to joining the club Jessie usually ventured out into the bush solo, taking in her local tracks and exploring the landscape by herself. “I love being in the bush, sitting on a rock just observing what takes my attention. I get as much out of that as I do the bushwalking.”

When COVID hit in 2020 she found herself with more time to really explore and started doing more focused and challenging bushwalks.

 “One good thing that came from the whole pandemic was that people started to think about what they were really interested in, we started exploring different things. We had to think about what we would do when we weren’t just having to spend our time making money.” Jessie discovered she wanted nothing more than to be out in the bushland.

But Jessie found it difficult finding others in her peer group who wanted to explore with her and there were limits to where she could go and the types of walks that she could do on her own, so after a bit of hesitation she joined the Springwood Bushwalking Club in 2020.

“Most of the members were a lot older than me and I thought maybe they wouldn’t want to do the kinds of walks I wanted to do, the more challenging bush treks and explorations, so I didn’t join right away. I had this idea they might just focus on easy lake walks or urban wandering,” she says. “But I was wrong. Even though many of them are older, they have been walking for decades, and can outwalk me any day!”

springwood bushwalking club

Bushwalkers of all ages can explore the incredible Blue Mountains in safety and security with the Springwood club. (Photo: Jessie Burke)

She soon discovered that the Club prides itself on offering a variety of walks tailored to different skill levels and many of its oldest members are also the most adventurous. Jessie laughs, mentioning one of the most popular bushwalk leaders, Andy, a man in his 90’s who energetically leads troops through the countryside almost every week. He’s one of the many members from whom Jessie has gained valuable skills and knowledge.

“You can go on a [club] bushwalk and there is always someone who can point out something amazing.  They tell you about this plant, or this bird, or this rock and there is always something to learn. You could Google bushwalks in the mountains, but I can guarantee that we know of a thousand more walks than you would ever hear of otherwise.”

jessie burke president of springwood bushwalking club

Jessie  started her volunteering journey as a bush leader hosting and organising some great local walks and sharing her enthusiasm for bush care. (Photo: Jessie Burke)

As Jessie became more involved in the Club she was drawn to the idea of volunteering within the organisation. Initially it was a bit daunting to take on so much responsibility, but with each new role her confidence increased and she enjoyed the opportunity to give back, not just to the Club, but also to the bush and the community around her. 

Within a year of joining she was leading walks as a designated Bushwalk Leader. Despite her youth Jessie excelled in the role and a year later she was asked to stand for Club Vice President, which she won in the membership elections. Then in 2023, at the age of 29, she was elected as Club President and given the responsibility to help shape the future direction of the whole organisation.

“It was so amazing to have a chance to share my ideas and be listened to, although I couldn’t do anything without the support and help of all the other members.”

Jessie certainly has that support, although she initially downplays her own skills and abilities.

“I think they particularly wanted me as Vice President because I was one of the younger members of the Club. I became a beacon of the future because they needed a big focus on bringing in new members.”

While there is no doubt Jessie’s youth may help encourage new generations, it was her passion for the Club and the local bushland that really encouraged the membership to place so much trust in her and overwhelmingly vote to give her the senior role.

“Yes, that’s true,” Jessie acknowledges. “I think they believed I could do it because I hold the same values as the longstanding members. I have the same passion and love for the bush. I only want the best for our Club. I want to bring it into the future, while keeping to the values that the club always had.“

Those values include a shared focus on protecting and respecting the environment and seeing bushwalkers not just as visitors, but also as caretakers of the natural world.

swamp wallaby

Being a bushwalker is as much about caring for the environment as it is about fitness. (Photo: Jessie Burke)

“We are out there every week so we can observe what is going on, we can help maintain the health of the bush, as long as we act ethically and sustainably. It’s just a natural extension of being out in nature. When you sit and observe or just walk through it you start to notice the relationships: between the birds and the trees, or the water and the rocks. Everything you see has a relationship with each other and when you put yourself into that, you become part of that relationship” she says, her face wistful, imagining herself once again out in the bushland she loves.

Under Jessie’s guidance as Vice President and now as President, the Bushwalking Club has done a lot of work to ensure they are building an ethical and sustainable club environment, and a big part of that is a focus on attracting people from all walks of life to join the club and learn how to engage ethically with the bushland.

Jessie has a particular focus on bringing in children and families, so she and the other committee members have committed their time and energy to learning about insurance, child safety and protection requirements and designing family-friendly but interesting bush experiences. The hard work has certainly paid off as the Club has recently welcomed 13 new junior under-18 members and hosted a number of successful school holiday and family walks in the local area.

young bushwalkers

Jessie leads the new junior members on a popular local walk (Photo: Jessie Burke)

One of the most popular new walks is one Jessie has designed and hosted: a simple 1 km trip down into Glenbrook Creek where the kids were able to float on inflatable lilos and pool toys down to Jellybean Pool.

“That was a really fun one. It’s only a short walk but it’s really suitable for kids.” 

Jessie delights in the fact she can share her love of nature with the local children, both through the Bushwalking Club activities and also her role as a local Girl Guide leader.

“It’s very rewarding. Kids haven’t created this separation from nature the way adults have. Over the years we become less and less connected to it. But they are still so inherently curious. They are nature. Adults often stop themselves from exploring but kids are able to fully experience the natural world in ways that adults have often lost,” Jessie says.

 Bushwalking and bush care has helped reignite that passion and curiosity in Jessie, and many of the other adults in the Club, but she really wants to ensure it stays alight in the children as they grow older:  so they don’t have to try and re-discover it.

“[Through the Club] I am facilitating that relationship with nature for these kids, and it might not pay off immediately, but you are just starting and then they explore that relationship on their own,” Jessie says, recalling that her Girl Guides were initially not so keen to get out in the bush, or engage in the plants and bush craft she brought to their meetings. But over time their interest increased.

“Kids want to do what is cool, so if they see I am passionate and excited about the bush and the environment, then it rubs off a bit on them, and slowly they start to become interested in it. I think that is my purpose in life. Introducing this relationship between people and nature for people of all ages. We have stopped seeing how wonderful the world around us is, and so we have stopped appreciating it. We need to change that and reconnect. I think that is where we have all gone wrong.”

jessie burke in nature

Jessie believes being in nature can help us reconnect to self and appreciate the world around us. (Photo supplied)

Her enthusiasm is contagious, as many of her Girl Guides now join her on bushwalks and some have found a new sense of confidence and self through engaging with nature.

“I have one young girl from Guides who comes on bushwalks with us,” Jessie explains. “She is not a sporty kid, but she absolutely loves it.” The child’s family, noticing the difference in the girl’s confidence and activity level, sent Jessie a thank you expressing how grateful they were that their child has found the thing that brings her joy, as well as fitness. 

So often girls and boys are seen as being lazy if they are not into team sports, or regular playground activities. But bushwalking gives many of those kids a different way to explore the world with purpose. 

“I was never a sporty kid, either,” Jessie reveals, ”I didn’t like team sports, so when I found I could walk in the bush and nourish my body, my mind and my spirit, I was so happy. Bushwalking is a personal thing where you can be active and be yourself.”

That is the magic for Jessie, it’s not just fitness, or the social aspect of the club, it is finding ways to connect to who she really is and her relationship with the world. This can be beneficial for everyone as the disconnection, lethargy and anxiety so many people experience in the modern world can disappear as you immerse yourself in the natural environment and start to connect more with the calming natural cycles and elements of life.

jessie burke in the blue mountains

Looking out across the mountain landscape, Jessie can appreciate the subtle changes in the environment over time. (Photo: Jessie Burke)

“When you go out into the bush the first time you might just see trees. But go out with someone who has been a bushwalker their whole life and they will tell you the name of every single tree, every single plant,” Jessie explains smiling. “You realise you are not just looking at the bush, you are looking at life, millions of individuals. You are creating a relationship with those plants and creatures because once you know their name you can’t help but start to feel a connection with them and begin to care about them in really important ways.“

It is through this connection that we can find ways to care for and value the world around us. Being out in the bush is an important part of who we are and it is so accessible, particularly for those of us lucky enough to live in the amazing Blue Mountains area. We just need to step outside and connect with it.

“Just find a walk that is local to you, that you can do regularly, either on your own, with family or as part of a club,” Jessie suggests. “You could do the same walk every day for a year and it would be different every time. When you do that, you get to see how that little bit of bush changes through the seasons, changes through the weather. It becomes part of who you are. And there is something beautiful in that.”

Get involved 

Join the club

Being part of a bushwalking club offers more than social connections and fitness; it’s an opportunity to explore your local environment and truly appreciate the beauty of the National Park.

Joining the Springwood Bushwalking Club is simple and inexpensive. The Club currently boasts 320 members, the majority being Blue Mountains locals, and over 30 volunteer Bush Leaders organising 3 – 4 different walks per week which can range from beginner to experienced, or more challenging walks. The club also offers activities like kayaking, canoeing, bike trail riding and, in the winter months, snow trips to nearby snowfields.

Explore the World

You can explore the natural world on your own or with family. Take a walk along your local fire trails or into the fringes of the National Park. There are a number of easy walks throughout Springwood and surrounds, many of which were highlighted in our Cool Mountains story.

Just remember when venturing out into our natural bushland it is important to be prepared, carry water, have sunscreen, stick to fire trails and paths and plan your journey well in advance. Always consider weather and trail conditions before heading out into the bushland and read more safety information here. If adventuring out by yourself let someone know where you are going and the intended time you will be away so they can keep track of your progress.

jessie burke in Glenbrook Creek

Even as President Jessie makes sure to take an active part in all the activities the Springwood Bushwalking Club offers (Photo: Jessie Burke)

This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

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About Gabiann Marin

Gabiann has worked as in-house writer/editor for Amnesty International, Greenpeace and Médecins Sans Frontières across Australia, Africa and the Asia Pacific. She is an award winning novelist and children’s book author, having won or been shortlisted for several Australian and international writing prizes. She was one of the key designers and the writer of the award-winning multimedia interactive narrative, Kids Together Now, which focuses on helping children deal with issues around bullying and racism. In addition to her role as storyteller for the Planetary Health Initiative, she tutors in narrative and writing at Macquarie University and works as a writer, story developer and script producer.

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