Local historian and author Robyn Gray with her book, Struggle for Power, in 2017.
Local historian and author Robyn Gray with her book, Struggle for Power, in 2017.

Historian and environmentalist honoured for their work

TWO Byron Shire women who have made huge contributions either locally or internationally have been honoured with Order of Australia Medals.


Robyn Gray

Historian Robyn Gray was the founding president of the Brunswick Valley Historical Society in 1982.

She was secretary of the society from 1984 to 89 and 1995 to 2007 and was made a life member in 2000.

She's an author and editor of historical publications and was among the team of people who moved Mullumbimby's old post office to create a museum in late 1984.

Upon learning of her OAM, Ms Gray said her first thought was wondering who had nominated her and "thanking them silently".

"My second thought was to recognise that this was an honour for not just me but a group of people that learned how to build and grow a museum from nothing," she said.

"All those years ago we had nothing but dreams."

Working through their ambitions and hopes, and rustling up $11,000 to relocate the building that was to become the museum, the group eventually got there.

This team included her husband Christopher Gray, Maurie Summers, Bernie McEwen and Brian Hosie.

Ms Gray recalled the huge logistic effort involved.

"The building had to be cut in half," she said.

"We had to work with (authorities) … to have the powerlines raised.

"It was quite a complex project to have it moved."

The council assisted the group in finding the right location and once in place it was an asset to the community.

Ms Gray said this great effort was "a long-term investment in our knowledge and understanding of the place we live in".

"I think it's important to know about the place we live in, just to understand why it is as it is," she said.

Before being awarded an OAM at the weekend, Ms Gray had earlier received a Community Service Award for recognition of her outstanding service and dedication to the community of the Byron Shire through the Mullumbimby Rotary Club in 1998.

She received a Certificate of Achievement from the Royal Australian Historical Society in 1994 and the Bi-centennial Medallion for her contribution to the bicentenary celebrations of European settlement in 1988. Ms Gray was born in Mullumbimby.


Claire Oelrichs

Claire Oelrichs OAM (front) on patrol with elephant protectors and volunteers in Sumatra.
Claire Oelrichs OAM (front) on patrol with elephant protectors and volunteers in Sumatra.

ENVIRONMENTALIST Claire Oelrichs has also been awarded an Order of Australia Medal.

The Coopers Shoot-based environmental scientist and veterinarian was awarded the medal for her contribution to conservation, particularly in Indonesia.

She and her late husband Ian, who earlier received an OAM for his contributions to landscape architecture, had a long connection with Indonesia to help protect national parks and wildlife at risk of extinction.

Claire's conservation work began when she travelled to see the orangutans in Indonesian Borneo in 2002.

"Survival of the Tanjung Putting National Park seemed to depend on the Rimba Lodge, which was then failing," she said.

She and husband Ian found a team of investors to grow eco-tourism there and Ecolodges Indonesia was established.

The organisation has since grown to become the primary base for wildlife tourism in Indonesia.

"It rapidly became apparent that people wanted to join me to visit wild places in Indonesia," Ms Oelrichs said.

"I became a tour guide by default."

Ms Oelrichs spent time with a baby elephant that had been rescued after two weeks trapped in a well in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra in 2006.

"Sakura (the baby elephant) was very ill and unable to stand," she said.

"She would take off my shoes with her trunk so that I would sit and play with her."

The locals asked her to help them close the remaining wells in the park.

"I said 'sure', then I wondered how on earth I would achieve it," she said.

But she enlisted the help of generous individuals and donors and in the space of three years more than 4000 wells were filled in.

"After this the locals asked me what I would do next to save the park," she said.

"And I answered, 'What do you suggest?' "

Thus began the Save Indonesian Endangered Species Fund, established in 2009.

The fund has focused on habitat regeneration and fire prevention, while also assisting through International Park Tours and Southern Cross University, where she completed her Bachelor of Environmental Science in 2014.

Claire and Ian's sons have carved their own paths in conservation. Cooper, a senior data scientist based in Berlin, works pro bono for the Save Indonesian Endangered Species Fund, while Dexter works full time in rhinoceros conservation.