Karen Hearnden is a policy maker and land negotiator. Professionally, she ensures that the NSW crown estate is managed in the best interest of the people of the state. Highly advanced in initiating building and maintaining project partnerships and strategic alliances, Karen is not easily swayed by obstacles or other’s disapproval. She prides herself in facing challenges head on, and when the status quo does not make sense to her, she is not afraid to question it. Karen is inspired by entrepreneurial types because there is always something more to what you think you’re going to learn about.
• What career path led you to where you are now?
While I was studying a degree in Environmental Science, I volunteered as a Ranger with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Once I finished my degree, I naturally went into work with the Parks and Wildlife Service as a Ranger. I was there for about eight years, loved it, definitely the best job I’ve had. I guess that gave me a really good sense of environmental managementand protected area management and I wanted to know more about that and work in that industry. I then progressed to work for the Environmental Protection Authority and that was part operational and part policy or office-based. I really loved that, but I saw an entirely different side from protected area management to environmental pollution and events. It was a slow progression to where I am today. Working with the Office of Water and Resources in management; it’s a very different government department.
A couple of years ago, I came back from Sydney where I was working in the Minister for Lands and Water’s office, and I saw an opportunity or a big change in government, and that was the approach to managing crown land. That brought me back to Newcastle and to where I am today.
• What motivates and drives you?
For me, entrepreneurship and innovation really drives and motivates, especially working with government which is so siloed and sort of a few decades back in some departments, especially where I am now. To look at what other industries and people are doing to change the way we do things really drives me.
• What’s been the biggest learning curve in your career to date?
Well, I have to start off with when I was a Ranger with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and learning to become a remote area fire fighter. I grew up in inner city Brisbane, so bush skills and operations, in terms of fire operations, did not come naturally to me at all. Having to come up to speed with some pretty serious incident and environmental protection in terms of fire ecologywas very new to me.
• Where would you like to be in ten years’ time?
I’d still like to stay with NSW government, but I think that I’d look for a role that has a mix of operational field based work and the strategic policy area. I think would probably have to balance that out with my creative interests and desires. So, within ten years, I hope to have a new little side hustle up and running that could be a creative area and outlet for me, but also forother creators in Newcastle, because I think Newcastle is just changing so much and I’d like to be a part of that.
• Have you had any significant Hunter based mentors during your career that inspire you?
Looking back through my career, I’ve had so many inspirational leaders. I am very grateful for that. I guess recently, and what brought me back to Newcastle, was the Crown Lands Portfolio and the Department of Industry, and an awesome woman heads that up; she is just so ahead of her game. She’s our Deputy Director-General of Lands and Forestry and her name is Alison Stone. She’s been based in the Hunter for quite a while but she operates so differently to how I’ve seen other male executives in a very male dominated executive world. Alison really is just a woman of integrity, intelligence and hard work.
I think what inspires me most about Alison is she works hard and she plays hard. Her travel adventures and her interests are really motivating and inspiring. It just goes to show that you can have the professional career, but also balance that with travel and fun. She’s always there to soak up some inspiration and ideas from. She’s a gem and I really enjoy working for her.
With thanks to Hunter Young Professionals who Hunter Headline collaborated with to source this interviewee.
The Department of Industry - Lands & Forestry (the Department) is responsible for approximately half of NSW land valued at over $6.1 billion.
The Department is responsible for managing some of the most iconic and diverse public land through the Crown reserve system. The Department's 35,000 Crown reserves provide many of the states town squares and local parks, state heritage sites, buildings, community halls, nature reserves, coastal lands, waterway corridors, sporting grounds, racetracks, showgrounds, caravan parks, camping areas, travelling stock routes, rest areas, walking tracks, commons, community and government infrastructure and facilities. Hyde Park and Bondi Beach in Sydney are two famous examples of the NSW Crown reserve system at work.