Hunter Valley geologist heading to Antarctica for international leadership course

Published: 06/09/2016

Marianna Harvey looks into the distance.

PHOTO: Geologist Marianne Harvey is travelling to Antarctica in December. (1233 ABC Newcastle: Robert Virtue)

The icy scenery of Antarctica is a long way from the rural farmland of Farley in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, but for 20 days in December, the beauty of the frozen white mass will greet Marianne Harvey every morning.

Ms Harvey, a geologist with 20 years experience, is one of 78 female scientists from all around the world taking part in the Homeward Bound program.

The program is a 20-day training course that aims to develop strong leadership skills among women working in science.

The course will take place on board a ship, and at times, ashore on the southern continent.

A passion for the ‘unglamorous’ world of geology

Ms Harvey first started working as a geologist in 1994 in the outback Queensland mining town of Mount Isa.

“It’s certainly not glamorous,” she said.

“I used to work underground … That was dirty, disgusting, hot, and dark.

“I guess you probably don’t hear a lot [about geology] because of that sort of thing. But it’s come a long way, and there’s certainly a lot more women getting into it.

“A rock is a rock to most people, but when you actually get out there and find some really cool rocks, it’s a bit like fossicking for gold; you find one bit, you want to find more.”

Ms Harvey said to be a successful geologist, and particularly for women in the game, you had to be confident and not take offence easily.

“I’ve never had a problem with working with lots of guys,” she said.

“To be a successful female geologist, it’s all about confidence.

“[Also] just not being afraid to take that challenge, or you see a job and you think ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough for that’. Of course you are.”

A piece of Pegmatite rock.PHOTO: A piece of Pegmatite rock collected by Ms Harvey from Sybella Creek, Mount Isa. (1233 ABC Newcastle: Robert Virtue)

Twenty years since she started and Ms Harvey’s passion for the scientific discipline remains as strong as ever.

“I really can’t imagine myself choosing something completely different. It’s just always in my mind — it’s almost like I just walk around looking at the ground constantly,” Ms Harvey said.

Bound for Antarctica

The Homeward Bound leadership course is being run by consultancy firm Dattner Grant.

Antarctica was chosen as the location because of the impact from climate change it is currently experiencing.

Ms Harvey is fundraising in the local community to pay for the trip. She will travel from Sydney to Chile, then to Argentina, before boarding the ship to Antarctica.

The women on board will be taught about strategy, planning, emotional intelligence, and effective communication.

“I’m still stunned that I was chosen to be one of these participants, and I’m just so excited — it’s just an amazing opportunity,” Ms Harvey said.

“If you see something that’s a bit challenging or it’s a bit of a risk, sometimes you’ve got to take it and step outside your comfort zone.”

Encouraging conversations about major issues

With a career in the mining sector behind her, Ms Harvey said she had seen the other side of the mining versus “clean” energy debate.

She hoped to improve her communication skills during the course, so she could encourage balanced community discussion.

Adelie penguins at Gardners Island, Davis Station.
PHOTO: The scientists will also observe the effects of climate change in Antarctica. (ABC)

“I’d like to become a geoscience communicator — and actually encourage communities to accept some of the geological issues that come up in their local neighbourhood, and the fact that OK, it might seem like a nasty big mining company, but at the end of the day, we do still need to use resources, and everybody that works for those companies is so committed to not making a mess of it,” Ms Harvey said.

“I think a lot of that gets lost — the conversation [is] just not there … You can come to some sort of equitable arrangement, and I am sure that we will still continue to deliver resources sustainably.

“Certainly we need to cut-down on the pollution, in terms of CO2, all of that sort of stuff.

“I’d just like to be able to talk to people to help them understand the facts, not the fiction, to keep it [a] sensible debate.

“It can be very easy to listen to political or environmental activists’ spin and just get caught up in these things, which can often be a very emotional issue.”

Ms Harvey is expecting her views to differ from those of the other women taking part in the course.

But she is happy to debate, because she believes having strong female voices leading the conversation in science was important.

“I think I’ve got enough experience now that I know my opinion,” she said.

“But I certainly don’t shut down and ignore other people’s opinions. I do like to have the facts put in front of me. You’ve always got to look at situations from both sides to determine a way forward.

“Women are particularly collaborative when it comes to communicating.

“They also often possess quite good coping mechanisms, that leads to resilience and drives their adaptability, so they can turn their hand to something perhaps in a way that some guys wouldn’t necessarily have thought of.”