Q&A with Blake Humble, Parks and Environment Manager – City of Perth
We recently caught up with Blake Humble, Parks and Environment Manager at City of Perth. Read on and learn about what started Blake’s love of horticulture, where a humble $20 note fits into his inspiring career story, and why he couldn’t think of anywhere he’d rather be – leading the team that cares for the green spaces in the City of Perth.
Q. Can you tell us about your educational and career background, and what led you to this role at City of Perth?
A. I was born and raised in Perth and my love for Horticulture came from my parents. Some of my best childhood memories were being out in the garden smelling that freshly cut grass on weekends.
When I was in Year 11, we were encouraged to pick a role that we wanted to do, and then to find a related TAFE or University course to study. I knew I wanted to work outside, and at the time ‘Backyard Blitz’ was really big on television! So, I left school the next year and went to TAFE to study Horticulture Landscape. I did a full twelve months of Horticultural studies in Certificate III in Horticulture Landscape and then I stayed on for another year and gained my Certificate IV and Diploma in Horticulture.
I vividly remember a class where we were learning about hard scape and working with brick paving and limestone walls which was really tough. There was another class going on behind us which was a turf management class and they were maintaining a little par three golf hole.
I went home and said to my dad, “Actually I want to study turf management, I want to be a green keeper!” I eventually got a job in golf as a groundsperson at Sun City Country club here in Perth. One day the secretary manager of the club asked me to clear out timber off cuts under a new deck. Right in the back corner, I found a $20 note and I still think to this day it was a test where he’d stuffed the $20 note down the gap in the deck to see whether I would keep the money or hand it in.
Q. And, did you hand it in?
A. Yes! And, he actually let me keep it and then offered me an apprenticeship at the golf course. I did my apprenticeship, and in 2005 I won the lecturer’s award for the course, and in 2006 I was awarded Western Australia turf apprentice of the year. The Golf Course Superintendants Association later flew me over to Brisbane for their conference and I represented Western Australia in those awards.
I loved golf, but the money wasn’t great and I wanted to build a home on a block of land that’d I’d bought. So, in 2007 when a much higher-paying role came up at the City of Subiaco, I jumped at it. It was a Technical Officer role focussing on irrigation. I was able to work my way up to Coordinator of Parks Development. I was there for almost 10 years doing everything from capital projects to parks management. Then in February 2017, I accepted the role of Coordinator Parks Operations here at the City of Perth and 15 months ago, I took on my current role of Parks and Environment Manager.
Q. What do you enjoy most about this role?
A. To lead a team of 50 operational staff, and 10 technical and supervisory staff is a really proud moment for me. I really feel that this role aligns so much with me being born and raised in Perth, and being an advocate for, and sharing the history and importance of our parklands in the city. Here at Stirling Gardens, we have Western Australia’s first gazetted parkland! There are trees that are over 100 years of age. Those little aspects of the role; the heritage, the history, the service-levels, we’re resourced really well – it’s a really special place to work.
I couldn’t think of anywhere better to be, being a part of the team that gets to care for our green space in the City of Perth.
Q. What are the main areas of responsibility in your role?
A. The City of Perth has 120 hectares of parkland and over 16,000 street trees that we manage as well. The teams are split up into six maintenance teams that service the six suburbs of the city. They’re resourced based on a fortnightly maintenance schedule to ensure we’re providing a really high level of service, week-in week-out.
We have between 250-400 events on our parklands every year – and that’s where the load and wear and tear comes in. It could range from a family picnic day, right through to week-long music festival or it could be a three- or four-month long arts and culture event with a purpose-built facility constructed on the grounds with planning permission. Our green spaces have to support these events, and in between that, as a team we need to provide a high level of amenity for recreation and tourists.
On any day I could be working with the events and approvals team, the sustainability team, the urban design team. I also work with our Planners when they’re looking to review and provide comment on development applications – for example how a building might impact an existing street tree.
Q. How important is sustainability in this space, and how do you approach it?
A. For myself and the team, a focus on sustainability is not something we need to force. It just naturally happens. We’re proud to conserve the environment and we make decisions based on best practice. We implement maintenance programmes in order to have a really high-level of amenity. We know that we do need inputs; water, fertiliser, chemicals, in order for our city to present to a really high standard, but we approach it in a way that’s sustainable for future generations.
I recall when I was at City of Subiaco we had some really hot summers, and in 2007/2008, the state government implemented a range of initiatives. That’s where the water conservation story really began for local government in this area which was actually a really good thing, because some of the practices at the time weren’t great at all.
At City of Subiaco, I did a lot of work around water budgeting and central controls and irrigation upgrades. We were really successful with state and national awards in water conservation. I brought that skill-set here to the City of Perth and it’s been great to see the results when you start to get a long-term picture of optimal irrigation levels through how turf and landscape presents.
Over the last couple of summers here in City of Perth we’ve saved around 20% of our water allocation – that’s over 200,000 kilolitres of water per year!
Q. How would you describe your leadership style?
A. For me leadership is about looking at certain leaders I’ve had throughout my journey, and taking away some of their characteristics. Being on the tools at a young age has meant that I’m able to manage more effectively. I understand the pressures the team deal with every day – because I’ve been there.
I try and share my technical knowledge with our staff on the ground to make our overall team stronger. I want everyone to learn and grow and develop.
Q. What does success look like to you?
A. It’s a busy role and some days can definitely be challenging. But this morning when I drove into Governor’s Ave near Supreme Court Gardens, I saw a garden bed in full spring flower that we had provided advice on to our urban design team as a part of hostile vehicle mitigation. To see that looking really good is just so rewarding.
Whether it’s a road reserve that’s been completely hedged, no weeds, Langley Park mowed consistently, the trees beautifully maintained – it starts to build layers of success. Having conversations with my team and you see the light bulb moment in their eyes when they see something makes sense, or we’ve put a lot of work into an idea and it finally comes to fruition – that’s what success looks like to me.
Q. What would you say to someone considering a career in green spaces in local government?
A. Local government gives you a really good spring board and the opportunity to travel as well. You can take your skills internationally, there’s always going to be a demand for green space especially with climate change – so there is always going to be a demand for these skills.
There is also such a diverse range of career paths; Park Operator, Horticulturalist, irrigation, tree management, project management – where ever you want to go, there’s so many opportunities. It’s a growing industry, a relevant industry, and a really important industry for those living in cities and those who enjoy using green space.
Are you passionate about maintaining, protecting, and growing the green spaces in your community? A local government career in parks could be perfect for you! Check out the roles on offer right now.