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Possum magic

Published 20 Jun 2011 

Bush Heritage was lucky enough to call Catherine Arnold one of our most inspiring supporters

At the age of 20, Catherine Arnold told her mother she had set herself a goal for her life.

Catherine Arnold'It started off as three girls looking for a way to remember their friend. And it just grew and grew and now, it's turned into the most special thing – it is exactly the kind of thing Catherine would do herself.' Bek Liffman. Photo courtesy of the Arnold family.

"Mum," she said. "I want to be responsible for saving an endangered species."

Catherine hadn't decided which species that would be, but she was getting good practice with possums.

From the back row of her biology class at Melbourne University, Catherine hid sick possums in her woollen beanie, nursing them to health while she grappled with her veterinary studies.

At uni and in every facet of her life, Catherine spoke passionately about the place that native animals have in our world, leaving a trail of new believers behind her.

But in November 2010, at the age of 28, Catherine left her dreams in the hands of those believers when she lost a year-long fight with cancer.

Catherine's mother Sharyn is intensely proud of her daughter's life and what she achieved.

'She often told me, "I want to make a difference, Mum. It's not enough just to live in this world – we all need to leave it in better shape than we found it."'

'We always had a backyard full of cages for injured wildlife,' says Sharyn. 'She was very big on trying to educate young people. She volunteered regularly at numerous wildlife shelters. And she inspired others – she would just draw people in with her enthusiasm.'

Catherine's dreams for the world were such a strong part of who she was, that after her death, a group of her closest friends – Kylie, Kirsty, Vera, Ruth and Bek – were compelled to keep them alive in Catherine's name.

'We were thinking of donating a few dollars each to her favourite charity, Bush Heritage,' says Bek Liffman. 'But then we extended the invitation to vet students at our uni and from there it just gained momentum.'

The result was a perfect reflection of Catherine: a ‘Go Fundraise' online fund-raising campaign that has so far raised $8100 for Bush Heritage to protect the places and wildlife that meant so much to her.

'People seem inspired by Catherine's hopes for the future,' says Bek. 'It seemed to comfort all of us a little, knowing her ideas would live on.'

Catherine's parents, Chris and Sharyn, would have loved to see their daughter live to realise her dream – the protection of an endangered species.

But perhaps, as a Bush Heritage supporter, Catherine had already achieved more than she realised. Just months after she died, a little orchid was identified growing just a couple of hours' drive from where Catherine shared her last bushwalk with Bek and her friends.

The robust greenhood made front page news in Victoria: after being on the extinction list for 40 years, there it was, alive and well on a Bush Heritage reserve, protected because of people like Catherine.

Thanks to people like you, who share Catherine's dreams, her spirit remains very much alive.

It can be found where the brush-tailed possums huddle together on Kojonup Reserve; where the endangered red goshawk flies at Yourka reserve; and where the robust greenhood orchid now continues its fight for survival at Nardoo Hills.

If you’d like to support Catherine’s dream, visit the fundraising page started by her friends on Or, find out how to start your own fundraising page.

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