SPOTLIGHT ON MADELEINE HILL
FOLLOWING A LIFE-CHANGING TRIP OVERSEAS, MADELEINE HILL (2009) TOOK A CAREER RISK, LEAVING IN THE MIDDLE OF HER MASTERS DEGREE TO EMBARK ON A CAREER IN ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY.
If we look back at your time at school, when did you attend PLC Sydney, and what did you plan to do after school?
I was a student from 2004 to 2009, and started at PLC Sydney with a couple of girls from my primary school and made some great friends that I’m still in contact with today. I remember being inspired from the moment I arrived. I had come from a small primary school, so coming to a big, beautiful school was exciting.
I was heavily involved in sports throughout my time at school, starting with rowing in Year 7. I found it very physically and mentally challenging (those 5 am starts!), and the grit I built through that process has stayed with me ever since. It was lots of fun and rewarding being in the First Crew. Sport played a significant role in my time at school - I loved the team element.
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do after school. I spent a lot of time in the career advisor’s office of Mrs Arnaudon! It was a running joke that I was always in her office talking through ideas and reading all the pamphlets she gave me. She was pivotal in my understanding of how I process things. I am very versatile, which has carried me through to the various jobs I have had - a bit of a "jack of all trades". I knew, however, that I would be doing something related to the subjects of art, creativity and writing.
What did you go on to do after finishing school?
After school, I took a year and a half off. I wanted some time to decompress and get used to the autonomy and adjust to dictating my own schedule. I enjoyed my time off, working and travelling.
Initially, I didn’t get into my first university preference, so I did one semester in marketing at ACU to transfer into a design course at UTS. At the time, I was very deflated about not getting into the course on my first go, but I flipped my thinking and accepted there was a different pathway (though it was not as linear as it could have been). I needed a credit average and a design portfolio for that course; it had a much higher UAI than I had received. I was nervous but very keen to get in, and when I received my acceptance letter, it was very exciting. I started the three year Bachelor of Design in Photography & Situated Media at UTS in 2012 and went on to do Honours and began a Masters in Design.
I now work in climate change and sustainability. I'm Manager, Investor Engagement at the Investor Group on Climate Change, a not for profit organisation in the investment sector working with super funds and other investment organisations to look at the impact of climate change on investment.
Last October, I founded Our Simple Gestures, an online platform that provides tools and resources to help people minimise their environmental impact by forming sustainable and regenerative habits and making more informed choices in their homes. I had the opportunity to work on this project through the C40 Cities Women4Climate mentorship program. Our Simple Gestures was two years in the making, and I was thrilled to launch it thanks to the supportive network of the wonderful group of women I met through the mentorship program (20 mentees with 20 mentors).
What does a typical "work" day look like for you?
A typical day for me starts very early; I’m an early riser, I exercise most mornings. I come back, often meditate and have my green tea on the verandah. I like to organise my day and thoughts by setting goals and expectations, planning out the key things I want to achieve that day. I often block out time in my calendar for these things. I try to get away from the screen intermittently throughout the day, going outside or for a short walk. I also enjoy fixing my kombucha, cooking lunch or reading throughout the day.
I work for an hour and a half on Our Simple Gestures three days a week before work. I’m currently working from home full time as I recently moved to the Blue Mountains, allowing me more time throughout the week to work on the project amongst my full-time hours. I try to balance and enjoy all aspects of the day, whether it is busy or slow.
What has been the proudest moment in your life so far?
My proudest moment is the story of how I got here through my studies. In 2012, I was studying Design in Photography and Situated Media at UTS, and through uni, I was exhibiting my work in galleries around Sydney. A big part of the degree was critical thinking and exploring art history & theory, understanding various art movements and how they came to be.
My Honours project focused on walking in the landscape. I explored how walking has been used in movements like Land Art to understand the history of a place and the issues occurring at those times. Like the Land Artists decades before me, I documented what I witnessed while walking in the landscape, though the issue I faced was a changing landscape resulting from climate change. My research led me to find a strong link between 1960s Land Artists and 18th-century literary figures (and philosophers such as Thoreau) and how they approached and documented the natural landscape, often through walking.
This led me to landscape photography, and my research led me to environmentalism in art movements like the 1960s Land and Environmental Art. They documented themselves in changing landscapes, usually reflecting environmental and societal issues they were responding to. My research made me increasingly aware of my environmental footprint, and this greater awareness started permeating every area of my life. I questioned how I could improve and do things differently. After my Honours year and before my Masters, I took a year off and travelled across Europe and Central America. Taking a break from academia made me rethink my design path and realise I wanted to work in climate change and sustainability. After a year of working on my Masters, I made a brave leap and left the program to pursue work in the climate change space.
I immersed myself in the community side of sustainability and got to meet a diverse group of people. A friend introduced me to someone working at the Investor Group on Climate Change and I started a role there, where I’ve been for the last three and a half years. To network and gain experience while looking for work, I volunteered and interned with Terracycle, Pocket City Farms, Good On You and OzHarvest. I still volunteer in the compost caring programme at the Farm and am a regular content writer for Good On You, the ethical and sustainable fashion website.
The whole process was a significant risk, and, on reflection, I feel proud and courageous about the move and shift in my career. I am continually motivated, determined and feel very lucky to work in this crucial area that affects us all.
Could you tell us about a mistake you have made and what you learnt from that mistake?
I’ve made lots of mistakes (haven’t we all!). I can look back on them now and smile because I now realise how important they are, not just in terms of growth and development, but learning about personal resilience. It is important to take ownership of our mistakes, either as individuals, in relationships or in a team context.
A fundamental mistake I made was in my first year at university. I didn’t know what to expect; I worked two jobs and, on reflection, did not take my studies seriously enough. Very quickly, my grades reflected this, and it made me realise I hadn’t put enough effort in and needed to change something. When I returned for the second year, I came in with fresh eyes and determination, and my experience (and results) changed completely. I went from Passing and Credits to getting High Distinctions, and it was so rewarding! I learned the value of giving everything to a project and seeing it through from beginning to end and the importance of commitment and prioritisation. This experience has shaped how I work and how I lead my personal life today.
What's the most significant piece of advice you've received, and who shared it with you?
My grandfather was hugely influential in my life. He passed away in 2019 at the age of 97, after working until he was 94 (a total of 75 years as a doctor). He was the oldest practising doctor in Australia; he received an Order of Australia for his contribution to paediatrics. One of the last things he said to his ten grandchildren in an interview my uncle recorded was, “whatever you do in your life, give it your best shot.” These meaningful words are a driving force for me, particularly coming from him and all he represents.
If you could travel back in time, what would you say to your younger self?
Reflecting on turning 30 this year, I realise the importance of patience and perspective. Events and moments in life might seem significant, stressful and hard to conceptualise at the time, but they will pass. Believe it and enjoy the process. Take things a little less seriously; take the good and the bad - The bad is just as important as the good because it will all shape you and contribute to your growth.
What tools (apps, books, podcasts, etc.) or activities do you use for inspiration/ideas/productivity/balance?
I love learning and continuing my education across all areas of my life. I love podcasts like Tim Ferriss and Brene Brown on how to better ourselves and our lives. My partner Darren loves behavioural science and studied psychology, so he always shares different resources to look into. I often return to the philosophers I studied at university - the writers who understood and appreciated nature. I can see how these philosophies can inform how we operate in the world—understanding that every action we take has an impact. This informs how I think about and approach my personal sustainability journey.
How has your education at PLC Sydney shaped the person you are today?
PLC Sydney contributed to who I am as a person both in my professional and personal life. It gave me a strong foundation for a sense of community, an understanding of hard work and the ability to adapt. Whether in a sporting or academic situation, I realise now that I have learnt what hard work looks like. I felt constantly supported, guided and accepted.
Please share some of your most vivid, favourite or amusing memories from school.
There are lots of funny and fond memories of my time at school, especially in Year 12. I have fond memories of hanging with friends in the amphitheatre, the themed dress-up days - I have great memories of walking down to The Croydon - I enjoyed art classes a lot and remember a sense of calm anticipation when walking down there, chatting with classmates along the way. I loved sports carnivals and the hype leading up to House Choir night. The great chats with Mrs Tarpey and the support of lovely Sister Blunt. The Aquatic Centre and AKT were not built when I first started but were completed by the end of my time at PLC. It is exciting to see the school evolving to support the endeavours of the students and more creative opportunities being facilitated.