When Coonabarabran wildlife carer Sue Brookhouse received a notification to say she was being considered for an Order of Australia medal she thought it was a practical joke.
"I'm overwhelmed with the whole thing. It was really a surprise, out of the box," she told the Daily Liberal.
"The first email I got I didn't think it was a real email, I thought it was someone playing a joke. And then I couldn't think who could have nominated me, I thought 'I haven't done that much'."
From caring for koalas dehydrated during the drought to owls caught in barbed wire fences - Ms Brookhouse's work as a wildlife carer for over 35 years has led her to be recognised with an Order of Australia medal for service to wildlife care and rehabilitation.
"I take in pretty much any native animal - koalas are the ones that collect the most attention. But we rarely see koalas now because they're so scarce - it's become too hot and dry out here for koalas and their numbers have really declined," she said.
"These days we get lots of squirrel gliders and owls. They're always getting caught in barbed wire fences. And this is probably the first time in 25 years I don't have any kangaroo joeys.
"At the moment I've got a baby peewee, a baby galah, and a baby rosella. Last week I had a squirrel glider and the week before that I had a kookaburra - I don't say no to any native animal."
Ms Brookhouse doesn't keep the animals she cares for, she nurses them back to health with the intention of releasing them back into the wild. And so dedicated is she to their rehabilitation, if you opened up her freezer you'd find dozens of individually-bagged dead mice.
"I've got a freezer full of dead mice at the moment - from the mouse plague. I thought I'd make good of it and catch them in traps and keep them in zip lock bags in the freezer," she said.
"They're really good for owls and birds of prey, and tawny frogmouths and kookaburras. They have to eat mice because they need fur and bones in their diet."
Asked how she fell into being a wildlife carer, Ms Brookhouse said she had lived around animals her whole childhood so it only made sense to take it up when she grew up.
"I had no choice. It was how I was brought up in my family. Our house was a stray animal house and anything that was injured or orphaned came home with my mother - that was in the 60s," Ms Brookhouse said.
"And then I started working with the National Parks service in the 80s, before WIRES started, and we used to get animals handed in there and had individual licences."
When WIRES was founded in 1985, Ms Brookhouse continued caring for wildlife through her local branch in the Blue Mountains, which she was a member of for nine years. Moving to Coonabarabran she joined the Dubbo branch of WIRES.
"I did all sorts of roles in WIRES and got on the training team, training people around the state," she said.
"We were a bit far afield from the Dubbo branch so I set up one on my own and we started getting quite a lot of koalas coming in - they used to be quite common around here. There was a bushfire in 1997 and there were quite a lot of koalas coming in.
"Because I had the credentials of being really involved in wildlife care, National Parks sent me an individual wildlife carers licence in the mail. You can't get those anymore and there's only about ten of us left in the state with them."
As well as her work with wildlife Ms Brookhouse has been an active member of a number of local community organisations.
She's currently part of the Dandry Rural Fire Brigade and has been a member of the Coonabarabran Pastoral, Agricultural, Industrial and Horticultural Association for 15 years.
Ms Brookhouse said she was honoured to be recognised with the medal which she said was a testament to the hard work of all wildlife carers.
"I think if anything else this OAM is a shoutout to all the other wildlife carers out there. There are some people out there who are doing absolutely amazing stuff. It's just that I've been doing it for a long time," she said.
"When we used to have a few koalas it was 20 hours a week of collecting gum leaves and driving hundreds of kilometres for months at a time, it really wears you out.
"To be a wildlife carer you have to be realistic and dedicated, and be practical."
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