Donna Little

Donna Little

Life Membership is the highest honour that QORF can bestow and Life Members will be held in the highest esteem.

Donna Little

Donna Little
Born: 13 July 1965, Brisbane, Queensland

BA, Grad Dip Ed. (UQ)
Grad Dip in OE (Griffith)
Master of Arts in Outdoor Ed (Griffith)
PHD (Griffith) Theme: Women and adventure.
Cert IV in TAE

QORF CEO July 2008 – August 2013

QORF Life Membership: 30 April 2015

Donna Little spent her childhood swimming, camping along the Eastern seaboard and fossicking in the Queensland outback. A trained teacher, the experience of leading at a US Summer Camp inspired her to facilitate outdoor opportunities for others. Years spent in academia in the fields of sport, outdoor recreation, education and tourism brought her in contact with QORF in its early days and saw her become the organisation’s CEO from 2008 to 2013. Donna was honoured with life membership in March 2016 for services to the outdoor community in Queensland. Read on to discover more about Donna’s background, passion and hope for the outdoors, accomplishments and ideas.


After studying to be a secondary school teacher, Donna worked at Boonah and Emerald SHSs, Queensland, before starting her world backpacking adventure. Her travels included time spent teaching and exploring in Japan, independent travel through Europe and the UK before working in a US Summer Camp leading 8 to 12 year old girls for a three-month period.

“What that showed me in a really tangible way was the difference it made giving kids the opportunity to experience nature, have adventures and be able to roam. There was a lot of learning, joy, personal insight and self development that came through that. You could see nuances of changes happening to each girl. I knew about the Grad Dip in Outdoor Education (at Griffith Uni) and wanted to do that so I was qualified to help others to have similar experiences.”

Donna returned to Australia and gained her Grad Dip, Masters and doctorate qualification before embarking on a career as a university lecturer. After five years at Griffith University, Brisbane, (1998 – 2002), she moved to the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand (2003 – 2006) before taking up her position with QORF in 2008. Since leaving that role she has worked as a sessional lecturer and tutor for University of Queensland, and James Cook University, Brisbane. Her teaching and research has spanned Tourism, Hospitality and Event Management, Sport and Leisure Management and Outdoor Education.

These days Donna also works for Way To Be, a consultancy that focuses on individual and organisational development, research, training and facilitation.

Outdoor Career Related Highlights

“I am proud of having taught into Leisure Management at Griffith and the variations of the Graduate Diploma in Outdoor Education.

“It was gratifying coming back from New Zealand and running into students who were now good and capable leaders, in council, in community organisations, state government and so on. They were doing the things that were engaging and enabling communities, groups, individuals to get outdoors and enjoy leisure, education, recreation, events. It was a reminder I was part of an educational system that helped foster the next generation of park planners, outdoor leaders, people who could write policy and programs and know why they were doing that.

“My time at QORF is a definite life highlight. There are many reasons, but the acceptance I was given, the trust people put in me, the chance to bring together multiple stakeholders to help them see what they had in common were important aspects. What I tried to do was to encourage and enable people to collaborate through their shared commitment for the outdoors.

Interest in the outdoors

“I grew up in Mt Gravatt, which back then had bush at both ends of our road. We played outside. We made forts, dammed the creek, hunted guppies, you name it. We had that freedom, and an expectation from my mother, to roam.

“Our holidays were spent swimming and camping at the beach, or if my Dad had his way, driving and camping anywhere from Cooktown in far north Queensland to Lune River in Tasmania. When I was 12 we started spending our winter holidays in Central and Western Queensland as my parents developed a passion for fossicking.

“For me those spaces gave me a true sense of space. It was beautiful, expansive…dry…trees, night skies so filled with stars you could almost read by them. We were by ourselves and when we came across people they were interesting people. I got to engage and learn from many of them about the land, animals, plants, and rocks…Simple things like how to intentionally dig the ground, chop wood, fetch water. I really enjoyed the simplicity of it. When I returned from New Zealand we (my husband Chris and I) headed straight back to that bush then through Western Queensland in to Northern Territory so we could reconnect ourselves with the richness and clarity that is this land.”

Donna has been married to Chris Schmidt for 18 years. Chris grew up in the country near Pomona and like her, has an academic background. He’s been a university lecturer in tourism, marketing, sport and leisure management and is now a change management consultant and provider of organisational training and development.

What is your favourite motivational quote?

Be the change you want to see
(Mahatma Ghandi)

It is not such a motivational quote, but a way of being.


Involvement with QORF

“I was a student member of QORF back in its early days in 1988/89. I was studying GDOE and it was just natural to join QORF as it offered the chance to build my professional capacity. It was about having access to information and people, networks and because it was the right thing to do. That and OEAQ were my ‘professional bodies’.

“I became CEO in July 2008 and stepped down in August 2013. In March 2016 I joined the QORF board.

“Being CEO of QORF was the best job I have ever had. It allowed me to engage my head, body, heart and hand. I struggled for the first 6 weeks (how does one person do all this?). The rest of it was all about creating that synergy between the outdoors, people, providers and decision makers. It was about engaging with people who were committed, who wanted to make a difference, who wanted more trails, more access, so everyone could share opportunities and reap the benefits.

Evolution of QORF

“At the start of my tenure at QORF we were able to deliver on the Queensland Adventure Activity Standards that Kathy Kingsford had secured funding for before she left the EO role.

“In practical terms, we also introduced a range of engagement activities for members, interested stakeholders and community. These include Visioning the Outdoors (photo and video competition to celebrate the outdoors), Active Outdoors Expo, Outdoor-tober, Big Ideas Forum and our biennial Conference. Those things were valuable. They created opportunity for the diversity of stakeholders to get in the same room and understand who and what the outdoor sector was and to reach out to the wider community. I saw my role being to promote the sector in its diversity, not specifically promote QORF. We also put in place consistent engagement that took place in other parts of the state, Parks Forum etc. and we introduced Young Adventurer Awards.”

Value to QORF

“What value did I add to QORF?… I listened and I listened to hear.

“I think the organisation and the sector were stronger financially, culturally and interpersonally, with wider / deeper awareness of the sector and even more doors opened.

“My background provided the opportunity to internally deliver on a range of different projects. QORF was able to work effectively with other researchers, successfully bid for and do projects in-house, which was a cost saving as well as a tool of information that was of value.

“Some of these contributed to the development and refinement of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, Boonah to Ipswich Trail, Trail Audits and work done around identifying and securing the need for subsidised training for our sector.

“Through initiatives and engagement with the sector we were able to grow membership from 115 to 170.

“I can’t easily say “this is what I achieved” because it wasn’t actually about me and that is something that is determined by others. I do however think that we accomplished small and large things everyday that helped people share, network, learn and collaborate. The Big Ideas Forum, two state conferences, the establishment of the Trails Alliance. These gave people the chance to network with each other from points of commonality rather than in isolated silos. The meetings that happened after work hours, the Park Forums, Camps Forums. Working with Wide Bay Burnett Regional Council. Maybe we didn’t always achieve defined policy change but each of these helped sew together the capacity of the sector with its key stakeholders.”

Hopes for QORF

“That it can continue to evolve, meet current and emerging needs and be relevant.”

The next 20 years for QORF

…challenges and opportunities

“ I think the greatest challenge the whole sector faces is the very nature of who is engaged in the sector. It is difficult to get the balance right between our inherent desire to have a light touch in nature but be sufficiently obvious that what we do is actually seen, and valued, by other people.

“I think an enduring challenge is we are the type of sector that taps into a range of different industries, social services, parts of people’s every day life. We are not at the forefront socially, politically or even culturally, which is disappointing because I think Australians historically have had an innate sense that the wide-open spaces and the bronze beach stereotype is our way of life. I think we take too much for granted and unless we are more strategic and consciously aware, the sorts of thing we enjoy will continue to be eroded without recourse to bounce back.

“QORF’s biggest opportunity is to determine creative ways to help people know and to actively value the benefits of being in the outdoors. Part of that is how do we go about helping people build an emotional attachment with nature and use that to intellectually comprehend the world and find meaning and purpose there.

“I think there is an opportunity in the philosophical understanding of what we do, and in social change. You have to do the tangible things – the programs, the training, the projects – but to my mind that has always been the ultimate goal.

‘Another challenge /opportunity is to be more united. There are lot of ways people in the sector promote the outdoors and how the experiences they offer provide enablement. All of those have nuanced differences but they are also essential the same. People in this sector believe, value and appreciate the opportunity to get into outdoor spaces for a whole range of reasons: recreation, education, therapy, respite, adventure, development, risk, challenge, health, communion with nature. We all want to leverage the benefits of what is innate biophilia. We do the outdoors (physically and industrially) a disservice when we argue from our points of difference rather than working from our points of commonality.

Staying Relevant?

“By continuing to engage through the breadth of social mechanisms; by being creative in outreach; by articulating the difference QORF does and can make. QORF has to continue to reach out – not expect people are going to come to QORF. It has to be very intentional and active about not just being a club for the insiders. Rather I think the members who make up QORF need to show that it is a community, a service, an advocate, an enabler, a network, a social good.”


QORF’s Motto is Live Life Outdoors. How do you do that?

“We chose to live on the waters edge at Moreton Bay dotted with green space all around. I walk every day and I walk in to nature every day, be it the mangroves, along the river, the esplanade, the protected small pockets of parks for migratory birds and so on.

I also like to go walkabout. Every now and then, I really do just have to immerse myself in deep nature, not just dance around the edges.”

The Favourites!

Outdoor Gear

“My hat – because it protects me, shades me and can keep me warm and a little dry. No hat, no play!”

Outdoor Activity

“What’s in front of me at the time. What is available in the moment. I love walking and camping in the bush. I really enjoy mountain biking. I don’t do it enough but it’s such a joyful experience. I love snow skiing. I love the water. I love to swim.”

Outdoor Adventure

“I really enjoyed walking into the Grand Canyon in winter and back-country skiing in Utah – a great contrast to here. Huge spaces. Muffled sound – the sound of the world was different.

“Another one will – I hope – be our forthcoming walk of El Camino, because of the distance and duration. We hope it creates a wedge in our life – where we step away from the busy-ness of life and into the experience itself.”

Place in Queensland

“There are multiple beautiful places, Wonga Beach near Port Douglas for one.

“And a tree that is a memory of my adolescence – in the middle of a reserve in central Queensland that was a place for me to silently observe and be at peace. It was one of those trees that had had a bend in it like a hammock, beautiful green fresh leaves at the end. I could sit and observe the passing parade of wildlife without infringing on their space.

Parting Thought

“Be authentic. Do what you love. Believe in the better vision you have of the world. Make your difference every day!”

Donna Little


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