On eccentric environmentalists…..

31 08 2013

If you are an environmentalist, and if you become active in the movement (as in going farther than watching David Attenborough shows on TV…) you will be bound to meet amazing people.  Over the years, I have had the great privilege of meeting environmentalists both famous and not quite so.  Some have been among the very smartest people I have ever known in fact.  From David Suzuki to Steve Harrison, from Bruce Teakle (who totally changed my life) to Dave Keenan and StJohn Kettle (my dear friend who recently passed away prematurely) and now Norma Nord who has joined him at the far more appropriate age of 98……

Sometimes you don’t need to know someone for that person to make a huge impression on the way you see things,suzuki&me they can be inspiring from afar.  Whilst I met Suzuki on three occasions, he was far too busy to have any discussion of importance with me personally, but to listen to him speak in the flesh was one of the most inspiring moments of my life.  When he explained that if you could tease out the fibres in your lungs and spread them out such that they were one great big sheet of lung tissue they would cover a tennis court, that this lung tissue was fused with the air thus making you an integral part of Planet Earth, and that the air those tissues suck Oxygen from is the same air that the dinosaurs, Neanderthals, Jesus Christ, and Mahatma Ghandi breathed….. you had to be inspired.  No way could you walk out and not think you had to look after the air and the Earth after listening to that…..

Bruce introduced me to the simple life.  And to Ted Trainer….  whom I’ve also met on several occasions.  Once you see how these two men live, you cannot take ‘modern living’ seriously again.  It was because of Bruce that I re educated myself on matters of energy efficiency and renewable energy.  And blacksmithing.  And I might never have owned an AGA were it not for Bruce’s influence.  Not to mention that more than half the wood in our house was milled by Bruce from weed pine trees cut down in Jolly’s Lookout National Park, such that every time I look up at our ceiling I think of Bruce…..

Dave I met while studying Renewable Energy Technology at TAFE in Brisbane.  A quiet peace activist and a genius with electronics, Dave installed the first solar power system on this house and is right now building an EV Mazda MX5 roadster with a friend, inventing stuff (that’s way over my head…) as they go along…

StJohn (pronounced sin-gin) married a friend I shared a house with way back in the early seventies.  It was through knowing her that I met Glenda in fact.  StJohn tragically died a few weeks ago aged just 60 from lung cancer, even though he never lit up once in his life.  StJohn was also a peace activist, and an utterly dedicated cyclist.  He was part of the troupe on North West island when I had to endure that epic swim.  St John was a mathematician and a philosopher, read more books that I would care to count and could talk at length about them, and never ever was boring like some people I know who won’t shut up….. his intellect just poured out, and you could not help but being enthralled by what he said.  The last time I ever spoke with him was over the phone about a book on early settlers in Queensland, and I will always cherish this last opportunity to invade his mind…  Like all the people mentioned above, StJohn could easily be considered eccentric.  I’m considered eccentric too, I’m sure…… and it’s such a great pity we don’t have more eccentrics in this world.

NormaNordOut of all those people, Norma is also the only person on the list who was not eccentric.  Though I suppose being an old Communist could be considered slightly eccentric these days!  I met Norma when I was active in the Greens when they were headquartered at the Grassroots Centre in West End.  She ran the place.  I remember showing one of my very earliest Peak Oil powerpoint presentations at a Greens meeting at her place when I was still fine tuning it.  Back in the days when I still thought we could save the joint……  I guess it could be argued I was taken in by the ‘lovely old lady’ aura she may have presented, but there was far more to Norma than her age, she was a true activist, and she cared….  she cared about everything, and probably fought for social equity and justice and the environment to her dying breath.

I didn’t know Norma very well, she didn’t live in an area I frequented much, and I only saw her occasionally when she would turn up on Fridays when I volunteered with Richard and John at the Greens Office where we would chew the fat on philosophy and politics and Peak Oil, and and and……. but you didn’t need to for her aura to influence your thinking.  And like Bruce, I will have a memento of Norma’s for as long as we live here……  she once gave me a small wash basin for helping her clean out the store room beneath the Grassroots Centre, and it now has pride of place in our toilet!  Recycling at its best…..

Which suddenly reminds me I was almost going to leave Richard Nielsen off the list….. mind you he reads this blogUnder the Mango Tree (Hi Richard) and may well be embarrassed to find himself thrown in with this bunch of superlative people, but he too deserves a mention.  You know someone’s special when you clearly remember meeting them even when the occasion was nothing particularly special.  One day I was just driving past the Greens’ office when it was located at Paddington and decided on the spur of the moment to pull over and join up.  Richard served me.  Like StJohn, Richard is a top conversationist (as well as a conservationist!) and you never ever think of asking him to stop once he gets going… I remember we had a great discussion about desktop publishing software….  Richard was a stalwart of the Party, and he kept the show going for years, eventually being made a Life Member.  He taught me to campaign and pretty well everything I know about green politics.  He was also instrumental in the success of Northey Street City Farm and is obviously a keen Permie…..  That’s Richard at the very bottom of the picture……

sarahI have to mention Sarah Moles too……  I first met Sarah when the Greens were a bunch of friendly activists thirsting for change rather than holding the balance of power.  She’s campaigned on the state of rivers, not least the Murray Darling for as long as I’ve known her, which must be some 15 years now…..  and of course, as she and Mick live on the Darling Downs, she’s also campaigning hard on the Lock the Gate campaign too…  where she finds the energy I’ll never know, and now she’s on a hunger strike, over coal mines and climate change, something I can’t see myself ever doing..!

Last, but certainly not least is Bob Brown.  Everyone knows Bob, but knowing Bob involves working with him.  Back in 2001, I stood in a high profile by-election in the seat of Ryan , in Brisbane (as an aside – and I didn’t even realise there was a wiki page about this election until now – the table of results is wrong; the Green vote went up from 3.6% to 6.3% and the ±% column should read +2.7%, NOT -2.28%!).  It was a big deal at the time, as with my preferences the Labor candidate won the seat that used to be held by a Howard minister.  Bob was an integral part of my campaign in that election, and he taught me a lot about dealing with the media, how to speak to them to get our issues across, and was a constant supporter for the whole month that was taken out of my family’s life….. I will always hold Bob in very high esteem.

Because this list is of people I have personally met and who I think influenced me in some way, it is short.  Obviously, I have met even more greenies than this illustrious bunch (and if I’ve left you off the list, I apologise – I have a goat to milk!), but to all of them, a great big thank you for helping me formulate a more sustainable life and for filling my spirit.  And at times like these, we all need our spirits lifted don’t we……… and we should all wear our badge of eccentricity with pride!




4 responses

31 08 2013
Ben Pennings

Remember the Grass Roots Centre well and was sad to miss Norma’s farewell yesterday (hunger striking my excuse). I had an office in the centre for a couple years with Men Against Sexual Assault and it was a pleasure to spend time with Norma and Bert. I have an old tape somewhere I’ll have to dig out, a lovely and long interview I did with Norma on 4ZZZ. Such stories from the Joh days.

Bob to the right of the picture above mud painted the wonderful mural in the centre. Both he and Richard are going strong at Northey St, where I’ll spent the morning, not eating for fathers day.

Thanks for the further memory jogger!

31 08 2013
31 08 2013
Ben Pennings

Nowhere near yet. But working hard, and feeling sad I can’t have my favourite foods at Northey Street Organic Markets this morning. Least I get to hang out in green space with my wonderful wife and kids rather than online in an Ann St shopfront.

31 08 2013
Paul Handover

Enjoyed the post.

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