Blog | 10th Sep, 2012

Remembering Frank Fisher

Frank Fisher (d. August 2012) was a long-time supporter and critic of Environment Victoria. His support was not limited to his generous financial contributions to our organisation over more than a decade. It included challenging our fundamental assumptions, critiquing our positions and questioning our motivations and approaches to achieving environmental change.

Frank influenced thousands of students, colleagues, peers and practitioners over his decades as an educator and academic at Monash and Swinburne Universities, including many in Environment Victoria’s extended family. Like history’s great teachers, there was no division between Frank’s teaching and his life. He lived what he taught. He donated large portions of his earnings to charities; he famously produced less than a one litre milk carton of ‘waste’ per week, and did not own a car. Far from being austere or spartan, Frank lived a rich and generous life. All elements of his thinking and living were open to his students for interrogation. One of the great satisfactions of studying with Frank was hearing him say incredulously “My god I have never thought of that. You’re right!”

He was inspired by Gary Ablett Senior’s footy for Geelong, and set essays applying systems theory to AFL football teams.

For Frank, trying to live sustainably asks us to change the way we think, not just the way we use resources. Any “environmental” outcome which allows people to go on using resources without embracing the implications of that behaviour is a wasted opportunity, and worse, is often counter-productive despite our good intentions. 

So Frank found a lot of environmental communications and political strategy frustrating. He believed that the way we currently behave towards each other and the environment should naturally make us feel genuinely uncomfortable and responsible for the social and environmental results. Sustainable relationships with natural systems and each other require that we do not deny or gloss over those difficult feelings, but hold them up to the light and examine them closely.

This thinking raises great tensions for a movement which is at least partly dependent on keeping people feeling good, so they’ll listen to our views, donate their money and, basically, respond with good faith when we ask them for support. Helping us remain aware of that tension is part of Frank’s legacy.

Frank’s generosity and enthusiasm, his courage and persistence in interrogating assumed truths and his integrity in pursuing deep sustainability will be missed by a great many in the environment movement and beyond. Environment Victoria acknowledges a life fully lived and a rich contribution to the life of our organisation.

Charlie Davie is the Sustainable Living Manager at Environment Victoria and was a student and friend of Frank Fisher.

A public memorial service will be held at the Edge Theatre, Federation Square, Melbourne, at 11am on Saturday 15 September. All are welcome.