Environment Victoria was born 50 years ago out of the campaign to save the Little Desert, in Western Victoria, now a national park. Jono La Nauze, CEO at Environment Victoria, took a trip to see where it all began – accompanied by his young son Jack.
I’m on a father-and-son road trip with my little boy Jack, travelling to north-western Victoria. For several days we explore a tiny corner of the Little Desert from our campsite at Kiata.
I have always loved arid ecosystems, and sharing them with my young son is a new delight. Pinks and purples, yellows and greens. Whenever the soil changes beneath our feet, the foliage around us changes with it. A pocket of rushes and red gums testifies to an ephemeral wetland, though water is nowhere to be seen. Walking on sand is heavy going, especially when two-year-old Jack gives up and demands a ride on my shoulders. We climb a lookout platform, and suddenly the canopy is a mottled carpet rolling out toward the epic Mount Arapiles.
We’re out here to trace the origin story of Environment Victoria, the organisation I’ve just joined. I bring with me a draft of the history book and listen to a podcast history of the Little Desert campaign. This is where it all started.
When I was planning the trip, I asked a few Environment Victoria veterans for tips on where to go, what to see. Some were there at the beginning, others joined along the way. I was struck by how much people love this organisation. I feel welcomed into a proud, supportive family and encouraged by people’s willingness to share their wisdom.No one can say the work we do is easy, or that there aren’t dark times and even darker dreams. We do what we do because we must. But fear and hard work are not all that sustain us. There is love and hope too.Click To Tweet
No one can say the work we do is easy, or that there aren’t dark times and even darker dreams. We do what we do because we must. But fear and hard work are not all that sustain us. There is love and hope too. So many people have been part of Environment Victoria and the broader environment movement for many decades. What compels them to keep generously giving their time and money? To step out of their comfort zone and perform the acts of heroism, small and large, that fuel our campaigns? It must, in part, be that working together for a better world feels good.
Environment Victoria is inspired by nature, but we’re still strong after 50 years because we focus on people. We have won lasting change by building a resilient movement. Our approach has adapted to the times and the context, but we have always been people-powered. We have always been made up of, and worked alongside, everyday people affected by the issues at the heart of our campaigns. People who stand up courageously in their local communities to make Victoria – and the world – a better place.
Of our fellow campers in the Little Desert, I wonder how many consider themselves a part of the movement that protected this place? How many realise that this bush is here because people before them fought to save it? It’s a long weekend, and Kiata is busy. There’s a circle of flash off-road camper trailers housing kids and parents who roast marshmallows each night. A middle-aged construction worker and his wife have come to explore the sandy tracks on dirt bikes – they’ve given up dragging their teenage kids away from the city. Millennials are well represented, including a group who look as if they have a common Middle Eastern heritage and party late but remarkably quietly, and a couple in immaculate puffer-jackets who arrive at photography’s golden hour and film their well-rehearsed tent setup in time-lapse.
Are they part of our movement? That weekend, I didn’t ask, but it’s a question we must ask ourselves if Environment Victoria is to remain successful. To honour and carry forward the extraordinary achievements of the past 50 years, we must grow. As the population around us expands, a people-powered movement must grow with it or diminish in influence. But Victoria’s population is not just growing in size, it is also becoming more diverse. With our greatest challenges ahead of us, we need to keep building an inclusive movement led by people from as many different walks of life as possible.With our greatest challenges ahead of us, we need to keep building an inclusive movement led by people from as many different walks of life as possible.Click To Tweet
The climate and extinction crises are gaining speed. The environmental calamities we have already baked in, combined with population growth and demographic change, will exert extraordinary pressures on our society. Natural disasters, water shortages and crop failures are not just imaginings from some dystopian fiction. Our challenge is to bring on an emergency-scale response while guarding against backlash and interventions that worsen the problem. We will face division and delay if the costs and benefits are unequally distributed, if people feel left behind and unable to see their place in our story of the future. And invariably there will be those who promote false and dangerous solutions. Some will do so cynically, others out of desperation and belief that there is no alternative.
True people-powered movements are best placed to overcome such challenges. This is why after 50 years, Environment Victoria remains so strong and why we must redouble our efforts.
I do have dark dreams but I am lifted up and propelled forward by the momentum of those who came before. Everyone who has been a part of Environment Victoria’s journey is in some way a hero. Without you, bad ideas would have flourished and good ones withered. You helped preserve the wondrous diversity of life on earth. You warded off the environmental amnesia that results when future generations cannot value what they do not realise they have lost. You held open the door to a better world that is within our reach. A world where nobody has to choose between safety and comfort, between environmental sustainability and human wellbeing. That better world is possible with the imagination and determination of people like you, working together for the sake of Victoria’s environment.
This article appeared in Environment Victoria News, Issue 32, Spring 2019.
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